Pearls of Wisdom

Some things you may not know about pearls:

Most often seen on brides, worn with office attire, formal evening wear, and even at costume parties, pearls are almost everywhere. But what does the average person really know about pearls?

Pearls are one of the world’s oldest gems yet they are still so current.  Pearls have a much larger significance in history than known.  These mysterious gems are deep seated with status, glamour and pop up quite often in history.  Fascinatingly, pearls are the only gem that are not formed in the earth’s crust or mantle but are harvested from living organisms. This unique quality alone sets pearls apart from all other gemstones. Pearls are also 100% natural, being one of the only gems that are not polished or reshaped. They are Mother Earth’s finest natural beauty.

Farming oyster pearl.

The oldest pearl known to man was found on the Arabian Peninsula, dating back over 7500 years. Treated with reverence in Greece and Rome, pearls were a symbol of status and prosperity, worn by those in high circles who could afford the luxury. The ancient Greeks believed pearls were formed from the tears of the goddess of love; Aphrodite.

There is an account told by philosopher, Pliny the Elder, of Cleopatra, the last queen of Egypt, who owned two of the largest pearls in history which adorned her ears.  When Marc Antony came to pay her a visit, she lavished him with gifts and feats that were never seen before. Being arrogant, Antony was contemptuous and disdainful of her lavishes and scornfully inquired what could possibly be more magnificent than everything he had witnessed and been given. Cleopatra merely smiled and requested a vessel containing vinegar. She took one earring off, dropped it in the vinegar, watched it dissolve and then drank it, proving to Antony she could spend 10 million sestertii in one meal.

 Cleopatra dissolves and drinks a pearl

Thankfully, nowadays pearls are worn as opposed to drinking them, but even thousands of years ago they were used to prove affluence, position and wealth. During the Dark Ages, fair maidens of nobility treasured delicate pearl necklaces, while fearless knights often wore pearls onto the battlefield. They believed that the magic possessed by the radiant gems would protect them from harm. Over time, European royalty wore pearls in any way possible, as jewelry, as crowns, and sewn on clothing, hats, cloaks,brooches and just as strand draping whichever way they wanted.

 European and Anglo Royalty wearing pearls in extravagance

The Roaring Twenties had flappers pushing conventional styles and behaviors, favoring ropes and ropes of pearls. In the thirties and forties many A-list Hollywood actresses, like Josephine Baker and Pola Negri, preferred shorter strands of pearls, suitable for everyday wear. In the fifties, fashion was all about the detail. Hats, gloves, scarves, handbags and headbands were all piled on and brought together by a strand of shimmering pearls. The sixties fashion model was timeless and classy, until the hippy era was welcomed in. An abundance of pearls were worn in the form of earrings, necklaces and bracelets. Think Audrey Hepburn in Breakfast at Tiffany’s.

Audrey Hepburn in Breakfast at Tiffanys

The amount of light reflecting off a pearl’s surface is called luster. This is what determines a pearl’s quality, not its size unlike diamonds and other gemstones. You can tell if a pearl is real by sliding it across your teeth. If it’s gritty, it’s probably real. Pearls come in all shapes and sizes and every pearl is unique; no two are alike. This is what makes them so precious. Of all the shapes pearls come in, round ones are the most valuable and sought after. Some pearls, like the Australian pearl can take up to five years to reach full maturity.

testing pearls with teeth

When wearing pearls, make sure to apply hairspray, deodorant and makeup before you put on your pearls, as chemicals may harm the pearl and its luster. It’s advisable to not wear perfume on your neck if wearing a pearl necklace, or on your wrists if wearing a bracelet.

Pearls are the birthstone of the month of June, symbolizing purity. And while they are traditionally given as a gift for a 30th wedding anniversary, pearl jewelry is suitable for almost any occasion.

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