Shortcut Navigation:


Cherished as symbols of purity and perfection, elegance and affluence, pearls are unusual gems, created inside living animals called mollusks. Occurring naturally in a wide range of sizes, shapes and colors, pearls have long captured the attention of scientists as well as socialites. 

Any mollusk that produces a shell can produce a pearl. Nevertheless, naturally occurring pearls are rare, found in perhaps one of every 10,000 animals. The cultured pearl industry, which has flourished since the early 20th century, has developed techniques to greatly improve these odds. Indeed, more pearls are produced now than at any time in human history.

Exhibition Highlights



What are Pearls?

Unlike gemstones produced deep inside the Earth, pearls are created by living creatures called mollusks.



Obtaining Pearls

In their quest for both pearls and mother-of-pearl, people have sometimes taken extraordinary measures.



Freshwater Pearls

Freshwater pearl mussels produce pearls that can rival those of marine mollusks in luster and diverse color.



Marine Pearls

The best-known sources of pearls are marine mollusks, especially the pearl oysters, conchs and abalone found worldwide.



Pearls in Human History

Throughout the ages, humans have been enchanted by pearls and the shells of the mollusks that produce them.


Staff Profile

Meet the Curators

Curators from the American Museum of Natural History and The Field Museum in Chicago collaborated on the Pearls exhibition.



Behind the Scenes

The Exhibitions Department, in cooperation with other Museum staff members and scientific divisions, is responsible for both the design and construction of the Pearls exhibition.

The American Museum of Natural History is most grateful to Tasaki Shinju, for its generous support of the Pearls exhibition. 


American Museum of Natural History

Central Park West at 79th Street
New York, NY 10024-5192
Phone: 212-769-5100

Open daily from 10 am-5:45 pm
except on Thanksgiving and Christmas
Maps and Directions

Enlighten Your Inbox

Stay informed about Museum news and research, events, and more!