January 1, 2002 — April 14, 2002


Several white pearls in a flowing white background of similar chemical composition.

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.

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