Origin of growth defects in pearl

Abstract : Pearls are produced from a natural biomineralisation process. The structural unit is a biocrystal whose formation is controlled by organic molecules. In the present paper we studied a major growth defect to highlight the role of the organics in the growth mechanism. Some freshwater pearls exhibit a lack of lustre, also known as 'milky pearl' defect. This defect is related to the formation of vaterite instead of aragonite during the biomineralisation growth process. We used Rock Eval pyrolysis, a new technique in this field, to quantify a noticeable increase of the organic matrix in milky pearls. At least 20% more organics were found when vaterite forms than aragonite. To further study its role during the growth process, the organic matrix was extracted using three different protocols and characterised by infrared spectroscopy (FTIR) and liquid chromatography (HPLC). The fraction of the organic matrix which is soluble in water (WSM fraction) was significantly different when analysed by FTIR and by HPLC. This fraction is very likely occluded within the mineral (intracrystalline matrix). To examine its role, WSM extracted from milky pearls was used as additive in controlled calcium carbonate growth experiments. In this case, vaterite crystals were obtained for the greater part. When WSM extracted from healthy pearls was used, aragonite and calcite crystals were grown. The polymorph (vaterite vs aragonite) appeared to be clearly connected to the WSM organic fraction. Several hypotheses may explain this result: e.g., a minor disorder of the organic composition of the extrapallial fluid, an excess of Mn or Mg or a blocking of the growth at a transient stage. Finall
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Xavier Bourrat, Li Qiao, Qingling Feng, Martine Angellier, Aurore Dissaux, et al.. Origin of growth defects in pearl. Materials Characterization, Elsevier, 2012, 72, pp.94-103. ⟨10.1016/j.matchar.2012.07.010⟩. ⟨insu-00723037⟩

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