Pearl is one of the oldest, most desired and most spectacular gemstones in the world. Formed differently to most gems, Pearl is an organic creation found in the sea, a natural phenomenon that actually occurs as part of the defense mechanism of a mollusk shell. Coming in all shapes, sizes, and colors, Pearl has shown itself to be remarkably versatile when it comes to jewelry design, and has a fascinating and rich history built up over thousands and thousands of years. Here, we delve a little deeper into the story of this most classic of gemstones.
THE HISTORY OF PEARL
Pearl has long been known as the queen of gemstones. They are one of the most precious gems ever discovered and are believed to have been revered and traded as long as 6,000 years ago. Their exact moment of discovery precedes recorded history, though it has been speculated by many, including noted gemologist George Frederick Kunz, that the first Pearls to be held by human hands were likely discovered on the shores of India as fish-eating locals searched for food. Pearls were being given as ornamental gifts in Ancient China as far back as 2,250 BC and have been used in jewelry as a personal adornment since at least 450 BC.
A symbol of power and wealth, Pearls were incredibly highly valued in Ancient Egypt, where Mother-of-Pearl (the lining of the mollusk from which a Pearl is bored) had been used since at least 4,200 BC. Legend says that Cleopatra (69 BC – 30 BC) was able to use a Pearl to win a bet whilst meeting with the Roman general Marc Antony, whom she later wed. Her wager was that she could serve the most expensive dinner of all time. She took off one of her Pearl earrings, crushed the gem into her wine and drank it down. When Antony was offered the other earring to do the same with, he instead conceded, losing the bet. Modern estimates put the value of those Pearls at more than £3 million each.
There are many myths and legends surrounding Pearls, and one of the most common sayings is ‘Pearls bring tears’. This originates from ancient times when people thought that Pearls were the tears of angels or of the moon. Despite the widespread use of this phrase, most cultures actually believe the opposite to be true, such as the Greeks. To this day, the Greeks regard Pearls highly for their beauty and associate them with love and marriage. They believe Pearls promote marital bliss and prevent the bride from crying on her wedding day, which is where the tradition of giving Pearls to a bride originated.
In Ancient Rome, Pearls were recognized as a definitive sign of wealth and social status and it was believed that they would promote long and healthy life. When battling during the Crusades, knights would wear them as a talisman, believing they would help protect them. During the Renaissance period, Pearls were regarded so highly that some countries passed laws allowing only the nobility to wear them. It has also come to symbolize eternal life due to its shape and history. Pearls were once feared to be fragile but with the right care, they can last a legacy.
Pearls were once almost unattainable and reserved for only royalty and the extremely wealthy. La Peregrina Pearl, one of the most famous Pearls of all time, has a 500-year history which has seen it pass through three monarchs and a Hollywood film star. It was depicted in a painting of Mary 1 of England in 1554, and eventually made its way to auction in 2011 as part of the sell-off of Elizabeth Taylor’s phenomenal jewelry collection. It fetched a staggering $11 million, way above the $3 million estimates. Its future now lies with the anonymous bidder who won the auction. Pearls remained incredibly scarce and valuable into the early 20th century. In 1917, when Pierre Cartier wanted to move his thriving jewelry business into a $1 million mansion on Fifth Avenue in New York, he paid for the new premises with a strand of natural Pearls that had been valued for roughly the same amount.
Throughout the vast majority of history, all Pearls were natural and there was a tremendous amount of good fortune required in finding one. With demand outstripping supply by such a large degree, Japanese entrepreneur Mikimoto Kokichi set out to discover a way to cultivate Pearls and bring an element of stability to their availability. In 1893 he made a revolutionary breakthrough when he and his wife Ume successfully cultured a Pearl under human supervision, and over the following years, he perfected his technique, a combination of art and science. We are now able to culture Pearls in special oyster nurseries where these mystifying creatures are protected and tended to by expert guardians. Each mollusk is painstakingly cared for over a number of years, allowing nature to do what she always does best – create a stunning gemstone. Without the advent of Cultured Pearls, owning them would still be the reserve of only the very wealthiest, though completely natural Pearls remain rare and very, very expensive.
PEARL GEMSTONE INFORMATION
Pearl is one of the birthstones for June (along with Alexandrite and Moonstone) and is the given stone for the 3rd and 30th wedding anniversaries. A Pearl is one of just a handful of organic gems (the other well-known ones being Coral, Amber, and Jet). Rather than being a mineral, Pearls actually grow inside a mollusk, a term used for all shells that open and close on a hinge, such as oysters, clams, and mussels. Organic gemstones don’t usually have a traditional crystal structure or composition, but Pearl is made up of calcium carbonate (mostly Aragonite), which features an orthorhombic crystal structure. This builds the Pearl up in concentric layers, leading to the unique visual quality that Pearls display.
Pearl formation is fascinating and is totally different from how other gemstones form. If a foreign object, such as a grain of sand, enters a mollusk it becomes an irritant to the creature inside, so in order to protect itself, it releases a silky substance, known as nacre (essentially Mother-of-Pearl, which also lines the shell), to cover the uninvited guest. Over time the mollusk will continue to release nacre over the foreign body and when the mollusk is opened years after the initial intrusion, the uninvited guest has been turned into a glorious Pearl. Pearls essentially exist as the result of a defense mechanism. It is amazing to think about how nature can turn an unwelcome grain of sand into one of the most gorgeous gems in the world. Learning and understanding the growth and development of a Pearl is the first step towards truly appreciating how unusual and precious this gem really is.
It’s fascinating to think that natural Pearls form deep in the ocean, and are then discovered by divers, but at what expense are we retrieving these treasures? Diving for Pearls can be destructive to the coral reefs and local sea life alike, and therefore it has been prohibited in many areas. It has been said that to make a Pearl necklace of entirely natural Pearls would require over 100,000 oysters to be retrieved. This is why Mikimoto’s Cultured Pearl technique is so important, and so widely accepted. But what is a Cultured Pearl? Cultured Pearls refer to Pearls that are grown in environmentally-friendly Pearl farms, and are tended to by Pearl farmers. Simply put, a Cultured Pearl is one that is grown under supervision and not one that is taken from its natural surroundings. The complex process begins with the Pearl farmer inserting a shell bead or similar into the oyster and then submerging it back into the water in order to begin the natural mechanism of the oyster covering this in nacre. The term ‘Cultured Pearl’ alone tends to mean that the Pearl has been cultivated in the ocean (saltwater) whereas ‘Freshwater Cultured Pearl’ refers to those that are cultivated inland in lakes. Over 99% of Pearls sold today worldwide are Cultured Pearls of one type or the other.
Today, most natural Pearls are found in estate jewelry collections or museums, so when buying new Pearls, it is not really a case of natural Pearls versus Cultured Pearls, but Cultured Pearls versus entirely synthetic, man-made Pearls. If you own Pearls and are not sure if they are genuine or not, a great way to test them is to rub them on your teeth. If the Pearl feels slightly grainy rather than smooth, it’s a real pearl, be that natural or cultured. If it’s smooth, however, you know it is not a real Pearl, as companies who produce imitation, synthetic Pearls have yet to master the grainy effect of natural nacre. Quite often these imitations are just plastic or glass made to look like a Pearl. Needless to say, all the Pearls we sell at Bijaar are genuine Cultured Pearls.
Round, flawless, and orient are words you’ll hear relating to Pearls and these are qualities used to determine their value. The word round seems a bit of an obvious one to describe a Pearl but it is, in fact, the most important. It’s a common mistake to think Pearls have been faceted in some way to give them their perfectly spherical shape, when in fact the shape of a Pearl is all down to the work done by the mollusk. Because no two Pearls are identical in shape or size, it takes skilled jeweler hours and hours to select matching Pearls when stringing them together for necklaces and bracelets. The finest Pearls do not have any flaws, bumps or marks in the nacre and they should have an even and clean surface. The final consideration when valuing Pearls is their orient. This is the word used to describe the luster of a Pearl (also referred to as pearlescence). The orient is a soft iridescence caused by the refraction of light off the layers of nacre.
Every Pearl is individually graded on five virtues, the first of which is its luster. The luster of a Pearl is the most important factor but also the hardest to determine. However, with a trained eye, it becomes an instinctive process. A Pearl’s complexion is under significant scrutiny as any imperfections may alter their value. At Bijaar we strictly grade our Pearls for luster, complexion, shape, color, and size, and use only the finest Pearls for our jewelry collections. Pearls are perhaps the best-loved gem of all time – natural and cultured – and they occur in a wide variety of colors, shapes, and sizes. Beauty is always in the eye of the beholder, so when looking for new designs, always pick the Pearls that speak to you.
PEARL CRYSTAL HEALING
Gemstones are as old as time and in the years since their first discovery they’ve picked up a lot more than adoring collectors and fascinated mineralogists. Many have gained stories regarding their legend, lore and healing properties, and whilst there’s no evidence to suggest that any of these properties are real, it’s still interesting to explore the esoteric side of Mother Nature’s miracles. It’s worth asking ourselves, “If you truly believe in something, does that mean it’s true”? Scientifically, the answer is no, but what about on a more personal, spiritual level? If you really truly believe that an item in your house is having an effect on you, are you more likely to feel that effect? It’s really not for us to say, but it’s a very interesting concept that deserves further research. Once again though, we must point out though that no studies have ever found any therapeutic effects or properties in gemstones, and the following is for your information only.
Pearl has been said to represent the wisdom gained through personal experience and has been thought to offer a calming effect on its wearer and to help balance the aura. It has been linked with holding cynicism and pessimism at bay, and in keeping one grounded in reality. Over its long history it has also been said to help one focus on the important things in life and let the rest go, and to help nurture a higher sense of love both for oneself and closest friends and family too. Due to Pearl’s shape, it has often been associated with the moon. In Asia, Pearls were once thought to guarantee protection from fire whereas in Europe they symbolized modesty, chastity, and purity.
WHERE DO PEARLS COME FROM?
- Kaori Pearls
- Maruata Pearls
- Tahitian pearls
- South Sea pearls
HOW TO CLEAN PEARL
Despite originating underwater, it is recommended not to submerge Pearls in the water when caring for them. Use a very soft lint-free microfiber cloth to gently clean your Pearls, and if you need a little help, dampen part of the cloth with some mildly soapy lukewarm water. Dry them immediately with a dry part of the cloth. Don’t use any heat to dry excess moisture, though you can gently blow on them to evaporate any extra liquid. Pay particular attention to the string if cleaning necklaces and bracelets – keep it as dry as you can. Don’t take your Pearls anywhere near steam or ultrasonic cleaner.
WHERE TO BUY PEARL
We’re very proud of the quality of Pearl we are able to offer you here at Bijaar, and we work hard to ensure that our designs do justice to the incredible work done by Our talented Designers and the other Pearl cultivators that we partner with. Your perfect Pearl jewelry piece lies just a few clicks away from this page, and you can begin the journey of finding that piece by browsing our store. We wish you many years of happiness with your new Pearls. 🤍