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Pearls: Ethical Considerations & Vegan Alternatives

Pearls come exclusively from oysters, and are therefore not vegan. They are used exclusively for jewelry—typically either necklaces or earrings.

Our current understanding of biology suggests it’s possible that oysters lack sentience and are therefore incapable of suffering. Hopefully that’s the case, because the process of culturing and harvesting pearls is profoundly invasive.

The overwhelming majority of pearls used for jewelry are “cultured.” This requires divers to swim down to an oyster, pry open the shell, and insert irritants. Over time, the oyster secretes a substance called nacre that builds up around the irritants to form pearls. After several years, the oyster is once again pried open and its pearls removed.

In addition to the animal rights concerns at stake, pearl divers face hazardous conditions and can be killed carrying out their work.

Synthetic Pearls

While the capacity of oysters to suffer is uncertain, vegans err on the side of caution and avoid buying pearls. Genuine pearls are surprisingly affordable, which limits the market for alternatives. But synthetic pearls are widely available, and can look exactly like the real thing.

When shopping for pearl alternatives online, search for vegan pearls or synthetic pearls.

For further reading: please see our Vegan FAQ and our Why Go Vegan? essay.
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