The birthstone for June and for the Sun Signs of Gemini and Cancer, pearls are also known as the beauties of the ocean. With a reputation for mesmerizing people since time immemorial, pearls are a symbol of timeless elegance, of power and opulence. Delicate strands of pearls, pearl stud earrings and feminine bracelets can make any outfit look ten times better. In Antiquity, natural pearls were rare and they could even cost a small fortune. It’s no wonder they stood for wealth and demanded respect. A quick glance at pearls’ history shows us they have been worshipped ever since they were discovered. Queens and Empresses draped themselves in these gemstones of the oceans, while male members of the nobility weren’t afraid to wear pearl earrings or pearl necklaces with their imposing attire.
How are pearls formed?
Pearls are the only gems that are produced by living organisms. As such, they continue to “live on”, which is why they require a lot of care. Unlike other precious stones, pearls don’t require cutting or polishing. They are prêt à porter as soon as they are harvested from the oysters or mollusks that produce them. When a foreign object gets inside an oyster, the animal starts coating it in nacre, in order to protect its soft tissue from being damaged. What is actually a defense mechanism on the part of the oysters, yields beautiful gems that have a gorgeous iridescent glow. A pearl can take anywhere from one year to seven years to fully develop inside an oyster, before it’s ready to adorn the necks and wrists of women from all over the world.
If a century ago natural pearls were hard to come by and divers often lost their lives in searching for the precious gems, nowadays we enjoy the luxury of cultured pearls. Thanks to the efforts of Mikimoto Kōkichi, the Japanese entrepreneur who was congratulated by Thomas Edison himself for his developments, nowadays we don’t have to break the bank if we want to look luxurious and elegant in ropes of pearls. The only difference between natural and cultured pearls is that the latter are formed with the help of man. A grain of sand is carefully introduced in the oyster so that the process can begin under the surveillance of pearl farmers.
Colors, shapes, sizes
We tend to think about pearls as white gems, perfectly round, strung on silk. But not all of them are white, and only a few are perfectly spherical. Pearls come in a wide range of color. Conch pearls are pink and have a flame pattern, while Tahitian pearls are more exotic, with a metallic sheen and dark hues. South Sea pearls are very large and are usually ivory or cream colored. No two pearls are identical. Even if you can’t spot the small imperfections without a magnifying glass, each gemstone has tiny bumps or fine cracks on its surface.
Modern day pearls
Worn by Cleopatra, Elizabeth I, Coco Chanel, Marilyn Monroe and Lady Di, pearls are undeniably versatile and elegant. But their use is not only limited to jewelry. Sure, chandelier pearl earrings make any bride sparkle, but so does pearl powder. Pearls are used in skin care cosmetics, on dresses and on accessories like head bands or evening clutches. Lately, they’ve also been carved in unusual shapes to cater to the latest fashion trends out there.