Few precious gemstones represent tradition and elegance quite like pearls. With their creamy white sheen, pearls are practically synonymous with class and grace, making them a staple in virtually every jewelry collection across the globe.
The History of Pearls
Since pearls are not mined like other precious gems, it’s difficult to pinpoint exactly when they were first discovered. There are notations throughout history, however, of pearls being highly cherished and desired by civilizations for millennia. In fact, they have been around so long, they even predate written history making them officially “the world’s oldest gem.”
While many pearls today are farmed by man, natural pearls can be dated back as far as 2300 B.C. A large portion of the world’s organic pearls are found in the Persian Gulf and have long been a symbol of status and power by those who were adorned by them.
In recent years, pearls have become much more affordable – though still synonymous with class and elegance – by means of pearl farms. Different from naturally occurring pearls, pearl farms produce what is known as cultured pearls. These cultured pearls are created by inserting an irritant inside an oyster and waiting a few years for the pearl to form. Though the process is similar, since it is initiated by man, it makes the value of cultured pearls much lower than that of natural pearls.
The Creamy Elegance of Pearls
When most people think of a strand of pearls, it’s usually the spherical, creamy white variety, but the truth is, pearls can come in almost every color of the rainbow. Various factors will influence their color, but the largest indicator is the type of oyster and location it is found.
In terms of the traditional pearls, the bulk of the creamy white colors we see come from Japan, China, the US, and Australia. The traditional white (as with most pearls today) are cultured as either freshwater pearls, Akoya pearls, or South Sea Pearls. Other colors, such as black pearls (the second most popular variety) are usually Tahitian pearls.
The Lore of Pearls
Pearls have long been associated with high society, royalty, and the wealthiest members of a community. In fact, Julius Caesar once declared them “off limits” to commoners, deeming them only suited for members of the ruling family.
Pearls have been cherished for their milky beauty and are steeped in mystical legend and folklore. In medieval times, pearls were given to knights during battle as a talisman of good luck and protection, believing it would keep them safe. Other cultures soon associated the creamy white appearance of pearls as a symbol of purity – as such it became tradition globally to give them as gifts or to wear them during wedding ceremonies.
Famous Pearls Throughout History
The largest natural pearl ever found, the Pearl of Lao Tzu, was found in the Philippines in 1934 and weighed in at a whopping 14 pounds. At nearly 10 inches in radius, the giant pearl was once given to an American for his role in rescuing a local tribal chief’s son.
The Big Pink Pearl is one of the newest pearls to make the famous list, as it was discovered in 1990 by an American diver on the west coast of the US. The pearl was found in the waters of the Pacific off the coast of California – an unusual location for natural pearls. The large specimen is estimated to be worth $4.7 million, though its founder has refused to sell.
With one of the oldest histories of any gemstone, pearls are a true source of elegance and grace, giving them a timeless place in every jewelry collection. Here’s a peek at some of our favorite pearl jewelry pieces to add to your own collection.