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Pearl History


A Brief History of Pearls

Black Pearl Strand

Black Pearl Strand

Pearls have a history that is as colorful and interesting as the jewels themselves. The earliest written mention of pearls dates back to 2206 BC, at which time their beauty was recorded by a Chinese historian. Between 800 and 700 BC, Homer mentions natural pearls in his dramatic epics. Legend has it that Cleopatra smashed a priceless pearl, and then swallowed the pearl powder, just to win a bet with Mark Antony.

Pearl Harvesting

In 1498, Christopher Columbus returned from his third visit to America bearing pearls from the Venezuelan coast. 1767 marked the arrival of English explorer Samuel Wallis in Tahiti and the beginning of large-scale pearl harvesting. By the 1860s, Polynesian shallow water oyster beds were depleted due to over-harvesting. Pearl harvesters around the world began to seek alternate means of producing the valuable gems.

Pearl Cultivation

Around 1900, Mikimoto Pearls in Japan became the first to cultivate saltwater pearls in the Akoya oyster. It was this development that truly marked the introduction of a worldwide market for cultured pearls. It also established Akoya pearls as the pearls of choice. To this day, the Akoya pearl variety is one of the pearl types with which most people are acquainted. The Akoya pearl is thus considered the classic for white pearl jewelry.

 

 

Around 1935, Japan was responsible for another first in pearl history: producing commercial freshwater pearls. These high-luster cultured pearls came from mussels in Lake Biwa, near Kyoto, and hence were known as "Biwa pearls". The year 1956 witnessed the first cultured pearl farm in Australia for South Sea Pearls, and French Polynesia followed in 1966 with Tahitian Black Pearls. Today, with rare exception, all pearls on the market are cultured pearls.

Pearl History and Popularity

The one constant throughout the history of pearls has been their immense popularity. Whether treasured by the Roman ruling class (c.60 BC), selected to adorn the Catholic Church's vestments and altars (c.500-1500 AD), or worn by England's Queen Elizabeth I (reigning 1558-1603) and Hollywood's Audrey Hepburn (1950s), the pearl has been treasured seemingly since the dawn of time.

 

 

 


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