Essential notes on precious stones
Throughout history, the pearl, with its warm inner glow and shimmering iridescence has been one of the oldest know, most highly valued and sought after gems.
Countless references to the pearl can be found in religions and mythology of many cultures from the earliest times when it was first discovered while man was searching the seashore for food. A fragment of the oldest known pearl jewelry, found in the sarcophagus of a Persian princess who died in 520 BC, is displayed at the Louvre in Paris.
The ancients believed pearls were a symbol of the moon and had magical powers. The Latin word for pearl literally means "unique", attesting to the fact that no two pearls are identical. In ancient Rome, pearls were considered the ultimate symbol of wealth and social standing. Roman women wore pearls to bed so they could be reminded of their wealth immediately upon awakening.
The ancient Egyptians prized pearls so much they were buried with them. Reportedly, Cleopatra dissolved a single pearl in a glass of wine and drank it, simply to win a wager with Marc Anthony that she could consume the wealth of an entire country in just one meal.
The Greeks held the pearl in high esteem for both its unrivaled beauty and its associating with love and marriage.
An Old Arabic legend romantically explains that the pearls formed when moonlight filled dew drops descended down from the sky into to oceans and were swallowed by oysters.
During the Dark Ages, while fair maidens of nobility cherished delicate pearl necklaces, gallant knights often wore pearls onto the battlefield. They believed that the magic possessed by the lustrous gems would protect them from harm.
This intriguing gift from the sea had been brought back from the Orient by the Crusaders. The Renaissance saw the royal courts of Europe awash in pearls. Since pearls were so highly regarded, a number of European countries (such as Rome and Saxony) even passed laws forbidding the wearing of pearls by others outside of the nobility.
Until the early 1900's, natural pearls were accessible to only the rich and famous. In 1916, famed French jeweler Jacques Cartier bought his landmark store on New York's famous Fifth Avenue by trading two pearl necklaces for the valuable property.
Today, with the advent of pearl cultivation, pearls are affordable and available to all. Cultured pearls share the same properties as natural pearls and are grown by live oysters. The only difference is a little bit of encouragement by man.
Natural pearls are formed more or less randomly, when some sort of irritant becomes lodged in the tissue of an oyster or mollusk. In response to the irritation, the oyster secretes nacre, a combination of calcium carbonate (in a crystalline form) and conchiolin, an organic protein substance which provides bonding, which gradually builds up in layers around the irritant. Over a period of several years, this build-up of nacre forms a pearl. Nacre, also known as mother-of-pearl, is the basic substance which is secreted by oysters and mollusks to form the inside of their shells. When nacre secretions are deposited around a foreign substance which has invaded the mollusk's body, they build up to form a pearl.
The specific luster, iridescence, and coloring of nacre - and, therefore, of any pearl which it forms - depends on the number and thickness of the various layers, as well as on whether or not the layers overlap one another. The size, shape, and color of the pearl are determined by a combination of factors, including the size and shape of the original irritant, whether the mollusk is living in salt or freshwater, and the geographic region where the mollusk lives.
Until it was replaced by plastic in the mid-20th century, when appeared the artificial plastic perls, mother-of-pearl was also used to produce shiny buttons for clothing. This was the case in Broome Australia, a well-known South Sea pearl producing area. Before South Sea pearls became the area staple, this small town thrived on the Pinctada maxima mother-of-pearl business. Mother-of-pearl is now used extensively as the nucleus in pearl cultivation. The shell of a mussel is cut into squares and then run through a process which rounds the pieces into beads. These beads are then implanted into the oysters which then secrete nacre upon the mother-of-pearl beads to form the cultured pearl.
Natural pearls are named "natural" because except Mother Nature nobody else intervenes in the pearl formatting. Natural pearls of any commercial value or desirability are extremely rare.
Since the early part of the 20th century, cultured pearls have supplanted natural pearls as the most common and available pearls. Cultured pearls are still actual pearls, grown organically inside of oysters in the same way as natural pearls.
The difference is that, in the case of cultured pearls, the pearl farmer intentionally stimulates the development of the pearl by inserting a "nucleus" into the oyster. Thus, the formation and discovery of the pearl are no longer left to chance.
Natural pearls today tend to be found primarily in older jewelry from estate sales, auctions, and so forth -- in other words, existing pearls rather than new ones. However, some natural pearl beds are being increasingly harvested, including beds in the Persian Gulf area and freshwater natural pearls in the United States.
Cultured pearls are not the most durable of gems, but if they're properly cared for, they can retain their original beauty for many generations. They won't shatter easily, but at the same time, you can't treat them carelessly and expect them to remain undamaged.
There are many stores nowadays selling so-called "natural pearls" that are in fact plastic made of, coated with artificial nacre layers, similar to those ones originated from Mallorca island. A too affordable price for a pearl jewelry should bring you a second thought that it might not be a genuine natural pearl. The immediate disadvantage of such artificial pearls is that the non-natural nacre will be lost soon, by tarnishing or scratching.
Pearls have been considered ideal wedding gifts because they symbolize purity and innocence.
Nacre is also known as mother-of-pearl.
Natural pearls with a perfect shape and normal size are extremely rare and of course, very expensive.
Cultured pearls are still actual pearls, grown organically inside of oysters in the same way as natural pearls.