Did you know that pearls are considered to be the world’s oldest gemstone? Natural pearls were most likely first discovered washed up on beaches by people fishing or searching for food. We know that pearls were presented as gifts to Chinese royalty as early as 2300 BCE and while in ancient Rome pearl jewellery was considered the ultimate status symbol. The oldest known Pearl jewellery still in existence today was discovered in the sarcophagus of a Persian Princess who died in 520 BCE.
As natural pearls are so rare and often found by chance discovery only the wealthiest elites could afford them. During the Byzantine Empire there were specific rules which banned everyone other than the Emperor from wearing pearls and in Ancient Greece people believed that Pearls were the tears of the Gods. The pearl ‘Golden Age’ however was very much Tudor England. Portraits from the era show Royals and members of the aristocracy in clothing literally covered in pearls making them walking status symbols.
William Scrots, Elizabeth I as a Princess, c.1546,
A pearl is formed when an irritant, such as a parasite or piece of shell, becomes accidentally lodged in an oyster's soft inner body, causing it to secrete a crystalline substance called nacre as a defence mechanism. This substance builds up around the irritant in layers until a pearl is formed. This natural phenomenon is what creates what we now we refer to as ‘Natural Pearls’.
A ‘Cultured Pearl’ is formed in the same process as a ‘natural pearl’. The only difference is that it begins with human intervention. The technique was invented by Kokichi Mikimoto, the son of a noodle maker. He created the worlds’ first cultured pearl in 1893 by manually inserting a small piece of oyster shell into the oyster which kick starts the natural process.
Natural Pearls are found all over the world, but different types of pearls are found in different locations. South Sea white pearls are the top grade pearl on the market. They are harvested from a silver or golden-lipped oyster mainly on the shorelines of Indonesia, Philippines and Australia. Whereas Akoya Pearls come exclusively from Japan’s saltwater, harvested from Pinctada Fucat osyters. Freshwater pearls are found in the lakes and rivers of China, Japan and the USA. They are harvested from freshwater mussels, and tend to be white and pink in appearance. Stunning black pearls are found exclusively in Tahiti and other French Polynesian islands. They are harvested from the Pinctada Margaritifera oyster.
We use two types of pearls in our Antonia Guise jewellery. Both are Fresh Water Cultured Baroque Pearls which we use to create our Hedy Pearl Drops and our soon to launch Anna Pearl necklace. However, the pearls we have selected for the Anna Necklace are called ‘bubble’ pearls. They’re each totally unique and covered with amazing, completely natural ‘bubble’ like features which give the pearls a distinctive texture and lustre.