Pearls: Their History as a Jewel Accessory
Pearls are some of the most beautiful pieces of jewelry that you will ever come across. They come in all sizes and they will go great with just about any style of fashion that you choose! But did you know that pearls have been used as a jewel accessory for many thousands of years?
We are not quite sure when the earliest use of the pearl was, but we do know that it is one of the oldest gems around. 420 BCE was the earliest documented use of pearls used as a fashion accessory by Persian royalty. These pearls were accidentally discovered on the seashore while people were looking for food, and since then things just have not been the same.
Pearls have also carried symbolic meaning throughout the years, not unlike the other gemstones in existence. In ancient China and Rome, pearls were considered to be the ultimate status symbol. You would usually see them being worn by the ruling class, or offered as a gift to the elites by low class and middle class citizens.
Certain European countries went a step further during the dark ages – the nobility class was the ONLY class which was permitted to wear those shiny white pearls. It was forbidden for everybody else. Talk about being a little greedy!
As America was being discovered in the 15th and 16th centuries, explorers took note of the fact that Central and South America were heavily laden with the pearl oysters. Given that pearls are the only gemstone to be produced by a living organism, you can probably imagine what happens next.
As more nobility acquired pearls in the form of earrings, necklaces, and bracelets, supplies started to rapidly decline, and the pearl become more scarce and valuable than ever. Colored pearls were eventually discovered, bringing a breath of fresh air in a world where pearls were nothing but sparkling white.
Here’s the thing: You have to remember that not every oyster would produce 20 magical pearls. Unless you were willing to take the plunge and dive 100 feet to get new pearls, you would have to give up your life savings for a pearl, bargain, or steal them from somebody else. Even then, not ever oyster would have the pearls you wanted. Oysters are also known for snapping their shells down very hard, which often led to the loss of a finger or two.
Nowadays, you will be very hard pressed to find pearls that are 100% naturally produced, due to their extreme rarity. A jewelry accessory containing true natural pearls can go for up to millions of dollars at any auction. Go to any trade show, and you will be very hard pressed to find anyone that is selling genuinely natural pearls. There are a lot of people who might try to scam you into buying a fake. Just know this: If a pearl was REALLY natural, you would have the best security in the world taking care of it.
The pearls that you see most people wearing in the modern age are “cultured” pearls. A small nucleus is injected into a living oyster, and over time the pearl will form around the nucleus. This results in oyster farms that are created with the sole purpose of creating these cultivated pearls. Don’t worry too much about this method of making them, because they still look fabulous at the end of the day.
Over time, jewel experts have gotten smarter and discovered ways in which the integrity of the pearl can be maintained over a long period of time. For example, pearls are prone to scratching. If you leave it in the same bag with a diamond, you’re going to have one scratched up pearl when you take it out of the bag! Those two gemstones need to be contained separately. We’ve also learned that the slightly acidic nature of things like perfumes can dull the color of the pearl, so women need to be careful when they are getting themselves ready to go out at night.
Pearls have enjoyed an immensely rich “cultural” history as a jewel accessory. After spending thousands of years as something that only the noble and rich could have, they are available to the average person as a fashionable item that will go well with almost anything!