The pearl is the oldest known gem, and for many centuries it was considered the most valuable. However, unlike other gems, the pearl is organic matter derived from a living creature - oysters and mollusks.
Pearl is the traditional birthstone for June.
Symbolism of Pearl
Pearl symbolizes the purity, generosity, integrity, and loyalty of its wearer, and is believed to attract wealth and luck as well as offer protection.
Many myths and folktales surround the pearl:
- Early Chinese civilization considered black pearls a symbol of wisdom and believed they were formed within a dragon's head. Once full-grown, the pearls were carried between the dragon's teeth. According to this myth, one had to slay the dragon to gather the pearls. The ancient Japanese believed that pearls were created from the tears of mythical creatures, such as mermaids, nymphs, and angels.
- One Persian legend tells that pearls were created when a rainbow met the earth after a storm. Imperfections in a pearl's appearance were thought to be the result of thunder and lightning.
- The ancient Egyptians prized pearls so much that they were buried with them. Cleopatra reportedly dissolved a pearl from one of her earrings in a glass of either wine or vinegar and drank it. She did this just to show Mark Anthony that she could devour the wealth of an entire nation in just one gulp.
Sources of Pearl
Historically, the world's best pearls came from the Persian Gulf, especially around what is now Bahrain. The pearls of the Persian Gulf were natural created and collected by breath-hold divers. The secret to the special luster of Gulf pearls probably derived from the unique mixture of sweet and salt water around the island. Unfortunately, the natural pearl industry of the Persian Gulf ended abruptly in the early 1930's with the discovery of large deposits of oil which ruined the once pristine pearl producing waters of the Gulf.
Today, the largest stock of natural pearls probably resides in India. Unlike Bahrain, which has essentially lost its pearl resource, traditional pearl fishing is still practiced on a small scale in India.
The art of culturing pearls was invented in Japan in 1893 by a man named Kokichi Mikimoto. He discovered that by introducing a tiny bead of mother-of-pearl (the white substance on the inside of a mussel’s shell) into an oyster, that oyster would began to cover the irritant with nacre (the secreted substance that makes up a pearl). One of the first places to begin farming cultured pearls outside of Japan was near the Gulf of California in Mexico.
Today Pearls predominately come from Japan, Australia, Indonesia, Myanmar, China, India, Philippines, and Tahiti. The South Sea waters around Australia, Indonesia, and Myanmar are renowned for their large, white pearls, while Japan’s pearls are highly valued for their lustrous character.