What do Audrey Hepburn, Coco Chanel, and Michelle Obama all have in common? Right, they love pearls! These famous women are known for wearing pearl jewellery, all in their own way and matching their own style. And the mere fact that these women all lived in different eras and all have their own, different fashion style, illustrates how versatile pearls are. So, pearls have been an object of beauty for ages, but did you know that their creation is actually a natural defense mechanism? Read our blog below to learn everything about this special gift of nature!
A natural defense mechanism
So, let’s start out with what exactly is a pearl. If you’d ask this question to someone, you will probably get an answer like: “a shiny object that you sometimes find in your oysters and is used to make jewellery”. Thus, what most people do know, is that pearls come from the sea. But what a lot of people don’t know, is that they not only come from oysters, but other molluscs, like mussels can also produce pearls. And how and when do these molluscs actually create a pearl? Maybe you didn’t realize before, but the process of creating a pearl is actually a natural defense mechanism of the mollusc! The body of a mollusc is very soft and easily gets irritated if a foreign object, like for example a parasite, enters the shell. As a reaction, the mollusc secretes a milky substance called nacre which covers the foreign particle. The object is covered in nacre layer upon layer, until eventually a pearl is formed. This is not a process that can happen overnight, but it can take multiple years until the pearl is fully formed.
Cultured but not fake
Considering the long time it takes to form a pearl, combined with the fact that molluscs only form pearls when a foreign object enters their shell, it’s not hard to imagine that natural pearls are extremely rare. But fortunately for us pearl lovers, methods for artificial pearl growing were developed around 1900. It was discovered that the foreign object could also be placed in the shell by humans, and a pearl would still be formed. This method was so successful that it is still used until this day. A very common technique for this is to place a small bead of shell along with a tiny piece of mantle tissue in a pearl oyster shell and then return the oysters to the water to let them form a pearl. Pearls that are grown like this, are called cultured pearls. These cultured pearls should not be confused with imitation pearls though. Cultured pearls undergo the same process as natural pearls, but with the foreign object being inserted by humans. Imitation pearls, on the other hand, have nothing to do with this natural process. They’re often created by dipping a glass bead into a solution of fish scales.
Since the formation of pearls is a natural process, not all pearls look like the perfectly round ones we often see, but they vary in shape and size. Pearls that have a perfectly round shape are the rarest and thus the most valuable, but pearls are generally of spherical shapes. Depending on the water the pearls are grown in, the colours can also vary. Where the finest pearls have a satin luster, pearls with pink or even blackish tints also exist.
History of pearls in jewellery
Pearls can officially be called ‘world’s oldest gems’, since they have been worn as a form of adornment for millennia. In multiple ancient civilizations, pearls were considered to be the ultimate status symbol. It is known that they were given as gifts to Chinese royalty as early as 2300 BC. We also know that people have been wearing pearl jewellery for millennia, since a fragment of pearl jewellery was found in the sarcophagus of a Persian princess, which dates back to 420 BC. In the 15th and 16th centuries, pearls were discovered in Central and South America. At the same time, there was a high demand for pearls in Western Europe, where all ladies who could afford it wanted to wear pearl jewellery. So, these years can rightly be called “the age of pearls”. Nowadays, you might look twice if you saw a man wearing strands of pearls. But this hasn’t always been the case: one can find many historical portraits of important men, for example kings and princes, wearing pearl jewellery! Eventually, the demand for pearls became so high, that mollusc supplies began to dwindle and pearl jewellery became difficult to manufacture. However, the love for pearls had not disappeared, and they were one of the most important gems during the Edwardian period, which is known as the “white period”, because of the extensive use of pearls, diamonds and white metals. Around this same period, Kokichi Mikimoto developed a method to stimulate oysters to form a pearl. This method was so successful that by 1935, there were 350 pearl farms in Japan and pearls were available to the general public for the first time in history! Nowadays, most pearls are cultured pearls, and natural pearls are very rare, but can sometimes be found in antique jewellery.
Why pearls are still the essential accessory
Like we mentioned above, during the glory days of the pearl, even men wore pearl jewellery with great pride. In the 1920’s, pearl sautoirs were very much in vogue, following the example of Coco Chanel, who generally whore a pile of pearls around her neck. However, around the 1980s, pearls were mostly associated with old ladies. But luckily, the tide is turning again and pearls are back in fashion today! Pearls have always been associated with feminine energy and are an indispensable accessory in every fashionable woman’s jewellery box. Moreover, pearls can be a very good investment, since high quality pearls are very durable because of their thick nacre. And while you might think that pearls are only suitable to wear to formal events, they are actually super versatile. A pair of stud earrings, for example, are perfectly suitable for everyday wear, but will add just that bit of elegance to your look. If you do have a formal event to attend, do not hesitate to go all out with a good pearl necklace to make your look extra glamourous.
Did you become curious about how pearls would match your style? Make sure to take a look at our web shop! We have a wide range of pearl jewellery, varying from pieces that are suitable for everyday wear to more dramatic statement pieces. We’re sure there’s something for you as well!
“Enjoy your search for your perfect, feminine pearl jewellery and please contact us if you have any questions!” -xxx- Sophie