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Pearls: Ethical Considerations & Vegan Alternatives

Commercially sold pearls come exclusively from oysters. Nearly all pearls are used to make necklaces or earrings.

Are Pearls Vegan?

Pearls are by definition not vegan since they are taken from oysters.

Our current understanding of biology suggests it’s possible that oysters lack sentience and are therefore incapable of suffering. But if we’re mistaken and oysters can indeed suffer, the process of culturing and harvesting pearls is troubling since it 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.

Synthetic Pearls

While the capacity of oysters to suffer is questionable, 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 aren’t hard to find, and can look exactly like the real thing.

When shopping 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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