Marilyn Monroe may have declared diamonds as a girl’s best friend, but dare I say that she perhaps never paid attention to the beauty and class of pearls.
Absolutely gorgeous, classy, and versatile, pearls set you a class apart. No wonder they have always been the top choice of royalty. But are pearls vegan?
Since most vegans consider mollusks as non-vegan, they also avoid pearls.
However, there is a small group of vegans that considers mollusks to be vegan-friendly due to their lack of central nervous system, which, they argue, makes these sea creatures more biologically similar to plants than animals. They may also find it okay to wear pearls.
Let’s dive a little deeper into the subject and look at pearls’ formation process to determine if this natural treasure is suitable for vegans or not.
Why Do (Most) Vegans Avoid Pearls?
Pearls are made by mollusks. But what we consider a treasure is basically the result of a natural defense process that initiates when an irritant enters a mollusk’s shell and irritates the mantle.
While technically, all mollusks are capable of producing pearls, they are most commonly produced by oysters. Mussels come second in the natural production of pearls.
Since pearls come from animals, most vegans avoid them.
The Ethical Consideration
While pearl production is essentially a natural process, it’s slow and rare in nature. The natural process of pearl formation can take about two to four years, and only 1 in 10,000 oysters produce pearls in the wild.
But the modern pearl industry has found ways around it. And this is what adds an ethical perspective to the debate on the use of pearls by vegans.
Natural pearls are rare, and most available on the market today are “cultured.”
Cultured pearls are produced via oyster farming. Oyster farming is an aquaculture practice of raising oysters for pearl production, shells, and food. It involves deliberately inserting irritants into oyster shells to initiate the pearl-making process.
Oyster shells are forcefully (surgically) opened for this purpose. According to PETA, more than 50% of the oysters are killed during this process.
As the latest research indicates that water temperature also influences the pearl formation process, the cultivators subject the oysters to different water temperatures by lowering and raising their cages and moving them around in different water.
Once the pearls are ready, three-fourths of the oysters that produce this natural treasure is killed, and the remaining are put through the same process again.
The Counter Argument
Plant-eaters who find it okay to eat oysters and use pearls produced by them often counter this ethical argument with scientific findings that suggest oysters lack sentience and hence, cannot experience pain or suffer during the culturing process.
The Environmental Impact
The environmental impact of oyster farming is another reason why most vegans avoid pearls. The practice has been known to be a major contributor to the destruction of natural oyster beds with harvesting and pollution.
Although the scientific community is yet to reach a consensus over whether oysters feel irritation and pain or not, even if we consider them non-sentient beings, the negative impact of aquaculture on the environment is a strong reason for vegans to avoid pearls.
Are Pearls Vegan? The Verdict
Veganism is often misconstrued as a dietary approach that involves avoiding animal foods.
But, at its core, veganism strives to eliminate animal exploitation in all areas of life and, therefore, calls on its followers to avoid using anything whose production subjects animals to exploitation of any sort.
So, even if you are a vegan who considers oysters to be non-sentient or biologically closer to plants than animals, you cannot ignore the fact that they are exploited for pearl production. Therefore, pearls are not vegan and should be avoided.
Is Mother of Pearl Vegan?
Mother of pearl is the name given to the lustrous, iridescent material that lines the inner surface of a mollusk’s shell. It’s similar to a pearl, as both are made from the same material – nacre.
Mother of pearl is also not considered vegan for two primary reasons. Firstly, it’s made of nacre, which the mollusks only produce when an irritant enters their shell, and secondly, the mollusks are killed to harvest the mother of pearl.
The mother of pearl jewelry also uses beads made from sea shells.
Are Synthetic Pearls Vegan?
Since natural pearls take a long time and an immense amount of work to produce even on farms, they are very expensive. This has given birth to high demand for synthetic pearls that look similar to their natural counterparts but cost significantly low.
It may come as a surprise to many, but most synthetic pearls aren’t suitable for vegans as well. While they are made with glass, the solution used to give them the lustrous appearance to make them look similar to real pearls is often made from fish scales.
Are There Vegan-Friendly Pearls Available?
Given the popularity and high demand for pearls, jewelry manufacturers have developed faux pearl production methods that do not involve using fish scales. Look for synthetic pearls with the vegan label to add some timeless classic jewelry pieces to your collection.
Swarovski has a line of faux pearl jewelry that’s made without the use of any animal product. It’s cruelty-free, ethical, and vegan. Check it out if you’re looking for a vegan pearl alternative.
Did you find this article informative? Interested to learn more about the debate surrounding oysters in the vegan world? Check out my article Are Oysters Vegan to learn more about this topic.