People have coveted natural pearls as symbols of wealth and status for 1000s of years. Their first recorded history dates back to China as early as 2206 BC.
They are treasures from the Earth’s ponds, lakes, seas, and oceans, and they’ve always embodied the mystery, power, and life-sustaining nature of water.
The spherical shape of some led many cultures to associate this gem with the moon. In ancient China, pearls were believed to guarantee protection from fire and fire-breathing dragons. In Europe, they symbolized modesty, chastity, and purity.
They were one of the favorite gem materials of the Roman Empire, and members of royal families as well as wealthy citizens in Asia, Europe, and elsewhere treasured natural pearls and passed them from generation to generation.
From those ancient times until the discovery of the New World in 1492, some of the outstanding sources were the Persian Gulf, the waters of Ceylon (now Sri Lanka), Chinese rivers and lakes, and the rivers of Europe.
They are unique as they are the only gems from living sea creatures and require no faceting or polishing to reveal their natural beauty.
The first steps toward pearl culturing occurred hundreds of years ago in China, and Japanese pioneers successfully produced whole cultured pearls around the beginning of the twentieth century.
These became commercially important in the 1920s (about the same time natural pearl production began to decline due to over-harvesting and water pollution). From the 1930s through the 1980s, pearl culturing diversified and spread to various countries around the world.
Since the 1920s, cultured pearls have almost completely replaced natural pearls in the market.
There are four major types of cultured whole pearls:
Akoya—This type is most familiar to many jewelry customers. Japan and China both produce saltwater akoya cultured pearls.
South Sea—Australia, Indonesia, and the Philippines are leading sources of these saltwater cultured pearls.
Tahitian—Cultivated primarily around the islands of French Polynesia (the most familiar of these is Tahiti), these saltwater cultured pearls usually range from white to black.
Freshwater—These are usually cultured in freshwater lakes and ponds. They’re produced in a wide range of sizes, shapes, and colors. China and the US are the leading sources.
Pearls are very susceptible to damage from chemicals. Thus, cosmetics, perfumes and hair care products should be applied before putting on pearls. In addition, chlorinated pools should be avoided at all times.
Store pearl jewelry separately from other jewelry. Metals and other harder gemstones can scratch pearls. They are best stored in a soft cloth pouch or lined jewelry box.
Finally, go out there and wear them often. The body’s natural oils actually increase the luster and beauty of this amazing gemstone.
Should you have any additional questions about cultured pearls or any other jewellery related topics, you can always: “Ask the Jeweller”
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