To limit pearls to June birthdays would be a lot like limiting water to streams and ponds. Pearl beauty, appeal, and style — whether freshwater or saltwater — finds its way into almost every woman’s wardrobe. And thanks to cultured pearls, developed in the early 20th century, most women can afford them.
Like most other gemstones, pearls don’t fit neatly into one particular category. Their subtle, luxurious beauty boasts multiple personalities to suit the many customers who choose them.
- Pearls are feminine, fun and flirty, a personality typified by trending pearl fashion jewelry. Think of Sarah Jessica Parker’s style in Sex and the City.
- Pearls are classic simplicity — the strand and studs worn by any woman who appreciates an understated look. Think of Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis.
- Pearls are sophisticated — a long, lush strand of fine large pearls looped around the neck or a multi-strand necklace perhaps clustered or twisted, with or without a diamond or gemstone adornment. Think Audrey Hepburn in Breakfast At Tiffany’s.
- And last but not least, pearls are extravagant and spectacular. Try one-of-a-kind designer styles accented and interwoven with diamonds and gemstones. Think of Rihanna draped in strands of pearls or Elizabeth Taylor wearing La Peregrina.
A Moment in Time
Imagine that moment millennia ago when mankind first encountered a small wondrously luminescent object. Was it round, oval, teardrop or baroque? It had no name, only its shape, color, and dazzling luster. Was it a stone? It didn’t look like one. It appeared almost alive. Yes, it was beautiful and unusual; surely it had some greater purpose.
We can surmise that since that moment, pearls have fascinated us. One pearl carbon dated to 5,500 BCE — more than 7,500 years ago — was buried with its owner. In all likelihood, older ones exist and sooner or later someone will find them.
So, How are Pearls Formed?
The story of pearl formation sounds much like a fairytale in which the heroine is perceived as a threat and shut away from the world with no obvious possibility of redemption. So, how are pearls formed? Here’s how the tale unfolds.
Each pearl begins when an irritant somehow enters an oyster or other bi-valve mollusks. On perceiving the threat, the mollusk reacts to protect its soft inner tissue. It encapsulates the irritant with successive translucent layers of nacre, smoothing its surface so oyster and irritant can coexist. As far as the oyster knows, the irritant will be there permanently.
Then miraculously, someone opens the mollusk to find a treasure of great beauty. The once disdained “irritant” emerges as a pearl and enters a world of love and appreciation to live happily ever after. The end.
I don’t think so.
We can’t just leave this story for pearls. Let’s apply it to our lives too. After all, don’t our biggest challenges and ”irritants” develop our greatest strengths and bring inner beauty to light?
Pearls in History
With so many pearls available today, it’s hard for us to understand the rarity of natural pearls, particularly those of any size. They are so rare that for millennia they were the most coveted gems. To have one was to possess beauty of incomparable value. Only royalty and other wealthy individuals had any hope of ever owning pearls.
The Hope Pearl
The most famous natural saltwater pearl weighs 1,800 grains — 450 carats — or 4-ounces. It once belonged to the owner of the Hope Diamond. Currently, it is in the British Museum of Natural History.
This one is a perfectly pear-shaped pearl weighing 223.8 grains (55.95 carats). Its famous owners included Prince Phillip II of Spain, Joseph Bonaparte — who stole it from Spain, British Marquis of Abercorn, and finally in 1969, Elizabeth Taylor, gifted to her by Richard Burton.
The Mary Tudor Pearl
Now known as the Pearl of Kuwait, it is often confused with La Peregrina. They are both pear-shaped. The Mary Tudor Pearl weighs 258.12 grains or 64.5 carats. It was owned by Isabella of Portugal; her daughter Joanna of Austria; Joanna’s cousin, Phillip II of Spain; and Mary Tudor of England.
Alive With Beauty
Living organisms — bi-valve mollusks — create pearls. As such, they have a presence, a vitality that attracts the eye with mesmerizing beauty. Their luster emanates from within, giving them a spiritual allure.
Some historians have proposed that pearls were first used and sought after for their spiritual powers and only secondarily for their value. Perhaps they were, but frankly, I find that hard to believe. When something combines rarity with beauty, it’s valuable no matter what the use.
Both ancient India and China gave rise to astounding pearl myths of their origins and powers. Vedic texts relate that pearls were born of Earth’s water and Heaven’s powers, each fertilized by a lightning strike. Pearls were considered “daughters of the Moon,” reflecting her luster.
In today’s youth-oriented culture, we would all do well to buy pearls and lots of them. In 17th and 18th century BCE, the Babylonians believed that pearls had life-giving qualities including the ability to restore youth.
To Look Their Best
What do pearls have to do to stay beautiful? They need to be worn often. If stored in a hot, airless environment, they can dry and crack. Pearls need oil from the skin to enhance their luster and color and after each wearing, they should be wiped with a damp cloth to remove hairspray or other damaging chemicals.