Facts about Pearls - Gems Found Under the Oyster's Shell

One of the facts about pearls is that it is the Birthstone for June.
One of the facts about pearls is that it is the Birthstone for June. | Source
Rhianna swathed in pearls
Rhianna swathed in pearls | Source
Audrey Hepburn in Breakfast at Tiffany's
Audrey Hepburn in Breakfast at Tiffany's | Source
At 222 meters, the longest strand of pearls are found at Shima City in Japan
At 222 meters, the longest strand of pearls are found at Shima City in Japan | Source
Queen Elizabeth wore pearls incessantly, considering them the symbol of purity.
Queen Elizabeth wore pearls incessantly, considering them the symbol of purity. | Source

Facts about Pearl - The Symbolism

Pearls are at once a symbol of innocence and purity and the ultimate symbol of elegance and subtle sexiness. Uncover the facts about pearls and it is clear that they have been coveted by man since the first cave dweller broke her tooth while eating an oyster.

For thousands of years, pearls symbolized wealth and with that wealth - power. The Egyptian Queen Cleopatra is said to have infamously dissolved a string of pearls in wine, then drinking the contents to prove her unlimited wealth (power) to Mark Anthony. The ancient world associated pearls with the moon, bestowing them with magical powers. One of the facts about pearls is that the The Incas and the Aztecs so coveted the pearls they created rich pearl fisheries that soon (and disastrously) came to the attentions of Europeans in their early discoveries of the "New" World.

The Hindus believed pearls to be a symbol of the moon, while the Chinese thought a pearl's growth was actually controlled by the moon. The Chinese also believed pearls to be symbolic of perfection and purity.

Pearls have been prominent in secular and religious life during various times and in different cultures. They have been mentioned in the Bible, the Koran and the Talmud. During the Dark Ages, pearls were a talisman - protection from harm in battle - for knights journeying to the East in search of the Holy Grail.

Timeless Beauty, Ageless Wearer

Heiress Barbara Hutton wore them at age three, Lady Brooks Astor wore them at 93. Audrey Hepburn was memorable in pearls as free spirited Holly Golightly in Breakfast At Tiffany's. Designer CoCo Chanel dripped with them. Singer Rihanna has been seen swathed in them. American First Ladies, including Jacqueline Kennedy, Barbara Bush and Michelle Obama, made them fashionable.

Often, young girls are given a pearl at their first birthday and receive one every year thereafter until they have a string for their sixteenth birthday or for their debutante party. For many sororities such as Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Incorporated, the pearl is the gem of choice as a symbol of beauty, elegance and strength.


Facts about the Pearl's Layered History

Because they are found naturally in various waters throughout the globe, the facts surrounding the pearl's history are like the layers of the pearl itself. In many cultures, it was not the pearl that was so valued early in their history, but rather the mother-of-pearl that was found lining the shell. The pearl was, in fact, a rarity. Mother-of-pearl, the oyster shell's lining, was not. Once the use of pearls as jewelry began, however, the practice never abatted. Ancient Middle Eastern Cultures may have been the first to value the pearls as jewelry, evidenced by the discovery of a Persian princess who was buried with her pearl jewelry in 520 B. C. Fittingly, the Persians believed pearls to be tears of the gods. The princess was buried with her tears.

The practice of wearing pearls as jewelry is thought to have spread from Persia to the ancient Mediterranean world and then across the Roman Empire. Some historian believe evidence suggests Julius Cesar advanced his campaign across Europe into Britain because of the quest for the freshwater pearls that could be found in the rivers of Scotland.

A symbol of preciousness and purity, pearls are mentioned as jewelry in Chinese texts as far back as 4,000 years ago.

The Hindu and Muslim world has a long history of men and women valuing and wearing pearls. In Islam, pearls represented perfection and completeness. Many Islamic rulers possessed renowned, expansive collections of gems including massive numbers of pearls.

The Hindu believed the pearl to be a gem that was second only to diamonds, associating it with the "cool" brilliance of the moon. According to Hindu legend, "Krishna the Adorable, the eighth incarnation of the great god Vishnu...discovered the pearl when he drew it from the depths of the sea as a gift for his daughter on her wedding day" write Ki Hackney and Diana Edkins in their informative book People and Pearls: The Magic Endures.

An interesting fact about pearls in European cultures during the 13th and 14th centuries is that the nobility were very clear in their regard of the pearl as a symbol of status and wealth. Mimicking the practice of the ancient Romans, certain classes were forbidden wearing pearls, even if they could afford to buy them. For example, lawyers and teachers could not be seen wearing pearls. This insured that the pearl's value would remain high and its "mystic" intact.

Queen Elizabeth I (1533 - 1603) had a "passion for pearls" and was painted wearing ropes of the organic gems and elaborate clothing displaying pearls weaved into the fabric. She often adorned her hair with the pearls, her crowns displaying pearls of varying sizes. For the Virgin Queen, their purity was symbolic of the "chaste" image she projected during her reign.

18th and 19th Century Russian nobility took pearl wearing to the extreme. The royal designers created lavish jewelry, intricate decorative headdress and articles of clothing with pearls extravagantly woven and embroidered in the voluminous layers of fabric. Pictures of members of the Romanov dynasty, the last Russian Dynasty, show the nobility, young and old, wearing pearls in varying degrees of lavishness for various occasions, from coronation to christening.

19th Century France was part of the history of one of the world's largest pearls found in the Gulf of Mexico. La Peragrina or "The Wanderer" which passed from King Philip II of Spain, played a part in politics between Spain and England and later found its way to France in 1813. Napoleon Bonaparte's fashionable wife, Josephine, wore pearls as did Empress Eugenie, Napoleon III's wife. Much later, actor Richard Burton brought the pearl back to England when he purchased it for his wife, Elizabeth Taylor.

China began it's long standing love affair with pearls in earnest during the Manchu Dynasty (1644 - 1911). The gem was not relegated to jewelry and fabric, but was also used in furnishings for the nobility.

The popularity of pearls surged in America in the late 1800s and early 1900s as the new millionaires - Americas's royalty - came into their wealth. It was a fact about pearls that the nouveau riche thought what better way to display their wealth than to purchase pearls, which weare now becoming increasingly scarce in the natural due to their immense popularity throughout the cultures of the world?

Always resourceful, however, necessity (and scarcity) led to the development of the cultured pearl. In the early 1900s the Japanese, who were not as enamored of the pearl as other cultures, perfected a process for producing pearls from oysters that had been induced to produce a pearl not by chance but rather with the introduction of an irritant by man's hand.

Man continues to attempt to improve on pearl cultivation. Recently, a Florida oceanographic institute has been awarded a grant to to develop a technique to produce pearls from the queen conch, consequently creating a new industry for Florida. Up to this point, conch have not been successfully farmed for their coral colored pearls.

How a Pearl Is Created

While its beauty is simplistic and pure, the pearl is that its formation is anything but. The development of the pearl is an abnormal occurance in nature and is a response to the introduction of an irritant or impurity - sand, a parasite, even food - into the shell of a mollusk. A rare occurrence in nature. Of the pearl forming types of mollusks, only about one in forty will produce a pearl.

The mollusks' reaction to the different irritants will produce different types of pearls. If numerous spots within the mollusks are irritated, then numerous pearls could form, although these pearls formed tend to be of smaller size than a single formed pearl.

The pearl is formed as the mollusk continues to protect itself from the irritant by surrounding the offensive material with layers of calcium carbonate, forming the laminae. These layers of laminae form unevenly, hence the ability to discern the authenticity of a pearl by rubbing the pearls over the teeth - real pearls are gritty while imitation pearls are smooth. Like snowflakes, no two pearls are the same.

The best known source of pearls in are the marine mollusks pearl oyster, conch and abalone. Marine pearls are more apt to be spherically shaped pearl eyes or pearl drops. When marine mollusks develop into ovoid or pear shaped pearls, they are called as pear pearls.

Freshwater mollusks also produce pearls more irregularly shaped pearls called baroque pearls. They are also the source of seed pearls which were wildly popular in the delicate, lace-like pearl jewelry designed in 1800's American and European pearl jewelry as a symbol of gentility and purity.

Pearl's Value

Not surprisingly, one of the determinants of the value of a pearl is its shape and its size. They are both due to temperature and chemistry of the water and the health, species and size of the mollusk growing the pearl. Pearls closest to perfect spheres are more valuable, while baroque pearls, those with very irregular shapes, tend to be of lesser value because of the irregularity.

The size of a single pearl can vary from the size of a pinhead and barely visable, to the size of a pigeon's egg. The Hope Pearl is currently the largest known pearl, weighing in at a hefty three ounces and measuring two inches long. It has a long history of owners including London banker Henry Philip Hope, a very prominent, wealthy figure in the early 1800's. It is now at the South Kennsington Museum in London.

When considering the value of a pearl, jewelers also look at the luster, or what they call the "orient," of a pearl. This is comparable to the "fire" of the diamond - the more lustrous the pearl, the more valuable. Again, marine or seawater pearls have more luster because of the thicker coating of nacre, which makes sense because seawater probably contains more irritants. The more luster, the higher price on the market.

If you are considering the purchase of a pearl, consult a jeweler about the pearl's possible value then choose your pearl according to what you can afford. A pearl can be a lasting heirloom, to be passed on in your family, making the value of that set of pearls priceless.

Whether the pearl is a priceless gem from the sea or from freshwater, cultured or natural, their popularity points to a very important fact about pearls: they are greatly desired and make a suitable, timeless gift for any woman, young or old. There are many more facts about pearls owing to its popularity and its beauty. Its versatility makes the pearl a highly sought after adornment for women, men, clothes and even furniture. Learning the facts about pearls can only increases the value.



All rights reserved: Cynthia Turner

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Comments 30 comments

Levi Byrd 5 years ago

Pearls are delicous along with gold and silver.

I have a watchband that is pearl and turquoise.


Cyndi10 profile image

Cyndi10 5 years ago from Georgia Author

Fantastic. Pearls can be mixed with most gems and the look is great!


Larimar jewelry 5 years ago

Larimar

pearls are sign of wealth and its innocence is duly credited to its feature.as it can be related to moon one can make ardent efforts to be a part of this precious stone.


Cyndi10 profile image

Cyndi10 5 years ago from Georgia Author

Pearls are awesome in their symbolism and their beauty.


travel_man1971 profile image

travel_man1971 5 years ago from Bicol, Philippines

Pearls are really one of women's best friends, aside from diamonds.


Cyndi10 profile image

Cyndi10 5 years ago from Georgia Author

Diamonds and pearls - such great gems. Paired together, they're the dynamic duo of gems. Pearls are soft, like the moon and diamonds are brilliant, like the sun. Thank you for reading.


ishwaryaa22 profile image

ishwaryaa22 4 years ago from Chennai, India

An extremely informative & engaging hub on pearls! This symbol of purity & elegance is extremely popular among women and you proved it by associating it with numerous famous pearl wearers like Jacqueline Kennedy, Michelle Obama, Audrey Hepburn in film 'Breakfast at Tiffany's', Queen Elizabeth I, etc. Also your explaination of its history, formation & value is very detailed. A well-reseached hub! Well-done!

Thanks for SHARING. Useful & Interesting. Voted up


Cyndi10 profile image

Cyndi10 4 years ago from Georgia Author

Hello ishwaryaa, Thank you so much for indulging in my article and finding it entertaining and informative. Just what every writer wants to hear. I appreciate you voting and sharing.


Cathleena Beams profile image

Cathleena Beams 4 years ago from Lascassas, Tennessee

Pearls are beautiful treasures of the sea. Loved your informative hub on the history and value of these gorgeous marine jewels.


Cyndi10 profile image

Cyndi10 4 years ago from Georgia Author

Hello Cathleena, That's a beautiful name by the way. Thank you so much for reading and leaving a comment. Pearls are beautiful. It's amazing how different cultures have looked at them, but they have always been treasured, not matter the culture or the time. Take care.


Mama Kim 8 profile image

Mama Kim 8 4 years ago

I'd take pearls over diamonds any day! Wonderful hub on pearls, voted up and shared.


ignugent17 profile image

ignugent17 4 years ago

Great hub! Full of factual information. I enjoyed reading about cleopatra. Voted up and more!


Cyndi10 profile image

Cyndi10 4 years ago from Georgia Author

Hi Kim, Pearls are warm and wonderful. It was fun to do the research. Thank you so much for voting and sharing. I appreciate that.


Cyndi10 profile image

Cyndi10 4 years ago from Georgia Author

Hi, I glad you took a look at the hub. If you liked reading about Cleopatra and the wine episode, you can take a look my short story on Cleopatra's final hours. Thanks for voting up!


DayLeeWriter profile image

DayLeeWriter 4 years ago from Georgia

Wow a lot of great information here! Well done! Voted up and sharing!!!!


Cyndi10 profile image

Cyndi10 4 years ago from Georgia Author

Hi, Pearls are so much fun to wear. Thanks for the vote up and sharing.


Jackie Lynnley profile image

Jackie Lynnley 3 years ago from The Beautiful South

Very interesting, I love pearls and any time I am on a beach I have to find me a shell heap to look for a pearl, and of course I have never found one. lol Fun fantasy though.


torrilynn profile image

torrilynn 3 years ago

Cyndi,

I absolutely love pearls and i remember having one when i was younger thanks for the read

Voted up


Cyndi10 profile image

Cyndi10 3 years ago from Georgia Author

Hi Jackie, Pearls are beautiful I have that fantasy of finding a pearl whenever I'm around shells.

Thanks for reading and leaving a comment. Have a funtastic weekend.


Cyndi10 profile image

Cyndi10 3 years ago from Georgia Author

Hi Torrilynn, I enjoyed doing the research on the pearls. I think they are beautiful and can be worn so many different ways by the young and old.

Thanks for the vote up! Take care.


dghbrh profile image

dghbrh 3 years ago from ...... a place beyond now and beyond here !!!

Very nice hub, Loved reading it. Votes up and shared.


Cyndi10 profile image

Cyndi10 3 years ago from Georgia Author

Hello deergha, Thanks for taking a look at the article, Facts about Pearls. I enjoyed the research for this, just as I enjoy wearing pearls. I appreciate the votes and share.

Take care and have a great weekend.


beingwell profile image

beingwell 3 years ago from Bangkok

Authentic pearls are sold cheap(er) in the beaches of Thailand and the Philippines. I bought a set for a couple of bucks. Sweet! I love their elegant look. So classic. Shared this one and voted up.


rebeccamealey profile image

rebeccamealey 3 years ago from Northeastern Georgia, USA

What a lovely article on pearls. Full of information on the little gems. I once found a tiny pearl inside an oyster while eating at an oyster bar. It was inside a steamed oyster. It was so exciting!


Cyndi10 profile image

Cyndi10 3 years ago from Georgia Author

Hello Beingwell, I would think that is probably so. Many of the best pearl divers are from the two countries. A set for a couple of bucks would be lovely. Thanks so much for the vote and sharing!


Cyndi10 profile image

Cyndi10 3 years ago from Georgia Author

Hello Rebecca, I've always wanted to find a pearl. I bet that was exciting. I would have loved that experience. It has never happened to me, yet. I'll just keep trying. Thanks so much for reading and leaving a comment.


Mel Carriere profile image

Mel Carriere 19 months ago from San Diego California

Refreshingly well written piece. I love the way you combined the myth and legend of the pearl with the reality of how they are formed. Great hub.


Cyndi10 profile image

Cyndi10 19 months ago from Georgia Author

HI Mel, thanks so much for your positive comment. I am so glad you enjoyed the hub.


Rachel L Alba profile image

Rachel L Alba 14 months ago from Every Day Cooking and Baking

Hi Cyndiio, I love pearls so thank you for giving details about how it's formed. I knew the jest of it, but you gave details I didn't know. Especially that several could be formed in one mollusk or that Mother of Pearl is actually a lining and not a pear itself. Thanks for sharing this information.

Blessings to you.


Cyndi10 profile image

Cyndi10 13 months ago from Georgia Author

Hello Rachel, thank you so much for reading the hub about pearls. Pearls are lovely and I really think they can be worn with just about anything. They add a touch of glamour and sophistication to the dowdiest outfit. I especially love wearing them with jeans.

Take care.

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