There are only few gemstones that can rival
the pearl for value. It is pulled from ocean floors, seabeds and river bottoms and worn by ladies around their neck as a truly timeless piece of jewelry. Causes behind the origin of a pearl are still unknown. A popular belief states that pearls form when a grain of sand falls into a mollusk, which begins to secrete layers of Perlmutt (the German word for nacre, commonly known as mother-of-pearl). Over time these layers accumulate and form a pearl.
Pearl is the only gem that derives from a living organism; hence it needs particular warmth and comfort. Pearl is kept in a bottle of rice. As a plant growing in water, rice gives pearl a great level of raw vigour, vitality and freshness. Unmarried girls in Islamic countries were not recommended to wear pearls. Greeks and Romans held pearls in high esteem. They used the word “Margarete” to indicate pearl. From the Middle Ages up to the beginning of the 20lh century, Margarete ranked as the most preferred and widely-spread female name in Germany. It also came to be associated with the sweetheart. Now Margarete conjures up Goethe's Faust.
There's a famous story relayed by Pliny the Elder that, at a dinner set for Antony, Cleopatra, who owned the largest pearl earrings of all time, took one earring off and dropped the pearl into vinegar. Once the pearl dissolved, Cleopatra sprinkled the vinegar over the table giving the dishes a unique subtle flavor. The sharp cocktail passed as "Cleopatra's Vinegar” into ancient literature, while her banquet is still unmatched for opulence and grandeur.
Pearl in the Middle Ages was widely accepted as a gemstone of sacred love to God. From the 8"’ century, pearl was used as a cure for melancholy and insanity. Since time immemorial it has been a common cosmetic ingredient as well. River pearls were cultivated and converted into aqua perlata (pearl water). Pearls are highly symbolic in many cultures. In China, for example, they stand for wealth, wisdom and prosperity; in Japan they embody happiness; in India pearls are believed to boost fertility.
There are three types of pearls; natural, cultured and faux. Cultured pearls have the same chemical content as their natural counterparts. The difference between natural and, cultured pearls focuses on whether the pearl was created spontaneously by nature - without human intervention - or with human aid. Fake pearls are completely manmade from start to finish. The size, shape and color of pearl depend on how long it takes the gemstone to form and whether this process occurs in saltwater or freshwater. Pearls are formed inside the shell of certain mollusks as a defense mechanism against a potentially threatening irritant, such as a parasite inside its shell, or an attack from outside, injuring the mantle tissue. The mollusk creates a pearl sac to seal off the irritation.
Cultured pearls are primarily for use in jewelry. A tiny piece of tissue from a donor mollusk is transplanted into a recipient mollusk. An important differentiation should be made between two types of cultured pearls: beaded and beadless. Saltwater (sea, ocean) cultured pearls are grown with beads. Beadless cultured pearls are grown in freshwater (river, lake). Because of their superior quality and longer cultivation time saltwater pearls are much more expensive.
Pearl is the gem of queens. British Queen Elizabeth II, the late Princess Diana and Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher are famous for their strong preference for pearls as jewelry. Pearl quality and prices vary depending on the country of their origin. Natural pearl is the most expensive of all pearls. It may take decades to form a complete string of beads of the same size and weight. A mollusk needs about 20-25 years to create a 4-mm pearl and 40-50 years for a 6-7 mm gem. Only 30 percent of percent of mollusks will ever produce a pearl. Ten percent of pearls harvested come in different shapes, 3% are perfectly round, of which only 0.5 percent are of fine quality. It is commonly assumed that only ten thousand species of millions of mollusks naturally produce gem-quality pearls. Less expensive pearls are powdered for use as a beautifying agent in cosmetics. In the fifth century BC the Chinese invented blister pearls by implanting clay or bone Buddha figures inside mollusks producing nacreous layers. Such figures were considered luxury items and were very costly.
Pinctada Fucata is the most valuable and sought after pearl pioneered by the Japanese leading manufacturer Kokichi Mikimoto, who took the world market by storm at the beginning of the 20th century.
Pearls come in a wide variety of colors. Typical pearl colors are white, yellow, pink and black. Black pearl, widely known as the queen of pearls, has a reputation for rarity. One would have to open more than 15,000 mollusks before finding it. The most famous of all black pearls is called Azra.
La Peregrina is one of the most outstanding pearls in the world. This pearl of subtle beauty weighing 13.2 grams was found by Spaniards in the Gulf of Panama in the 16' century. La Peregrina remained as part of Spain’s crown jewels for a lengthy period of time. In 1969 Richard Burton purchased the pearl at a Sotheby's auction for $37,000. He commissioned Cartier to set it in a necklace and gave it to Elizabeth Taylor as a Valentine's Day gift.
La Regente - the world's largest pearl, weighing 21 grams, was given as a gift by Emperor Napoleon to his wife when she gave birth to the heir to the French throne. From then on La Regente became part of the French crown jewels. In 1887 the outstanding French Jeweler Faberge remounted it as the centerpiece of a royal tiara. A certain period of time lapsed and La Regente was bought by Countess Yusupova. After the revolution in Russia her son took the pearl to Europe, sold it and led a life of considerable luxury for many years. La Regente pearl is sold in 2005 for 2.1 Million Euros at Christies. It remains the most expensive pearl in the world.