When you think of pearl, what comes to mind? Audrey Hepburn? Jackie-O? Queen Elizabeth?
Recently we started to think a bit more about the only birthstone that really isn't a stone at all. Why do we walk through the "Pearly Gates"? Is pearl really the "queen of gems and the gem of queens"? What actually is a pearl and why has it fascinated us for so so long?
First off, a pearl is the only gemstone found inside a living creature. When an foreign element enters an oyster's shell - almost like a human getting a splinter - the oyster covers it with layers of nacre, the same substance it uses to build it's shell. Over the course of the next several months to several years, the layers keep building up, growing the pearl larger and larger. The final result can be large or small, round or "baroque", but in nature only 1 in every 10,000 oysters will ever create a pearl. Traditional divers needed swim to depths of nearly 100ft to even begin harvesting, making pearl one of the rarest substances in the world.
Because of this scarcity, pearls have always captured human imagination. The earliest record of pearls as decorative objects dates back to Mesopotamia around 2300BC. Beginning in ancient Persia and reaching a zenith in the Roman Empire, saltwater pearls were considered the most valuable substance on earth. One legend tells of how Cleopatra proved the riches of Egypt to Marc Antony by crushing a single pearl in a goblet of wine and drinking it down - making their dinner the most expensive in the world. In another tale, a single pearl was said to have paid for a Roman general's entire military campaign.
Across the globe, from Tahiti to the secluded "Isle of Fisherwomen" in Japan, the variety and beauty of pearl wove itself into our consciousness. Pearls appear in the Koran, are sprinkled throughout Shakespeare, and are nearly universal symbols of wealth and power.
With the discovery of the "New World" more accessible freshwater pearls suddenly became available. Stories of the Chesapeake Bay, whose oyster reefs nearly broke the surface at low tide, became stuff of legend and set off another pearl craze across Europe. Inevitably, of course, those resources became exhausted. To this day, natural pearls remain one of the rarest gemstones in the world.
Everything changed in 1893, when Kokichi Mikimoto, the son of a Japanese noodle maker, created the world's first cultured pearl. By manually inserting a tiny bit of shell into the oyster's mantle - the organ that produces the nacre of the shell - Mikimoto revolutionized the pearl industry and allowed for the greatest expansion of pearl production ever. Suddenly, pearls became accessible and the Coco Chanel's famous "ropes and ropes of pearls" became a reality.
Here in the studio, we are definitely on the same page as Coco - we think the more pearls the merrier!