THE GLORIOUS POWER OF PEARLS
We will never know when the first pearl was discovered, when someone opened an oyster and discovered the unusual pearlescent object lodged in the mussel of the oyster, looking gloriously out of place but having every right to be there for it was borne of the oyster.
The Pearl is borne from the most extraordinary circumstances, a story of triumph where is ... covered into a .
The Book of Pearl, written by George Fredick Kunz in 1908, suggests that pearls may have been first discovered by pre-historic fish-eating tribes along the Indian coast when they opened up an oyster to eat as food.
The first discovery of pearls may never be known, but what we do know historically is that they are the oldest jewels known to man, with oldest surviving pearl necklace nearly 2000 years old. Known as the ‘Queen of Gems’ pearls are exceptional amongst gemstones, they are the only gems borne from a living organism and they require no additional enhancement, such as cutting or faceting to reveal their true beauty, they are simply borne, divine.
In ancient times, pearls were greatly revered, highly desirable and of incomparable value and worn only by royalty and nobility to symbolise power, wealth and status. At the height of the Roman Empire pearls were the ultimate jewels of high social standing and status. They were incredibly valuable and extravagantly expensive so much so that the Roman General Vitellius was rumoured to have financed an entire army crusade through the sale of just one of his mother’s pearl earring.
The Egyptian Queen, Cleopatra, was alleged to have crushed a single pearl dissolved in vinegar and drank it to win a wager with Marc Anthony that she could spend a veritable fortune; equivalent to the wealth of an entire nation, on a single meal.
In ancient Greece, pearls were rated in the highest of esteems for their immense beauty and were associated with prosperity in love and marriage. Aristocrats were the only people permitted to wear pearls in medieval France and in Elizabethan England pearls were the preserve of royalty, highly fashionable and expensive, worn exclusively by the royals and their court. Queen Elizabeth 1 is often depicted wearing pearls in various designs and was rumoured to have worn layers of pearls that reached down to her knees.
Pearls were regarded as a mythological gem possessing powers to protect the wearer. During the dark ages, gallant knights often wore pearls into battle believing the pure lustrous gem possess mythical powers to protect them. Pearls also featured greatly in religion, the Christian scriptures tells a parable of a man finding a pearl so valuable that he sells his entire possession to retain The Pearl.
Historically, and even today, pearls has captured the hearts and captivated people with its divine glorious beauty. It has to be said that there is something innately powerful, magical and mystical about a pearl that is inexplicable, possessing transformative power, that men and women through history sought to use the gem to translate and relate, transform, inform and reform.
Today, pearls are still highly desirable possessing powers that capture and captivate multitudes with their ornate divine beauty. In contrast to ancient times when pearls were only afforded to royalty and nobility, the cultivation of cultured pearl in the early 1900s broke the barriers enabling more people to enjoy and experience the glorious beauty of this exceptional gemstone.
The timelessness of this classic yet utterly modern gem is so alluring and quite simply irresistible. Still highly favoured by royalty, they have become a staple preserve for reflecting elegance, femininity, power and style.
Pearls are adored and adorned by women worldwide today not just as adornment but to reflect style, statement and symbolism.
They have become a statement of beauty, elegance, splendour, sophistication, femininity and power. Jackie O, one of the most stylish women was usually seen in pearls, and today so are many leading, powerful, stylish and pioneering women in all spectrum of society.
Afterall, as the famous saying goes:
‘The Pearl is the Queen of Gems and The Gem of Queens’.
GETTING TO KNOW PEARLS BETTER
Pearls are a precious gift of nature and the only gemstone borne from a living organism through the most extraordinary circumstances.
HOW A PEARL IS FORMED
A Pearl is a miracle of nature. It is formed when a parasite, usually a grit, enters an oyster, mussel or clam. The oyster’s natural defence mechanism and response to this irritation is to build layers and layers of nacre – the iridescent, resilient, pearlescent substance that makes up a Pearl – around the irritant, covering it patiently and thoroughly, until a Pearl is born.
There are 2 categories of Pearls:
Natural pearls are formed through ‘accidents of nature’. They occur spontaneously when a certain type of irritant becomes lodged in the mollusc (oyster), this causes the oyster to react naturally by secreting a calcium carbonate substance called nacre to protect itself and as a defence mechanism. Nacre is the shiny iridescent substance that forms a pearl, the oyster builds layers and layers of nacre around the irritant to protect itself until finally a beautiful pearl is borne out of the most extraordinary circumstances.
The build-up of nacre is formed in layers at irregular intervals and it can take several years to produce a single natural pearl as the formation is completely dependent on the oyster’s natural reaction, if and when it secrets additional layers.
This made the formation of a single pearl incredibly slow with pearls only discovered by chance - if one was fortunate enough to open an oyster and happen upon a pearl, that was deemed suitable for use in crafting jewellery. The whole process took years to discover and amass enough pearls to craft a piece of jewellery, such a pearl strand necklace, which explained their rarity and astronomical prices, which only royalty and nobility could afford.
The early 1900s heralded the birth of the cultured pearl, with the purpose of making pearls more accessible.
Cultured pearls are formed in a similar fashion as natural pearls, however, rather than anticipating ‘accidents of nature’, man intervenes by introducing the irritant so in essence ‘nature is assisted’.
The irritant is implanted in the oyster, which induces the oyster's defensive and protective natural reaction of secreting the calcium carbonate substance (nacre), evoking the pearl formation process.
The nacre is built layer by layer over a number of years and it can still take several years for a single pearl to form, depending on the type. The cultured pearl process though eliminates 'the happenstance nature' of natural pearls, enabling the production of pearls via insemination.
The cultivation of pearls has not only made them more accessible and affordable but has enabled consistency in shapes, sizes and quality compared to natural pearls which produced great inconsistencies in shapes and sizes rendering only a selected few eligible for use in high quality jewellery.
Most pearls today are cultured. The only difference between a cultured and a natural pearl is the intentional implantation of the irritant to stimulate the pearl formation process, the same natural reactive process follows thereafter.
A cultured pearl is distinguishable from a natural pearl only through the use of an x-ray which displays the internal structure of the pearl, other than that they bear similar characteristics, as cultured pearls are real pearls borne by nature with a little assistance from man.
TYPES OF PEARLS
There are four main types of cultured pearls:
1. SOUTH SEA
South Sea pearls are the most exquisite and rarest of all cultured pearls. They are opulent, high-end and aptly called 'The Rolls Royce of Pearls', renowned for their extraordinary large size, luminous lustre and luxurious hues.
South Sea pearls are formed by extraordinarily large oysters, some measuring more than a foot, found in the South Sea waters (Saltwater).
The pearls originate primarily from Australia, Indonesia, Philippines and Myanmar. The size of the oyster enables the production of larger sized pearls ranging from 9mm-20mm, with the average size of 13mm. South Sea pearls come in natural colours White, Silver and Golden with mesmerising tones.
The formation process is much longer compared to other cultured pearls due to their size. Additionally, they possess thicker layers of nacre which produce the most divine lustre and beautiful luminous that is a distinctive characteristic of the South Pearls.
Tahitian pearls are known for their dark mysterious colours and are classed as some of the most beautiful pearls in the world. Tahitian pearls are produced by black-lipped oysters found in French Polynesia and Tahiti.
Similar to South Sea Pearls, but slightly smaller, they are often referred to as 'Black South Sea Pearls'. Their distinctiveness is the dark colour coupled with exotic awe-inspiring hues from silver, grey, purple and green. The pearls are mesmerising and though appear black in colour when closely inspected reflects hues of other colours.
Akoya pearls are produced by seawater oysters (saltwater) and originate mainly from Japan, China, Australia, the finest been found in Japan.
Akoya are high quality pearls renowned for their extreme lustre. They are consistently round and come in small sizes, typically between 2mm-7.5mm, with sizes 8mm-11mm rarer. They come in natural colours white or cream with beautiful overtones from rose, silver and cream.
Freshwater pearls are the most prevalent of all cultured pearls. They are produced in freshwater regions (hence the name) such as ponds and lakes. Freshwater pearls originate mainly from China, including regions such as Japan and the USA.
The formation period of freshwater is considerably less compared to seawater pearls such as South Sea and Tahitian, hence their prevalence. They are also produced in shallow freshwaters mainly mussels compared to saltwater pearls which are produced by oysters in the depth of the sea.
High-quality freshwater pearls possess their own beautiful lustre and come in a multitude of shapes, sizes and colours