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Blog

Pearls of Wisdom

Katie Goldstein

“There is just one piece of jewelry that is equally becoming to everybody, lovely with almost every ensemble, appropriate for almost any occasion, and indispensable in every woman's wardrobe...long live the pearl necklace!” 

-Genevieve Antoine Dariaux

It's June! The month of the Pearl, so we thought we would take a moment to dive into the history of this unique gem, and to showcase some of our favorite pearl pieces.

....Human beings probably discovered the first pearl many thousands of years ago, likely while scouring the seashore for food.

Throughout history, the pearl, with its shimmering iridescent glow has been one of the most highly prized and sought-after gems. They have been worn and revered for millennia and in all corners of the earth. Countless references to the pearl can be found in the religions and mythology of cultures from the earliest times. The ancient Egyptians prized pearls so much they were buried with them. The pearl jewelry of the Queen of Sheba has become legendary, and it is said that Cleopatra served wine with ground pearls in it to her more important guests. Even the Bible mentions the stone, saying, " the price of wisdom is above pearls" and Lucifer is said to have broken his teeth because of his craving for pearls.

Pearls actually belong to the marine animal kingdom, but most people consider them precious stones.

The birth of a pearl is truly a miraculous event. Unlike gemstones or precious metals that must be mined from the earth, pearls are grown by live oysters far below the surface of the sea. A natural pearl begins its life when a foreign object, such as a parasite or piece of shell accidentally lodges itself in an oyster's soft inner body where it cannot be expelled. To ease this irritant, the oyster's body takes defensive action. The oyster begins to secrete a smooth, hard crystalline substance around the irritant in order to protect itself. This substance is called "nacre." As long as the irritant remains within its body, the oyster will continue to secrete nacre around it, layer upon layer. Over time, the irritant will be completely encased by the silky crystalline coatings. And the result, ultimately, is the lovely and lustrous gem called a pearl. 

Pearls are known to have many healing properties. Drinking pearl water regularly over a long period of time stabilizes the production of hormones. Chronic migraines and headaches can be alleviated by wearing a pearl necklace directly on the skin, and pearls are known to reduce allergies. 

Pearls have been used in jewelry as far back as Ancient Greece. They were presented as gifts to Chinese royalty as early as 2300 BC, and in ancient Rome, pearl jewelry was considered the ultimate status symbol. In fact, until the early 20th century, pearl was considered the most valuable gem even above the diamond.

During the European expansion into the New World, the discovery of pearls in Central American waters added to the wealth of Europe. Pearls can been seen in much Georgian, Edwardian and Victorian European jewelry, often alongside other gems.

 Unfortunately, greed and lust for the sea-grown gems resulted in the depletion of virtually all the American pearl oyster populations by the 17th century. Until the early 1900's, natural pearls were accessible only to the rich and famous. In 1916, famed French jeweler Jacques Cartier bought his landmark store on New York's Fifth Avenue -- by trading two pearl necklaces for the valuable property. 

Pearls became more accessible in the early 1900's, once people in Asia discovered how to create cultured pearls. As they became less rare, their value decreased and they became more attainable.

"A woman needs ropes and ropes of pearls," declared Coco Chanel, who was rarely seen without a pile of pearls casually worn around her neck. 

 

While the Pearl grew in popularity during the first three quarters of the 20th century (worn by everyone from Jackie O to Catherine Hepburn and Liz Taylor), it's popularity began to decline during the late seventies and early 80's as it became associated with older women and more conservative styles.

However, it's true that fashion is cyclical and that what goes around comes around. Pearl is making it's way back, both in modern jewelry and in the popularity of vintage and antique pieces.

Check out some of our favorite pearl pieces below.

 Pearl and Diamond Brooch, late 19th Century

Pearl and Diamond Brooch, late 19th Century