|The Queen of Gems: A Brief History of Pearls
The pearl has been an aspect of various cultures, far and wide. Pearls today are known as "the queen of gems" and rightfully so, as they symbolize unblemished perfection, modesty and purity. It is said that promises of health and longevity follow those who are adorned with pearls. The unparalleled beauty of nature's lustrous pearl has aroused passion, desire and fascination from all ends of the earth since before recorded history. Without a doubt, pearls are one of the oldest-known gemstones and not surprisingly, no records exist of their first origins or discovery.
One can only assume how pearls were discovered in the beginning. The most widely accepted theory is that pearls were first discovered whilst man was scavenging for meals along the coasts. Upon man's first glance, pearls were forever destined to be treasured for eternity.
Pearls in Ancient Times
People once believed that pearls were directly connected with the moon, and thus possessed magical powers. Pearls have been referenced throughout ancient mythology, folklore and even biblical scriptures. Amazingly, the oldest-known gem that was worn as jewelry, is a piece of pearl that dates back to around 520 B.C. This astoundingly ancient artifact was discovered in the sarcophagus of a Persian princess and put on display in the Louvre Museum in Paris.
The ancient Egyptians were particularly fond of their pearls. Many Egyptian leaders treasured pearls so much, that they were often buried along with their cherished pearl collection. One tale that has been passed through the ages, tells of how Cleopatra once crushed a pearl and dissolved it in a glass of vinegar (some believe Egyptian wine-vinegar), just to show Marc Anthony that she could host the most expensive meal in history.
The Romans considered pearls to be an absolute, quintessential symbol of status, and during ancient Roman times, the value of pearls was tremendously high. It's even believed that a Roman general once funded an entire military campaign, just through the sale of a pair of his mother's pearl earrings. Another belief is that Caligula, in 41 A.D., famously made his horse a consul to his vast empire and adorned it with a lavish pearl necklace.
The Greeks held pearls in very high regard, as did the ancient Egyptians and Romans. The ancient Greeks used pearls for romantic customs and ceremonies, since pearls were regarded as symbols of love, devotion and marriage. The Greek word for "pearl" means "unique", and this alone, is further testament to the fact that no two pearls are alike.
Worn by brave knights heading off into battle, as symbols of strength and spirit, pearls were seen as a magical icon throughout the Dark Ages, often representing courage and protection. However, by the time of the Renaissance, pearls had eventually evolved into a symbol of wealth and social status. Laws would soon be passed, declaring that only nobles could wear them in public, despite a surplus of pearls being imported and available.
Pearls and the Americas
When Europeans began to explore the Americas, pearls were shortly discovered amidst the waters of Central America and swiftly imported back to Europe. However, due to greed and overzealousness, by the 17th century, Europeans had virtually depleted the pearl and oyster population.
In South America, the Spanish explorers encountered more pearl-rich waters. Prior to Spain's discovery of pearls in these lands, the great ancient tribes of South America had already been long using pearls for their natural beauty. Prized and coveted by the Incas and Aztecs, pearls were used in everyday decorations, rituals and traditional ceremonies.
Pearls in the 20th Century
Pearls today are much more affordable and available than before, but there are still extravagant pearls being bought and sold today, demanding remarkably high prices. In 1917, a French jeweler, by the name of Jacques Cartier, famously bought his "Cartier" store on Fifth Avenue, New York, with just two incredibly exquisite pearl necklaces. Some 40 years later, one of these necklaces fetched an incredible $157,000 at an auction.
Today, pearl-lovers are spoiled with affordable prices and higher quality standards (compared to generations before). In fact, even the most modestly priced cultured pearl can rival the quality of an extravagant and expensive natural pearl. Because of this, pearls can now be worn and admired by all ages and nations.
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- First Published: June-01-2012
- Last Updated: October-30-2014
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