The Origin and History of Pearls
Written by Isabella Boston
Before sapphires, diamonds, and other precious stones were made into jewelry, rich and powerful leaders embellished themselves in luxurious Pearls. Known as the “Queen of Gems,” pearls are the only precious stones produced by living creatures known as mollusks.
Pearls were first discovered long before written history. Therefore, one cannot attribute them to any specific time, person, or place; however, the earliest known fragment of pearl jewelry was found in the sarcophagus of a Persian princess which is on display today at the Louvre in Paris, France. Archaeologist have dated the artifact back to 420 BC., making it over 2,000 years old.
Throughout history, pearls have been highly revered by the rich and wealthy. The ancient Romans so loved the fine gems that they decreed only women and men of high birth could wear them. During the short time of the British Empire, pearls were held exclusively for royalty and nobility. This code of law was held over the course of history by many groups of people and not only by majestic decree; The price of pearls was so expensive that the common person simply could not afford them.
However, not all oysters produce pearls and the high demand for the natural gem came at a price. Many oysters were forced open and cast aside when no pearl was found inside and overfishing of the animal nearly caused a world-wide extinction.
The Birth of Cultured Pearls
In the early 1900's Kokichi Mikimoto, known as the “father of the modern cultured pearl industry,” experimented with nucleating the first Akoya pearl oysters. After nearly a decade, he was finally successful in cultivating pearls. Around that same time, a government biologist, Tokichi Nishikawa, and a carpenter, Tatsushei Mise, had also been working on pearl formation and they, too, were successful in nucleating the Akoya pearl oyster. They later were granted a patent for their Mise-Nishikawa grafting method which is still used by most grafting technicians today.
Mikimoto added his own step to this method by creating perfectly round Akoya pearls and an altered patent was granted to him in 1916. He later founded the Mikimoto Pearl Company and began selling cultured pearls around the globe.
How are pearls Formed?
Pearls are formed when an irritant becomes stuck in the body of an oyster, mussel, or clam. As a result, the invertebrate secretes a fluid called nacre which coats the debris layer upon layer until a beautiful pearl is formed. Both natural and cultured pearls typically take a full year to develop, even for a small one.
What are the different types of pearls?
Freshwater pearls are produced by freshwater mollusks living in lakes, riverbeds, and creeks. They are culturally produced in the United States, Japan, and China and are longer lasting than saltwater pearls. Chinese freshwater pearls are more affordable than most and come in a broader variety of colors.
Freshwater pearls also have a thick layer of nacre which gives them beautiful luster and shine. Thirty pearls can be harvested from one mussel, and if its waters are kept clean, it can be reused repeatedly.
Saltwater pearls are produced by saltwater mollusks living in oceans, seas, and saline environments and only one pearl can be produced at a time. The three most popular saltwater pearls are Akoya, Tahitian, and South Sea pearls. These pearls are typically rounder than freshwater pearls and are more expensive; however, the nacre is thinner. When purchasing saltwater pearls, make sure they have thick nacre so that it will not peel away after a few years.
Only 1 in 10,000 oysters will produce a suitable pearl so pearl diving in open waters has almost completely stopped. Nearly 99% of pearls today are cultured and are produced on pearl farms. With modern culturing techniques well advanced, beautiful high-quality pearls are readily available to anyone who so desires them. New hybrids and colorful varieties are produced every few years and even modestly priced cultured pearls can be purchased for the same quality as the most expensive natural ones.
Pearls are elegant, classy, and can be worn on every occasion. They make the perfect gift for a loved one and it's no wonder they are called the "Queen of Gems."
*Fun fact: It is said that Cleopatra once proved to her husband Marc Anthony that she could give the most expensive dinner party in history by crushing a pearl and mixing it into a glass of wine.
*Disclosure: I am an affiliate marketer with the brand(s) mentioned in this post and if you click on some of the links or banners, I may receive a commission from my partners should you decide to purchase from them now or in the near future.
Isabella Boston is a multi-talented writer and the Founder of Bella’s Attic Studio. She has several years of experience in content writing, copywriting, and social media strategies. She is the author of the romantic and rare memoir, Passion of Flames. Isabella is currently working to spread awareness on the dangers and inhumanity of human sex trafficking. She has special interests in fashion and beauty, health and wellness, and natural healing as it pertains to the body, mind and soul. When Isabella is not writing, she enjoys playing the violin, learning new languages (currently Italian), and reading books of substance.
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