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The Magic of Pearls
The word itself immediately conjures images of wealth, classic beauty and nobility. Throughout history, pearls have always been associated with power and money, for only the rich and powerful could afford them. All through history, pearls were valued more highly than gold or diamonds.
Pearls have become synonymous with high value in our language. We still speak of “pearls of wisdom”, meaning the highest form of wisdom, the wisest of the wise. Jesus Christ spoke of “casting pearls before swine”, in reference to the most wasteful possible use of a most valuable resource. And the entrance to Heaven? The Pearly Gates of course.
Why were pearls so valuable? Pearls were extraordinarily rare. Unlike gold or precious gems, they are not mined from the ground, but made by a living organism, an oyster or a mussel. Pearls do not appear in a "vein" like precious metals or gemstones. They are spread out over a wide area, and deep under water. Even in areas where there are many oysters, only a few would contain a pearl, and collecting enough oysters to find pearls was a difficult and perilous task. Also, oysters are susceptible to climate change and disease. Entire beds can be wiped out in a year, thus eliminating the possibility of finding any more pearls. All problems that don't exist with precious metals or gems.
At perhaps the most famous banquet in history, Cleopatra challenged Marc Antony to a wager to demonstrate that Egypt had a wealth and history that placed it above conquest, she said she would provide the most extravagant dinner in history and challenged Marc Antony to match it. When they met, Cleopatra took a single pearl, crushed it to powder, put it into a glass of wine and drank it. Marc Antony immediately conceded defeat, and declined the offer of his meal, the matching pearl to the one Cleopatra had just consumed. Pliny wrote in his famous Natural History that the value of the two pearls was estimated at 60 million sesterces, equivalent to 1.87 million ounces of silver. At today’s price of $US7.25/oz, that is about $US13.5 million. An extravagant meal indeed.
At the height of the Roman Empire, the historian Suetonius wrote that the Roman general Vitellius financed an entire military campaign by selling just one of his mother's pearl earrings.
During the Dark Ages knights often wore pearls onto the battlefield. They believed that the magic they possessed would protect them from harm.
In the royal courts of Renaissance Europe pearls were regarded as a symbol of nobility. Since pearls were so highly regarded, a number of European countries passed laws forbidding the wearing of pearls by anyone not of noble birth.
With the discovery and exploitation of America, the discovery of pearls in Central American waters caused a flood of pearls into Europe. Unfortunately, by the end of the 17th century, the American pearl beds were almost wiped out by the demand for pearls in Europe.
The legendary Jacques Cartier bought his famous store on 5th avenue in New York in 1916. The price? Two perfect pearl necklaces.
All that changed in 1916, when Kikichi Mikimoto, the son of a noodle maker, patented his method for cultivating pearls in oysters. He was not, however, the first to invent the method. Two other Japanese men, Tokichi Nishikawa and Tatsuhei Mise, had independently discovered how to do it, and agreed to share the discovery in what became the Mise-Nishikawa method. Their technique was patented in 1907. Mikimoto could not patent his method without infringing the earlier patent, so he changed his patent application to make it a technique for making round pearls. This technicality allowed him to avoid infringing the earlier patent.
Mikimoto then set about building his pearl empire with a passion and dedication only seen from the likes of Henry Ford and Thomas Edison. A natural born businessman, promoter and entrepreneur, he soon purchased the rights to the Mise-Nishikawa method, and went on experimenting and improving his techniques until today Mikimoto pearls are the most famous and arguably the best quality saltwater cultured pearls available.
In more modern times, pearls adorned the bodies of famous movie stars, both on and off the set, A-list society ladies, and the wives of the politicians and the rich and powerful. Everyone from Marilyn Monroe to Jackie Kennedy-Onassis to the Queen of England have appeared in public, at one time or another, wearing pearls.
What is this fascination we have today with the pearl?
Lots of things. The pearl is the only gem that has luster, the main determinant of a pearl's quality. Luster is that shine, that light that seems almost like an inner glow that no other gemstone has. Almost as if the pearl were alive, perhaps a quality of its having been created by a living creature rather than formed by massive heat and compression millions of years ago as most gemstones were. The pearl is also the only gem that does not need any kind of treatment to reveal its true splendor. It does not need to be cut or polished, its beauty is completely natural and perfect without the intervention of man.
Perhaps it is because of these qualities that pearls, when worn against a woman's skin, seem to lift the life and vitality of the complexion and impart a warm glow just by being there, in the way no other gemstone can.
Whatever the reason, fortunately for us, the advent of cultured pearls, which can only be distinguished from “natural” pearls by an expert with a microscope, has meant that these gorgeous and flattering gems are within the reach of everybody. The price of a good cultured pearl necklace is a tiny fraction of that of a similar diamond necklace, and is every bit as beautiful, fashionable and flattering as a piece made from other gems. Pearls belong in every fashionable woman's jewelry collection. Make sure you have yours.
Article provided by Monica’s of Melbourne: gorgeous pearl jewelry for the fashion conscious woman on a budget.
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