Kentucky's official state gemstone is the only gemstone of animal origin

Anita Durairaj

The official state gemstone for Kentucky is the freshwater pearl. It was declared as the official gemstone in 1986.

The declaration of the pearl as the state's gemstone was due to the initiative taken in 1986 by schoolchildren in Western Kentucky who petitioned their state representative.

Freshwater pearls are known for their range of color and luster. They are typically not round in shape but can also come in oval and tear-drop shapes.

In the U.S., Native Americans were the first people to collect and use the freshwater pearls. Pearls were used for their jewelry, decorative purposes and even as tributes.

Kentucky's freshwater pearls are found in the Tennessee River Valley and the Mississippi River Valley.

Pearls are not considered to be typical gemstones because they are not made up of minerals. Instead, pearls are deposits of calcium carbonate. They are formed due to the actions of living organisms such as clams, oysters or mussels.

Pearl-producing mussels were mostly responsible for Kentucky's freshwater pearls. Unfortunately, over-harvesting, pollution and damming of the rivers contributed to its decline.

According to the Kentucky State government, there were 103 species of mussels at one time. However, some of these species have completely disappeared.

Still, several species of freshwater mussels are being used for culturing freshwater pearls. The different species produce the different colors and shapes of pearls. These mussels are now being cultivated through pearl farms along Kentucky Lake in Tennessee.

In addition to Kentucky, Tennessee has also declared the freshwater pearl as its official state gemstone.

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Trained with a Ph.D. in Chemistry from the University of Cincinnati, I write unique and interesting articles focused on science, history, and current events.


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