Pearls are created by molluscs not around a grain of sand as it is commonly believed, but around a parasite, as a defence mechanism. A fully formed natural pearl is rare and expensive, and as we see in this piece, some of them make their way onto dinner tables in restaurants.
Picture this: you’re at a restaurant with your family, celebrating your birthday. You order a clam stew, and after it arrives, you dig in with aplomb. A few minutes later, you bite down on something hard. You spit it out, and an egg-shaped grey stone pops out onto the plate. You pick it up between your fingers to examine it. It has a purple shade on one side, and a pinkish hue on the other. But it’s hard as a rock.
What do you do?
This very thing happened to Mike Serino, a Massachusetts policeman. He did not throw a tantrum at the waiter. He did not make a fuss. He gave it to his daughter and asked her to put it into her jewellery box, because somewhere deep in his heart, he realised that the stone he bit on could be a pearl.
It was not just a pearl, as it turned out. A few months later, after the incident was forgotten, Merino saw a TV show which showed a quahog pearl that got sold at an auction for a few thousand dollars. On closer viewing, it seemed that this pearl on TV looked remarkably like the one he found at the hotel on his birthday. So he called his daughter, and together they took it along for appraisal. It was found that the value was close to $15,000. Ultimately, though it remained unsold in an auction, a pearl broker sold it to a Japanese collector for a grand sum of $16,500.
Even though the pearl industry has exploded in recent times with artificial methods of creating them en masse, the rare natural pearl still has value. In 2011, a necklace belonging to Elizabeth Taylor – with a pearl called La Peregrina forming the centrepiece – was sold at an auction for $11.8 million.
So the next time you bite down on something hard at your local restaurant, make sure that you take a good look at it, especially if you have seafood on your plate. Who knows? You may have an expensive rare pearl on your hands, and if so, you better put it in your pocket before the restaurant people get a whiff of it.