The Allure of Pearls

Monday August 24th, 2015


Pearls are timeless, they can be worn with any outfit and can look both classic and modern, and consequently they have become a prized but an essential edition to every woman’s jewellery collection. It seems there is no evidence as to when pearls were actually discovered but many believe it was a fisherman in ancient times, who happened to stumble upon a pearl when he was looking for food along the shore. Today pearls are highly regarded as beautiful lustrous gems, and in the past they were even further cherished. But why do pearls have such an allure? Let’s take a look at the history of pearls and the wealth and social standing they symbolised.

Today most people are lucky enough to afford pearls in their jewellery collection, whether it be a classic pearl necklace or charming pearl studs; yet this has not always been so. In Ancient Egypt Cleopatra crushed a pearl in her glass of wine before drinking it to prove to Marc Anthony that she could host the most expensive meal in history. At the peak of the Roman Empire, historian Suetonius claimed that one general sold his mother’s pearl earrings and with the proceeds paid for a whole military campaign. In Renaissance Europe some countries passed a law, forbidding people other than royalty or the nobility to wear pearls in public.

At Haywards it is a given that you do not need to be royalty to wear lustrous pearls, but feeling like royalty whilst wearing them is a different matter. It’s clear that compared to today, pearls used to be worth much more in terms of wealth and social status. But why has the value of pearls changed so drastically? To answer this we must understand how they are made, and the difference between natural and cultured pearls.

First off what is a pearl, and how is it formed? Unlike diamonds, rubies and other gemstones, which are formed by mineral deposits that are mined and cut, a pearl is made when a tiny irritant such as a parasite, becomes lodged inside an oyster’s body. To protect itself, the oyster secretes a substance called nacre, which coats layers around the irritant. This nacre is a silky crystalline substance, which will continue to coat the irritant until it is entirely encased, resulting in a pearl. These pearls can be produced in a variety of colours from white and cream but also black and grey, they can also be modified by other colours such as pink or blue. The process described above demonstrates why pearls were so valuable. A pearl is a consequence of an extremely rare and time consuming process and when done naturally, the forming of a pearl can take many years.

On 8th July 1893 however, the first successfully cultured semi spherical pearl was created by Mikimoto Kokichi. He did this by injecting a chemical inside an oyster, which acted as an irritant and triggered the secretion of nacre, resulting in a pearl. Although it took years to perfect this technique, once this process became more widely known and successful, both natural and cultured pearls were sought after. This contributes to the reason why to an extent pearls are not steeped with the same kind of value as in the past, they are cultured all over the world, from Japan and China to Australia, Indonesia and the Philippines, and they are more widely available now than ever before. Yet still to this day some pearls can be worth thousands of dollars others can be worth very little, depending on certain characteristics; their lustre, surface quality, nacre quality, colour, size and shape.

At Haywards we strive to give the best bespoke jewellery service, which involves providing a quality selection of any gemstones as well as pearls, for you to choose from. A pearl necklace or earrings are the perfect gift for any occasion; as well as complimenting every outfit choice they also beautifully compliment diamonds and other gemstones. To learn more about pearls and understand their differences visit our Hollywood Road studio in Sheung Wan. Let us walk you through everything you need to know about pearls and help you in creating your one of a kind bespoke pearl piece.