If you are blogging regularly sometimes it can be hard to find inspiration for your posts, in other cases, not so much. This weekend I am heading off to ‘Paris’ for a Musketeers LARP, and though the costuming is more ‘coolthentic’ as a friend would describe it, rather than authentic, there has been a lot of wanting to bring a some authenticity into the mix. This has meant requests for pearl necklaces and how could I refuse getting to use more of these gorgeous gems in my work?
Pearls are the worlds oldest gem, they have been used for millennia, and it is theorised that they were most likely discovered by people who were searching for food. You can almost imagine them cracking open an oyster and finding the smooth, shiny objects inside.
These gems, known as the ‘Queen of Gems’ have been known to be in use as adornments for over 6000 years. It is no great surprise then that these unique gemstones started to have mythology build up around them and the legends, like the pearls themselves, are beautiful. The Chinese myths said that pearls feel from the sky when dragons fought among the clouds, or that they were raindrops that the oysters had swallowed. A Persian legend has it that they are created when a rainbow meets the earth after a storm, and it is easy to see how the iridescent sheen might capture the rainbow and lighting from a storm. There are so many more, each as interesting as the last. Head into Arab and Indian legends and you will find an extraordinary love and relationship with the pearl, but I digress.
They have also long been a symbolism of wealth and power, natural pearls were rare and often risky to obtain, this put them a high value, if you could afford pearls it was a true show that you had money to burn. Roman women would cover their clothes in so many pearls that they would walk on their pearl encrusted hems and at the height of the Roman Empire, Suetonius wrote that the Roman general Vitellius financed an entire military campaign simply by selling only one of his mother’s pearl earrings.
Eventually Europeans discovered Central America, and with them the populations of sea pearls. They became an essential part of trade and Europe’s wealth expanded, and pearls were on the neck of everyone who could afford them, allegedly made more popular by the pearls adorning the neck and clothing of Henry the Eighth, Elizabeth the First and other monarchs of the time. Tragically in, the way that happens with greed and desire, this meant that the pearl population of the Americas was almost completely depleted by the 17th century.
It was only in the early 20th century that this gem, that we now take for granted, became common place when British biologist, William Saville-Kent, developed the technique to grow cultured pearls in Australia, eventually bringing it to Japan. Not long after that pearls started to become commercially grown and developed. We now have the stunning Tahitian Pearls or Black Pearls, Freshwater pearls grown easily, wonderful gold coloured ones, beautiful, subtle blush pink pearls and gentle lavenders. Each type costing more or less depending on colour, quality, shape, blemishes and treatment.
Though the cost of pearls dropped drastically, they were still associated with wealth and elegance, and graduated (often faux) pearls were the height of fashion and sophistication. The faux pearl really being brought into the lime-light as acceptable wear by Coco Chanel, who would brazenly wear strings of pearls, often with mixed real and faux. It seems to be that this view that the old set of pearls you got from your grandma meant that these much-loved gems were relegated to your grandma’s wardrobe and I very much remember that view in the 80’s and 90’s.
Now days it seems that this view of the pearl as and old woman’s accessory is fading away, and they are embraced by the younger generations, and such shows as Gossip Girl and more recently Riverdale, have main characters rocking gorgeous and modern pearl necklaces, with a simple fashionable and elegant outfit.
The increase in cultured gems, whilst reducing the cost of pearls you can buy on the high street, it has also created a huge leap in the price of non-cultured pearls and created in them a much sought after and collectable commodity. Scientifically there is no difference between cultured and non-cultured pearls, but mass-produced, cultured pearls somehow lack the romance and fantasy of non-cultured, where risk and chance are involved.
If you do want to know more about these amazing gems I highly recommend going to have a read, this is only a drop in the ocean of the history of pearls.