The History of Pearls:
Pearls are unique among gemstones because they don’t arise from the depths of the earth but from the sea. They require no special cutting or polishing to maximize their lustrous beauty, which has been treasured since ancient times and ensures that pearl jewelry will always be appreciated and desired.
Pearls were used in jewelry at least as far back as ancient Greece, and until the 20th century pearls were one of the most valued gems, if not the most valuable, in many cultures. The rulers of the Byzantine empire dictated that only the emperor was allowed to wear pearls, and other societies had rules about who could and could not wear these little treasures. The sixteenth century in England was known as the Pearl Age, reflecting the prestige carried by pearls at that time.
Pearls became more accessible in the early 1900s once people in Asia discovered how to create cultured pearls. By carefully placing a small nucleus into a living oyster, a pearl forms around the nucleus, allowing pearls to be created in oyster farms.
The Symbolism of Pearls:
In many ancient societies pearls symbolized the moon and were imbued with magical properties. Ancient Chinese civilizations believed that wearing pearls protected a person from fire and dragons, and other cultures have associated them with chastity and modesty. In Victorian England small seed pearls were often used in mourning jewelry to symbolize tears.
They do seem to personify feminine energies in a pure and classic form. They are at once simple and complex and they appeal to the emotional part of our natures. The feeling of pearls on the skin is unique as there is a softness there that no stone can imitate.
How Real Pearls Are Formed:
There are two types of pearls: natural & cultured
Natural Pearls form when an irritant - usually a parasite and not the proverbial grain of sand - works its way into an oyster, mussel, or clam. As a defense mechanism, a fluid is used to coat the irritant. Layer upon layer of this coating, called 'nacre', is deposited until a lustrous pearl is formed.
A cultured pearl undergoes the same process. The only difference is that the irritant is a surgically implanted bead or piece of shell called Mother of Pearl. These 'seeds' or 'nuclei' are most often formed from mussel shells. Quality cultured pearls require a sufficient amount of time - generally at least 3 years - for a thick layer of nacre to be deposited, resulting in a beautiful, gem-quality pearl. Lower-quality pearls have often been 'rushed' out of the oyster too quickly (sometimes a year or less) and have a too-thin coat of nacre.
Pearls can come from either salt or freshwater sources. Historically, saltwater pearls were rounder and had a better nacre than freshwater pearls, while freshwater pearls tended to be very irregular in shape, with a puffed rice appearance the most prevalent. However, improvements in freshwater pearl farming techniques have narrowed that gap, with freshwater pearls now exhibiting great roundness and deep luster.
The culturing process usually takes several years. Mussels must reach a mature age, which can take up to 3 years, and only then can be implanted or naturally receive an irritant. Once the irritant is in place, it can take up to another 3 years for the pearl to reach its full size and nacre thickness. Of the pearls produced, only approximately 5% are of sufficient true gem-quality for top jewelry makers, yet a pearl farmer can figure on spending over $100 for every oyster that is farmed, whether a gem-quality pearl is produced or not. (sourced from pearls.com)
It's clear that pearls hold a special place in human history and are sacred to many cultures. The gift of pearls will never lose their value or specialness.