History of Pearl

"Cultured Pearls" - A Pearl's Place in the Arts

Mosaic art featuring Vermeer's Girl With a Pearl Earring

Throughout history, pearls have played a prominent role in arts and culture. Symbols of powerful concepts like rarity and purity, pearls are beloved by artists, writers, and other creators, who naturally find inspiration and meaning in their beauty. In our past blog posts, we've highlighted the various ways that pearls have made their way into the arts, including genres like music, fine art, literature, and cinema.

In this more comprehensive post, we'd like to take the opportunity to honor all the ways that pearls have influenced the arts over the years, even in fields like poetry, interior design, decorative arts, theatre, and architecture. Continue reading for a deep dive into a pearl's place in culture.

Music

Can you think of any memorable songs that feature "pearl" in their lyrics? In our blog post "Four Memorable Songs About Pearls", we highlighted four songs that include our favorite natural creation!

First up is Prince and the New Power Generation's song "Diamonds and Pearls", which is the upbeat title track to the 1991 album "Diamonds and Pearls". It was actually a top 10 hit! In the music video, Prince holds strands of intertwined pearls.

Next is Olivia Newton John's "Pearls on a Chain", which appears on the album "Grace and Gratitude". The album was sold exclusively by Walgreens, with profits benefiting various cancer charities, and the song communicates the idea that all human beings are interconnected.

Released in 2010, the song "Pearl" by Katy Perry ends with a positive and empowering message: "You are strong and you'll learn / That you can still go on / And you'll always be a pearl."

Finally, "The Pearl" by Emmylou Harris is from an album that won the Grammy Award for Best Contemporary Folk Album in 2001. The rich and symbolic lyrics of this song are hopeful and inspiring.

Art

With their interesting shapes and colors, along with their ability to reflect light in a beautiful manner, it's no surprise that pearls have made their way into many famous paintings throughout history.

The most well-known of these paintings is "Girl with a Pearl Earring" by Johannes Vermeer, which was completed in 1665 and is currently on display at the Mauritshuis museum in The Hague. The painting is so significant that it even inspired both a historical novel by Tracy Chevalier and a movie starring Scarlett Johansson!

Another well-known painting featuring pearls is "Helena Rubinstein in a red brocade Balenciaga gown", completed in 1957 by Graham Sutherland. This vibrant portrait features the well-known philanthropist in an amazing red brocade gown by designer Balenciaga and many layers of pearls around her neck.

Equally as stunning is José Tapiró's "A Tangerian Beauty", which is included in the collection of the Dahesh Museum of Art in New York City. In this painting from 1876, luminous strand of pearls are suspended around a woman's neck like dew drops from a chain of gold medallions.

Finally, the more contemporary painting "Sophia, Single Pearl" by Daniel Gerhartz features the artist's own daughter wearing a stunning pearl necklace.

Literature

Pearls have even inspired some of the world's greatest fiction writers! In our blog post "4 Classic Fiction Books with 'Pearl' in the Title", we wrote about some of our favorite pearl references in classic literature.

One of the most famous is "The Pearl" by legendary and award-winning American writer John Steinbeck. The story follows a pearl diver named Kino, and it explores heavy abstract concepts that are sure to get your brain going!

Inspired by the Vermeer paining we mentioned in the previous section, "Girl With a Pearl Earring" by Tracy Chevalier is a work of historical fiction published in 1999. In their review of the book, "The New York Times" described the novel as a "brainy novel whose passion is ideas".

"The Black Pearl" by Scott O'Dell is actually categorized as a young adult novel, but adults would enjoy the book equally as much. O'Dell's book tells the story of Ramon, who finds a black pearl so beautiful that his pearl-dealing father believes he's found the fabled Pearl of Heaven.

Finally, "Pearls Are a Nuisance" by famed detective fiction writer Raymond Chandler is actually a short story that's perfect for fans of the "whodunnit" genre.

Cinema

Did you know that pearl jewelry has also found its way into some of Hollywood's most enduring examples of cinema? Two of these movies are "The Great Gatsby" directed by Baz Luhrmann and "Breakfast at Tiffany's" featuring the great actress Audrey Hepburn.

In 2013, Warner Brothers released a new film adaptation of the classic F. Scott Fitzgerald novel. If you're not familiar with the story, it's set in the 1920s, so the styling of the characters is representative of the time period: fringed flapper dresses, jewel-encrusted headbands, feathers, and of course - long pearl strands. Actress Carey Mulligan plays the lead female character Daisy, who wears pearl hand ornaments and a Savoy headpiece by Tiffany & Co.

In contrast, "Breakfast at Tiffany's" is an American romantic comedy film that was released in 1961. Based on Truman Capote's novel of the same name, the film tells the story of Holly Golightly, a Manhattan socialite and party girl who finds a love interest in her apartment building. Holly Golightly is known for a very specific look: a sleeveless black dress, jeweled hair clip, and a multi-strand pearl necklace with a jeweled pendant. You may be surprised to know that the necklace from the movie has traveled the world as part of an exhibit called "Pearls: A Natural History" and continues to influence women's fashion today.

Poetry

In past blog content, we explored fiction books with "pearl" in their titles, but we failed to mention some other genres of literature that also honor the lustrous pearl. Poetry is one such genre. Full of vibrant imagery, playful language, and impactful ideas, poems sometimes use pearls to communicate specific emotions.

In a poem titled "Bustan", the Persian poet Saadi (1190-1291 A.D.) writes, "The sky brought the work with success to a close, /And a famed royal pearl from the rain-drop arose. /Because it was humble it excellence gained; /Patiently waiting till success was attained." In this poem from a book that's considered by some to be one of the 100 greatest books of all time, the pearl symbolizes patience and the virtues of waiting while consistently pursuing success.

The poet Dryden in the prologue to his poem "All for Love" writes, "Errors, like straws, upon the surface flow; /He who would search for pearls must dive below." In this poem, pearls represent worthwhile pursuits in life. Dryden is saying that the person who's willing to do the hard work and to take the extra step will reap the best and most valuable rewards.

Interior Design

As far back as the ancient Egyptians, human beings have been searching for unique, personal, and meaningful ways to decorate their homes. Approximately 100 years ago, the profession of interior design emerged and started to gain momentum, when wealthy homeowners began to appreciate the delicate balance of form and function in the home - and then sought out professional assistance in their efforts to achieve that balance.

How have pearls played a role in interior design? Well, mother-of-pearl is a natural luxury material that's often incorporated into surfaces, finishes, and details in high-end homes today. As you can see from this article from the publication The English Home, mother-of-pearl can add beautiful luster to walls, backsplashes, floors, and much more. Imagine a full accent wall covered in marquetry wall panels with mother-of-pearl or bathroom tiles with gleaming mother-of-pearl.

The paint color "pearl" is also an easy-to-use neutral that works harmoniously with many other colors. For example, it can work with white, rose gold, navy blue, gray, and more.

Decorative Arts

Throughout the years, pearls have also played a prominent role in the decorative arts, which is a type of art that's concerned with the creation of beautiful and valuable objects, often to be collected and displayed throughout the home. Ceramics, glassware, furniture, and textiles are all examples of decorative arts.

What are some of the most striking examples of pearls being used in decorative arts? The website 1st Dibs is a treasure trove of precious items, many of them featuring mother-of-pearl, or the iridescent inside lining of a mollusk shell.

This unique watch stand from 19th-century Spain is crafted in bronze with attractive mother-of-pearl details. You can't ignore the sculpted parrot keeping watch over the items! This striking box from 1960s India features eye-catching "pietra dura" hand work with red carnelian, blue lapis, green malachite, white mother-of-pearl, and other stones, all in white granite marble. What a lovely object to behold! Finally, this dish - also from India - is a handcrafted gem from the 16th-17th century made entirely from mother-of-pearl. Similar examples are at The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York and The Victoria and Albert Museum.

Architecture

Pearls on their own wouldn't make effective building materials, but they do still influence the field of architecture. You may be surprised to discover that a group of scientists is studying pearls with the idea that they may inspire the future of manufacturing durable, man-made materials. According to this article from NBC News, nacre "has long puzzled scientists because it is 3,000 times more break-resistant than the mineral that comprises its building blocks, aragonite". Upon close examination, nacre actually resembles a brick wall, with "organic mortar" and columns of crystals that interlock like zippers. Architects might be able to learn a thing or two from pearls!

In addition, a number of notable buildings throughout the world have been named after the pearl. For example, The Pearl in Silver Spring, MD is a multi-family and mixed-use project that was completed in 2017. According to the description, the multi-building development "delivers a unique living experience: a place for balance with room to grow and breathe that is connected to the urban context but rooted in the natural beauty of the surrounding landscape". Real pearls are also born from the time they spend in their natural landscapes!

We also love the concept behind the Pearl House in Montreal, Canada: it "can be viewed as a precious work of art, an innovative and protective shell containing a treasure: a family." Modern and sleek with cedar plank accents throughout, this 2,100-square-foot home allows for the passage of light and plenty of indoor-outdoor spaces where the family can gather.

Theater

Pearls have also been honored in live theater productions, most notably in plays by the one-and-only Bard - Shakespeare. There's even a book on the topic called "Shakespeare and Precious Stones"! According to this forum about Shakespeare and pearls, "In the poet's time pearls were not only worn as jewels, but were extensively used in embroidering rich garments and upholstery and for the adornment of harnesses." For this reason, they're often mentioned in relation to royalty and wealth.

In "Midsummer Night's Dream", one of the characters delivers the line, "She is a pearl / Whose price hath launch'd above a thousand ships". The dialogue suggests that a pearl is a precious and valuable object and that any woman compared to a pearl is one to be admired and treasured.

As you can plainly see, pearls have played a very prominent role in the arts throughout time and across many different cultures. Typically used as a device to represent concepts like wealth, rarity, beauty, and innocence, they're a universal symbol that transcends language and history. At Add-A-Pearl, we believe a pearl is a piece of art in itself, crafted by Mother Nature and made to last for future generations to enjoy it. If you'd like to give a beautiful piece of natural "art" to your loved one, start customizing a cultured pearl necklace by visiting this page.

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