“A woman needs ropes and ropes of pearls” – Coco Chanel
Long known as the “Queen of Gems,” pearls possess a history and allure far beyond what today’s wearer may recognize. Throughout much of recorded history, a natural pearl necklace comprised of matched spheres was a treasure of almost incomparable value, in fact the most expensive jewellery in the world. Now we see pearls almost as accessories, relatively inexpensive decorations to accompany more costly gemstones.
Before the creation of cultured pearls in the early 1900’s, natural pearls were so rare and expensive that they were reserved almost exclusively for the noble and very rich. At the height of the Roman Empire, when pearl fever reached its peak, the historian Suetonius
wrote that the Roman general Vitellius financed an entire military campaign by selling just one of his mother’s pearl earrings.
No one will ever know who the earliest people to collect and wear pearls were, but no matter the origin, a reverence for pearls spread throughout the world over the ensuing millennia. In Egypt, decorative mother-of-pearl was used at least as far back as 4200 B.C.
Pearls, in fact, played the pivotal role at the most celebrated banquet in literature. To convince Rome that Egypt possessed a heritage and wealth that put it above conquest, Cleopatra wagered Marc Antony she could give the most expensive dinner in history. The Roman reclined as the queen sat with an empty plate and a goblet of wine (or vinegar). She crushed one large pearl of a pair of earrings, dissolved it in the liquid, and then drank it down. Astonished, Antony declined his dinner, the matching pearl, and admitted she had won.
Pearls are formed in shellfish – especially oysters and mussels – as a natural defense
against an irritant, such as a piece of grit. Layers of aragonite, known as nacre, are secreted around the irritant, and gradually build up to firm the solid pearl. Baroque pearls are pearls that have grown in the muscular tissue; blister pearls are those that grow adjacent to the shell and are flat on one side.
Pearls are valued by their translucence, lustre, play of surface colour, and shape. The most valuable are spherical or drop like, with a deep lustre and good colour play. In the jewellery industry, salt water pearls are commonly referred to as Oriental; those produced by freshwater molluscs are called freshwater pearls. Cultured pearls are those that have been grown on a pearl farm. A tiny sphere of mother-of-pearl is implanted into the mantle of the nacre-producing mollusc which is then placed in the waters of the farm. The oyster forms a
pear around the tiny sphere which is then harvested around 2 years later. A pearl can be any delicate shade from black to white, cream, grey, blue, yellow, green, lavender and mauve. Rose tinted Indian pearls are the most prized along with black Tahitian pearls.
“Pearls are always appropriate” – Jackie Kennedy
Pearls have been called the ‘teardrops of the moon’, and
were once thought to be the tears of the Gods. Some believe that pearls were formed by the passage of angels through the clouds of heaven. The Ancient Greeks claimed pearls bought happiness in marriage and over time, the pearl has become the symbol of purity and innocence and it is often sewn into bridal gowns, or worn as jewellery by the bride. Pearls are said to represent integrity, especially if white or cream, self-confidence and prosperity in the life of the wearer. In the home they encourage tradition, particularly in the form of a necklace, an unbroken circle.
Physically, pearls are viewed as being good for skin, nausea and biliousness, fluid imbalances, bloating, hormones and PMS, fertility, female reproduction problems, childbirth and sexuality. Pearls are also reputed to help a person to have sound sleep free of mental worries and strengthen the mind of the wearer. Emotionally, pearls are said to form a connection between our body rhythms and those of the natural cycle of the moon and the seasons and so helpful for work-related burnout or stress.
Personally, pearls remind me of my favorite poem – Warming her Pearls by Carol Ann Duffy.
Chakra: Sacral and heart
Sources: Natural pearls – Persian Gulf, Indian Ocean, Red Sea, Polynesia, Australia, Japan, China Freshwater pearls – Scotland, Ireland, France, Austria, Germany, USA
Empowerment: Good fortune surrounds me