Did you know how important pearls have been to man in history, below we tell you some fascinating examples.
Pearls were discovered before written history began, so it is hard to attribute their discovery to one particular time or place. We know that they have been worn as a form of jewellery for millennia thanks to a fragment of pearl jewellery found in the sarcophagus of a Persian princess that dates back to 420 BC, which is now on display at the Louvre museum in Paris.
Pearls were presented as gifts to Chinese royalty as early as 2300 BC, while in ancient Rome, pearl jewelry was considered the ultimate status symbol. So precious were the spherical gems that in the 1st century BC, Julius Caesar passed a law limiting the wearing of pearls only to the ruling classes. According to legend, Cleopatra crushed a pearl into a glass of wine to prove to Marc Antony that she could give the most expensive dinner in history.
According to some historians, humans collected pearls because they believed that the gems provided the wearer with mythical powers: health, vitality, eternal youth and marital bliss. Buddhist, Christian, Hindu, Jewish, and Muslim faithful covered the walls of their churches, temples and shrines with pearls. Hindu and Arab cultures thought pearls were drops of moisture that fell from the heavens. Ancient Hindus imagined pearls as dewdrops that fell at night and collected in open oyster shells, while some Middle Easterners believed pearls were the 'tears of God'. They believed that on warm summer days, mollusks would float to the surface, open up to absorb the sunlight and catch the Holy teardrops. The warm rays of sunlight and salty tears would combine to grow a beautiful pearl when the oyster descended to the ocean floor.
The abundance of natural oyster beds in the Persian Gulf meant that pearls also carried great importance in Arab cultures. Before the advent of cultured pearls, the Persian Gulf was at the centre of the pearl trade and it was a source of wealth in the region long before the discovery of oil.
The first cultured pearl was created in 1893 by Kokichi Mikimoto by manually implanting a stimulus into an oyster to make it start creating a pearl. This started a flourishing pearl industry, with which the value of natural pearls collapsed.
Kokichi Mikimoto, the son of a Japanese noodle maker, created the world's first cultured pearl in 1893 by manually introducing an irritant into an oyster to stimulate it to form a pearl. The introduction of cultured pearls in the early 1900s turned the whole pearl industry on its head and caused the value of natural pearls to plummet. By 1935, there were 350 pearl farms in Japan, producing 10 million cultured pearls a year, although Mikimoto had to constantly defend himself against accusations that his pearls were not "real". The scientific evidence spoke to the contrary; the cultivated pearls had the exact same properties as those formed in deep sea beds, the only difference was that they had a helping hand at getting the natural process started. Mikimoto's Akoya pearls are still used today by the jewellery house that bears his name and are renowned for their brilliant lustre and rich colours, which range from white, cream and pink, to silvery pink.
Image sources: www.justpearl.com 8.8, www.addapearl.com 6.8, www.karipearls.com 6.8, www.reddit.com/r/japanesehistory/ 8,8.