Have you ever said “it” with pearls? Pearls are some of the most magnificent looking natural resources on the planet. However, did you know that much of the pearl jewelry you can buy today is actually artificial? Do you know how to tell the difference between a natural pearl and a ‘cultured’ gem without looking at it?
In this fact file, we’re going to dive deep into a stack of statistics and figures guaranteed to fascinate you. Whether you’re already a fan or are simply fascinated by how they’re sourced, keep reading and we’ll shine off interesting facts about pearls!
It is thought that as little as 1% of authentic pearls are used in pearl jewelry!
Natural pearls come in a variety of colors. These include several shades of white, grey, pale blue, pale pink, gold, and lavender.
Black pearls and some other strong colors of pearl are usually created by artificial enhancement via water treatment, or by ‘coloring’ the pearl directly.
The natural color of a pearl depends on the type of mollusk it grows in and the habitat in which it lives.
Naturally black pearls come only from one type of mollusk known as ‘Pinctada’.
Pearls are formed inside oysters as a natural self-protection mechanism – when they react to irritants which have penetrated their outer layer and fall on the softer tissue inside.
Oysters, mussels, and clams all have the ability to release fluid, repetitively, to ‘coat’ the irritant.
A Pearl grows in size by each repetition.
Both fresh and saltwater oysters produce pearls.
Oysters are not deliberately killed once pearls have been removed.
As a sustainable practice, ‘oyster farming’ recognizes the value in taking great care removing pearls from oysters. This is because surviving oysters grow bigger and often better pearls as they grow older.
Large, unfarmed oysters are more likely to contain pearls than smaller oysters, simply because they have lived for longer and are therefore more likely to have been subjected to natural irritants for longer.
Farmed or unfarmed, the only way to discover if a mollusk contains a pearl is to prise it open.
As oysters are immobile and do not have a central nervous system, they do not react to pain in the same way as some other shellfish such as lobsters and crabs. It is therefore widely believed that oysters do not ‘feel’ pain as pearls are removed.
Black bubbles or marks on the inside of oyster shells are usually part of their defense system against a parasite, which can bore through the shell.
Pearls have been referred to as the ‘Queens of jewels’. They are known as ‘gems’ but it is incorrect to refer to them as gemstones. They are not formed in or from rock. They are the only ‘gem’ formed inside the living form of a host!
No one knows the date when pearls were officially discovered, or when they were first worn as jewelry.
It is thought that pearls could have been ‘traded’ as a valuable commodity up to six thousand years ago. Records indicate that pearls were distributed as gifts and/or traded, in China, as far back as 2,250 years B.C.
Between the years 69 and 70 B.C., historians believe that the Roman General Marc Anthony lost a bet against Cleopatra. The prize was a Pearl! They were subsequently married.
In Greece, brides are given pearls as a tradition to stop them crying on their wedding day! They also believe that pearls make the marriage a happy one.
At the time of the crusades, knights often wore pearls for ’protection’.
In 1896, the pearl market was revolutionized when Kokichi Mikimoto received a patent for the manufacture of ‘cultured pearls’. It had taken him approximately 20 years to perfect his work.
Mikimoto’s methods and products became so popular, global sales of traditionally sourced pearls was adversely affected.
It is believed that 99% of the pearls on the market today are ‘cultured’. Producing them in this way offers reliability in terms of size, color, and quality. Pearls can be cultured in fresh or salt water and are marketed accordingly.
Freshwater pearls are usually cultivated in lakes.
It is thought a way to test if a pearl is ‘real’ or not is to pop it in your mouth! Natural pearls tend to give a slightly gritty sensation when rubbed against a tooth, whereas ‘artificial’ pearls are entirely smooth.
Natural pearls may not have an entirely even shape. Craftsman jewelers often take hours to evenly match and string together pearls of a compatible size.
White South Sea pearl ring
‘Complexion’ is a criteria used for grading pearls. This refers to the even color and in particular any blemishes which may be visible.
Pearls are traditionally given as gifts on the 3rd and 30th anniversaries of weddings. They are also given to celebrate birthdays in June.
Pearls in museums are usually natural pearls, mostly unfarmed, because farming and artificial manufacture came about long after the exhibits were made.
Probably the most famous individual pearl in the world is called the ’Peregrina’. At 55.95 carats, and originally weighing 11.2 grams, this stunning pearl is pear-shaped!
The Peregrina was famous for being bought by actor Richard Burton for his wife Elizabeth Taylor in 1969 when he bought it at a sale at Sotheby’s for the price of $37,000!
Elizabeth Taylor wearing her La Peregrina
Records in indicate the Peregrina originated from Panama and was brought to Europe in the 16th century. Queen Mary I of England was given the magnificent gift by King Phillip II of Spain, as a wedding present.
As a gesture of goodwill the Pearl was returned to Spain, following the death of the Queen.
In 2011, the Peregrina Pearl was once again auctioned, this time by Christie’s in New York. It achieved a record breaking price of $11 million!
Do you have any interesting or fun facts about pearls that we’ve missed? Share them here in the comments section below!