Tears of sharks, heaven’s dew, the eyes of the spirit, or the product of an oyster’s liquid, the origin of pearls has been long been disputed and treasured by man for 4 thousand years. In Roman times they were associated with Venus, the God of love and so became a currency of love and extravagance. In an exuberant demonstration of each Cleopatra dipped one into vinegar and drank it at a dinner party and until the early 20th century the price of a string of pearls could be equivalent to a yacht or a country mansion! Though pearls are considered a “girls’ best friend” natural pearls are in fact rarer than natural diamonds.
Natural pearls grow in mollusc’s; freshwater pearls in mussels and sea pearls in oysters. Once, Scotland was known for its rose-pink pearls and Cumbria for its black pearl. Now however, the wild mussel colonies on which natural pearls depend have become so rare that pearling has been banned in UK river system since 1998. Today natural pearls are relatively inexpensive when compared with their scarcity, this is because of the development of the cultured pearl, which is grown with encouragement from humans who implant tiny organic particles such as parasites into the mollusc’s. Mikimoto was the Japanese pioneer who put this practise to market on a mass scale last century though the actual practise dates back to 5th century China when the undiscerning eyes of travellers along the Silk Road would struggle to discern the natural pearl from its “cultured” counterpart.
Pearls in each case are created from a nacre, an iridescent liquid, which is excreted from a gland inside a mollusc’s when it is irritated by the intrusion of a grain of sand or parasite. Over several years these layers build upon each other, snowballing to create a pearl whose shape resembles that of the original intruder. A perfectly round pearl is rare, just like a perfectly round grain of sand; the larger the pearl, the rarer it is and the pearlier the luster and purer the colour, the more impressive it appears. Large, round, pure pearls are therefore the most expensive.
Today, most pearls are found off Broome in Australia (a large cultured pearls), Tahiti (for black pearls) and China. Pearls are gathered from the seabed by divers who risk their own safety by diving up to 40 metres sometimes relying on an extensive hose which delivers oxygen to him from the surface. In more regulated markets, divers use heavy bronze helmets and weighted boots. But by any means it is a skilled and dangerous job to move a pearl from the sea and string it for a necklace.
The most famous pearl is La Peregrina, which has passed through the hands of 8 Spanish and the late Elizabeth Taylor. It also acheived some notoriety for having endured a chew by her dog but was nevertheless sold for $11.8m in December 2011! Pearls are as delicate as their natural environment and should be kept clear of ammonia, handcreams, soap and ultrasonic cleaners. They can be cleaned with a lint free cloth and should be stored in a soft chamois or non abrasive bag to avoid scratching.
Pearls are the birthstone for June and lore has it that they enhance the power of love, money, luck and protection. In histroy they have been given to children to keep them safe, between lovers to cement engagements and to newleywed women to stop them from crying! Find any reason as Pearls are truly beautiful and magical things.