“A woman needs ropes and ropes of pearls.” -Coco Chanel
Pearls are treasures from the sea that have charmed people forever with their timeless appeal. From Coco Chanel to Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, pearls have been revered by fashion designers, royalty and celebrities for their beauty and simplicity.
Pearls are the only gemstone made by living animals. Known as “Queen of Gems,” pearls were once valued as the most expensive jewelry in the world. Symbols of wealth and power, pearls rarity made them invaluable and therefore were reserved for only the noble and very rich.
References to pearls date as far back as 4200 BC in Egypt. India’s sacred books and legends abound with pearl references, and according to South Asian mythology, pearls were believed to be dewdrops from heaven that fell into the earth. Perhaps one of the most magical ancient stories about pearls finds Cleopatra wagering a bet with Marc Anthony that she could throw the most expensive dinner in history. She crushed one pearl from a pair of earrings, dissolved it in wine and drank it, solidifying her victory!
Today most pearls are “cultured” or “cultivated.” Water pollution, tsunamis, and other phenomena have made it difficult to harvest “natural” pearls.
Types of Pearls:
When one thinks of the classic round strand of pearls, they are usually thinking of akoya. Grown off the coast of Japan, saltwater akoya pearls found in oysters, are best known for their perfectly round shape and reflective luster. Fun Fact: In 1917, Pierre Cartier purchased his Fifth Avenue NYC store from Morton Freeman Plant with $100 and his most valuable two strand pearl necklace valued at one million, admired by Plant’s wife.
Freshwater pearls are the most affordable pearls sold today. Found in mussels, freshwater pearls have shapes ranging from round to free-form baroque and color options from white to pastel colors. Pearls take on the color of the inside of the shell from which they are growing. They have a softer luster than akoya, except in the case of rare metallics.
The only natural dark pearl is the Tahitian, grown in French Polynesia. Although most Tahitian pearls are thought of as a black pearl, they can come in a rainbow of exotic colors. Considered very valuable, they come in baroque, drops and oval shapes. Round Tahitian pearls are quite rare.
South Sea Pearls
Considered the most valuable, South Sea pearls are the largest saltwater pearls grown today. Found primarily in Australia, the Philippines and Indonesia, they range in color from white to gold and are primarily in shapes of drops, baroques and ovals. Finding a round South Sea pearl is extremely rare due to their tremendous size. Fun Fact: Named the “Pearl of Allah,” this unique baroque shaped pearl is reported to be the largest natural pearl in existence. Weighing fourteen pounds, it’s valued at 3.5 million.
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