Pearls have long been considered one of the most beautiful treasures of our seas. Their appeal has transcended the centuries from the ancient world through to the present day, perhaps due to the fact that no enhancement or polishing is needed to bring out their natural beauty. This month we are celebrating natural pearls in all their splendour and those lucky enough to be born in June who have this extraordinary gem as their birthstone.
Since the Ancient Egyptian, Greek and Roman civilisations, pearls have been held in the highest regard and were worn as a symbol of status and power. In The Dark Ages, they were used as talismans and were thought to provide protection during battle. In 1612, the Duke of Saxony passed a law only permitting royalty to wear pearls. Instantly, the desire for these prohibited gems increased and had the intended effect of distinguishing royalty. Pearls were seen as the ultimate display of wealth, coming from the deep seas of the mysterious orient; the difficulty in gathering pearls from their source is one of the main reasons natural pearls have always been so exclusive.
Natural pearls are an organic gem formed inside live mollusc shells and are formed in all shapes and sizes. They occur spontaneously in the wild due to the appearance of a natural irritant within the mollusc’s mantle and as a defence, layers of iridescent nacre form over the top of it, eventually creating a pearl. The major historic source for gathering natural pearls is the Persian Gulf. The majority of pearls found are not good enough quality to be used in jewellery, meaning a natural, spherical, sizeable, smooth, lustrous, white pearl with no blemishes is exceptionally rare. All pearls occurred naturally up until the twentieth century.
In 1893, the Japanese entrepreneur Mikimoto Kokichi created the first cultured pearl. Cultured pearls are created by a person manually inserting an irritant into the mollusc’s mantle. The mollusc will naturally protect itself against the irritant and form layers of nacre around it to create a pearl. Any shape irritant can be inserted and quite large spherical cultured pearls can be created.
There is a vast difference between natural pearls and cultured pearls. Natural pearls occur naturally, and are very rarely found in nature. Cultured pearls can be farmed on a large scale and were invented to appeal to the mass market. The miracle of a beautiful pearl forming is somewhat less fascinating when they are cultured, and their inherent value changes accordingly. Their appeal lies in their iridescent sheen and lustre, their silky whiteness, and their rarity. Only one in a thousand natural pearls is spherical, white, lustrous and unblemished.
Pearls are historically a symbol of wealth and love, a true treasure of the sea of unparalleled beauty. Celebrating a birthday for yourself or a loved one this month? Find your perfect piece of natural pearl jewellery at Berganza.