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The History of Pearl use in Jewelry

Posted by Jonathan Holmes on

Pearls are one of nature's greatest miracles. Generally considered as the world’s oldest gem, pearls have been treasured since long before written history and have have been worn as a form of adornment for a period of thousand years thanks in part to a fragment of pearl jewelry that was discovered in the sarcophagus of a Persian princess that goes way back to 420 BC, a fragment which is on display at the Louvre in Paris, France.
Pearls were offered as gifts to Chinese royalty as early as 2300 BC, while in ancient Rome, pearl jewellery was seen as the ultimate status symbol. The spherical gems were so precious much that in the first century BC, Julius Caesar had to pass a law limiting the wearing of pearls only to the ruling classes.

Pearls Through the Century

Having such a long and ancient history, it is little to no surprise that, over time, pearls became shrouded in myth and legend. In ancient China, pearl jewellery was believed to symbolize the purity of the wearer whilst, in the Dark Ages, knights often wore pearls on the battlefield, in the belief that the precious gemstones would keep them safe. And according to legend, Cleopatra did crush a pearl into a glass of wine in order to prove to Marc Antony that she could give the most expensive dinner in history.

Pearls have been an important jewellery commodity since long when the discovery of pearls in Central and South America in the 15th and 16th century ushered in what was referred to as the Pearl Age. And with growing demand for pearls in Western Europe, where noble and royal ladies wore elaborate pearl necklaces, earrings, pearl bracelets as well as brooches, by the 19th century, demand for pearl jewellery surged so high that oyster supplies began to diminish.

Sometime around the ‘80s, pearls gained a reputation as the preserve of older ladies in twinsets with blue-rinse hairdos. Recently, however, the tide is beginning to turn as pearls are once again back in favour of the fashionable set. A lot of top jewellery houses prominently feature pearls in their high jewellery collections and they are also being incorporated into contemporary jewellery designs by innovative designers such as the renowned Melanie Georgeakopoulos.

Going by its rich and storied history, it is obvious that pearls possess a history and allure that is far beyond what today's wearer may be aware of. All through much of recorded history, a natural pearl necklace is made up of matched spheres was a treasure of very nearly incomparable value, as a matter of fact, the most expensive jewellery in the world. It has now become commonplace seeing pearls almost as accessories or relatively inexpensive decorations to accompany costlier gemstones. Their use in jewellery goes hand in hand with nobility.

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