Pearls are unique among gemstones. Perhaps due to their origin and radiance, pearls have fascinated people from the time they were first discovered in artifacts in Mesopotamia. They’re still a highly coveted object in present time, and people will likely continue to collect pearls for many centuries to come, as long as they’re available.
Pearls are among nature’s most fascinating creations. They are produced by mollusks and come from nature, naturally beautiful and ready to be worn. If you’d like to learn more about where pearls are found and how they develop, then you’ll definitely want to read this other blog post about pearl origins.
Since first discovered, they have been objects of great admiration. When human beings began to appreciate natural objects for their beauty and give them symbolic meaning, they began using pearls as ornaments. In fact, one of the first-known examples of pearls worn as jewelry dates back to 420 BC.
Once too precious for all but nobility, today pearls are given to celebrate birthdays, weddings, anniversaries, and other special occasions. If you’d like to honor a special someone in your life, you can give her a meaningful jewelry gift like our Cultured Pearl Starter Necklace.
You probably don’t need any additional reasons to love pearls, but we have seven more in case you’re still on the fence about purchasing pearls for yourself or for a loved one.
Pearls have a long history
Pearls have been worn since the earliest times of civilization. Dating back to 420 BC, the oldest item of pearl of jewelry was discovered in the sarcophagus of a Persian princess. The Romans prized them and wore jewelry and clothing embellished with pearls. Wealthy women in medieval Europe enjoyed pearls as a portrayal of authority symbolizing you were a person of great wealth and importance.
Legend has it that Cleopatra dissolved a pearl in wine and drank it to prove her love for Marc Antony. Another version of the story is that she won a bet with Marc Antony that she couldn’t create a banquet that cost more than the assets of a country. Another story states that the Roman general Vitellius was able to finance a full military campaign just by selling one of his mother’s rare and beautiful precious pearl earrings.
Great historical paintings depicted women wearing pearls too. John Singleton Copely painted fashionable women wearing single or multiple strands of pearls. For example, in his pastel portrait of Mrs. Gawen Brown (1763), she wears three strands of pearls around her neck and one through her hair. A miniature of Martha Washington by Charles Willson Peale (1776) shows a choker of pearls and a strand of pearls in her hair.
Not confined to women only, the intrigue of pearls extended to men as well. In the days when the British crown rule was established in India, Indian rulers adorned themselves in layers and layers of lengthy ropes of pearls when partaking in dinners at the Viceregal Lodge, the summer residence of the British Raj Leader. To this day, pearls are still in fashion, and they are worn in luxury designer jewelry by the most influential fashionistas and celebrities around the world.
Pearls are for everyone
Pearls come in a variety of sizes, shapes, and colors. They mix well with most metals and other gems, especially jade, onyx, lapis, malachite, and chalcedony so there’s certain to be something special for everyone from man, women to child. Women have always enjoyed the beauty and sophistication of pearls, and Add-A-Pearl necklaces have been a time-honored tradition for baby girls for over 100 years. Today, men are embracing pearls as an accessory of choice extending beyond the traditional use of pearls in cufflinks, tie tacks, or bracelets. It’s not uncommon to see men wearing pearl chokers or single pearl earrings.
Tougher than diamonds
Do you know that pearls are tougher than diamonds? It’s true! Although hardness and toughness sound like similar terms, they are very different from one another. Hardness is defined as how easily one gem can scratch another. It is measured on the traditional Mohs Scale of Hardness, a relative numerical scale of 1 to 10 with 1(talc) being the softest and 10 (diamond) the hardest. Pearls are a relatively soft gem measuring 2.5 – 4 on the Mohs scale meaning they can be easily scratched by other harder gems or objects.
While the Mohs scale is a numerical scale of hardness, toughness is altogether different. Toughness is measured on a scale of exceptional, excellent, good, fair, or poor. For example, a diamond, commonly recognized as the hardest natural mineral is difficult to scratch, BUT diamond is not especially tough. It can be easily smashed with direct impact. Pearls, on the other hand, are relatively strong and cannot be easily crushed.
The strength of pearls is due to both their composition and shape. Nacre, which consists of stacked layers of interlocking crystals, is lightweight but very resistant to forces that are applied to the surface. Because of the alternating layers of crystalline and conchiolin, nacre is also resistant to fractures and is slightly elastic as the conchiolin produces a cushioning effect. The curved surfaces of pearls also provide them with a greater resistance to pressure; unlike flat objects, curved objects distribute pressure more evenly over the surface.
Pearls are much more than little orbs. Pearls display optical diffusion, or scattering. Because nacreous crystals always show some irregularities in their alignment, light rays are scattered and diffused among the crystals. This play of light, also known as iridescence, is the result of refraction and reflections as light passes through the pearl’s microscopically thin layers of aragonite and catches the eye.
Pearls are formed over many years, deep within the sea, and must first overcome many obstacles to survive. Pollution, hurricanes, tsunamis, climate change, overfishing, and increasing ecological problems are constant threats to the delicate balance of the oysters’ habitat. If you’d like to learn more about how things like climate change and other environmental factors may be impacting oysters and pearl production, read this blog post.
Pearls begin their life when a foreign object, such as a parasite or piece of shell that intentionally lodges itself in an oyster’s fleshy inner body where it can’t be expelled. In a defense mechanism to try and ease the irritant, the oyster begins to secrete a smooth, hard crystalline substance. Eventually over time, layer upon layer, the irritant will be completely surrounded by the silky crystalline coating. As a result, the gleaming gem we call a pearl is born.
The resulting shining pearly luster is the reflection of light penetrating through the nacreous layers: the result of perseverance and a testament to the oyster or mussel’s ability to overcome great challenges and survive yielding the formation of a smooth, glistening beauty. Through the combination of serendipity and determination, something ordinary forms into something extraordinary. The oyster can teach us how to face challenges in order to grow and evolve.
Symbols of love
Because of their timelessness, pearls have always been considered a symbol of one’s beliefs and values, like beauty, completeness, purity, happiness, love, chastity, perfection, power, truth, and wisdom. Known for their calming effect, pearls are believed to balance one's karma, strengthen relationships and keep children safe.
More specifically, pink pearls symbolize success, fame and good fortune and black or gold pearls represent wealth and prosperity. Ancient Greek legend thought that pearls were the tears of the gods. They also believed that wearing pearls would prevent women from crying on their wedding day. One of the earliest religious accounts of the pearl claims that Adam and Eve wept after they were cast out of Paradise, creating a lake of pearls.
The white pearls were believed to be tears Eve shed and the black pearls Adam's. Other versions of the story surmise that men are better able to control their emotions, and so Adam wept fewer tears than Eve. This parable explains the rarity of black pearls. Pearls have long been considered gifts of love. They are the birthstone for June and a gift for the 3rd and 30th wedding anniversaries. Occasions such as newborns, graduations, weddings, anniversaries, birthdays, milestone achievements, and special occasions are marked with the giving and wearing of pearls.
If you’d like to learn more about the symbolic meaning of pearl colors, then you’ll definitely want to read this blog post.
Alternate gems for millennials and gen-Z
Pearls are organic and the only gem that grows in a living creature. They do not need any special cutting or faceting to reveal their true beauty. They are renewable, unlike mined gemstones, which - once removed from the ground - will never be formed again. Each pearl is unique and one-of-a-kind. Unlike gemstones that are mined, pearl production preserves the natural environment. In addition, pearls are grown on farms where workers mine the riches of the sea instead of laboring under oppressive often dangerous conditions common in mining operations.
Pearls of all types grow in the sea and varying sizes, shapes and colors are readily available to appeal to individuality and shoppers looking for something unique. They make an excellent option for engagement rings, pendants, or earrings. The options for styles are infinite, and prices of pearls are more affordable than many other gemstones. Pearls have a special appeal to a younger generation whose tastes tend towards subtlety in their jewelry. Millennials and Gen-Z continue to prefer less flashy, sparkly gems. The subtle allure of pearls fit the changing tastes perfectly.
If you’re interested in trying out pearl jewelry for yourself or purchasing it as a meaningful jewelry gift for a loved one, then you should try our Cultured Pearl Starter Necklace, which can mark the beginning of a special tradition. The best way to understand why people love pearls is to experience them for yourself.