Officially the oldest gem in the world, pearls have been revered long before written history. For this reason, their discovery cannot be attributed to a particular person, but it is believed that they were first discovered by people looking for food along the seashore. We know that they have been used as a form of ornament for millennia thanks to a fragment of pearl jewelry found in the sarcophagus of a Persian princess dating back to 420 BC. C., which is now exhibited in the Louvre in Paris.
Pearls were presented as gifts to Chinese royalty as early as 2300 BC. C., while in ancient Rome, pearl jewelry was considered the supreme status symbol.
Spherical gems were so precious that in the 1st century BC. Julius Caesar passed a law that limited the use of pearls to the ruling classes only.
The abundance of natural oysters in the Persian Gulf has made pearls even in Arab cultures, where legend has it that pearls were formed from the drops of dew that oysters swallowed when they fell into the sea. Before the advent of cultured pearls, the Persian Gulf was the center of the pearl trade and was a source of wealth in the region long before the discovery of oil.
With such a long and ancient history, it is no wonder that, over time, the pearl has been swallowed up by myths and legends. In ancient China, pearl jewelry was said to symbolize the purity of the wearer, while in the Middle Ages, knights wore pearls on the battlefield, believing that precious stones would keep them safe. According to legend, Cleopatra smashed a pearl in a glass of wine to show Marc Antony that she could offer the most expensive dinner ever.
Pearls have been an important commercial product since Roman times and the discovery of pearls in Central and South America in the 15th and 16th centuries led to the so-called Pearl Age. With the growing demand for pearls in Western Europe, where ladies of the nobility and the royal family wore elaborate pearl necklaces, earrings, pearl bracelets and brooches, the demand for pearl jewelry became so high in the 19th century that supply of oysters began to decline.
Unlike precious stones that are extracted from the earth, a living organism produces a pearl and, in fact, its very existence is a phenomenon of nature. A pearl is formed when an irritant, such as a parasite or a piece of shell, accidentally lodges in an oyster’s soft inner body, causing it to secrete a crystalline substance called nacre, which builds up around the irritant in layers until a pearl is not formed. . Cultured pearls are formed by the same process, the only difference is that the irritant implants itself in the oyster instead of entering by accident.
Until the early 20th century, the only way to collect pearls was through divers who risked their lives at depths of up to 100 feet to retrieve the pearl oysters. It was a dangerous quest and had little chance of success as a ton of oysters would only produce three or four quality pearls. Freshwater mollusks living in shallow rivers and streams were easier to collect, but these pearl beds were often reserved for collection by royalty.
Today, natural pearls are among the rarest gems and their almost completely exhausted supply means that they are very rarely found only in the seas of Bahrain and Australia. The shortage of natural pearls is reflected in the prices they get at auctions, with vintage pearl necklaces and earrings selling for record sums. Last year, a pair of leftover natural pearl earrings once owned by Empress Eugenie of France, wife of Napoleon Bonaparte, set a new world record when they were sold for $ 3.3 million to Doyle. New York.