1. Pearl is the birthstone for June and is traditionally given for 30th anniversaries.
2. Pearls are one of the few gems that are not stones at all; they aren’t minerals that have found in the earth, but are formed inside the shells of mollusks (certain types of oyster and mussel for instance).
3. When a foreign body, like a rogue parasite, enters the soft lining of the mollusks shell it causes irritation, which prompts the organism to secrete a substance called nacre around the offending item. It keeps doing this until the nacre has built up many layers et voila…you have a pearl.
4. It’s the substance nacre (a combination of aragonite – a form of calcium carbonate – and conchiolin) which gives a pearl its creamy lustre and the more layers of nacre, the better.
5. Good cultured pearls need at least 3 years to form the thick layers nacre which result in a beautiful, gem-quality pearl. Lower-quality pearls have too thin a coating of nacre as they’ve often been ‘rushed’ out of the oyster. If you can make out the nucleus in a pearl when holding it up to the light, then it indicates a very thin covering of nacre.
6. High-quality nacre can be identified by the reflections given on its surface. Sharp, bright reflections indicate better quality, whilst softer, blurrier reflections are given on lower-quality specimens.
7. Natural pearls were first recorded in written documents in China in 2206 B.C, China being among the better-known ancient sources of naturally occurring pearls along with Japan, the Persian Gulf, Sri Lanka and some European rivers, however their beauty and rarity saw them increasingly desired by the wealthy and aristocratic, leading to meteoric rises in cost.
8. So you can imagine the race to fish New World pearls, as discovered by Christopher Columbus in Venezuela and Panama, after he encountered native peoples adorned with them! As a result these sources were overfished even more rapidly than the original ancient sites (within 100 years) in order to satisfy European demand.
9. Thankfully, help was on hand a few centuries later when the ability to culture spherical pearls was perfected in Japan in 1893.
10. Chinese farmers had in fact had the ability to seed and grow flat blister pearls since as early as the 13th century, but round pearls were much more sought-after due to their rarity. Perfectly round pearls are extremely hard to come by in nature and very difficult to create!
11. Spherical pearls may still be most valued, but in the past, especially in the european Baroque period of the 17th & 18th centuries, irregular drop shaped pearls were in vogue. They were so popular that we now refer to non-spherical pearls as ‘Baroque Pearls’ and watch out for them as they are making a comeback on the catwalks for 2018.
12. Natural pearls are understandably fewer and further between than those that are cultured, making them still much higher in value, and most natural pearls are now handed down from generation to generation within families, so they don’t make it to market very often.
13. Most pearls for sale today will be cultured, but the time and effort it takes to grow a pearl means they are still well-valued and highly-desirable. Imitation pearls are something quite different indeed. These aren’t pearls at all but are usually cheap plastic beads coated in a solution of fish scales and paint.
14. You can tell a real pearl (natural or cultured) from an imitation pearl by rubbing it against your tongue. Real pearls feel slightly gritty, whilst fake pearls will be smooth to the touch.
15. The ultimate Goddess stone, pearls are associated with water and the moon (unsurprisingly, given its appearance), both of which are considered feminine by many spiritual systems.
16. They are said to balance female hormones, smooth rough emotions, bring calm reflection to any situation and enhance the wisdom and purity of the wearer.
17. Finally, as every good mermaid knows, wearing pearls complements and heightens the beauty of your skin….so I’m off to the shop floor to load on as many strands of pearls as I can stand up in…
Find your own skin-perfecting pearls on our website here.