The Origin of Pearls
This week on the Hatton Jewels blog we’re diving into the magical world of one of our favourite gems; pearls. From Maharajas to celebrities, pearls have become a revered item of every jewellery collector. With Grace Kelly, Elizabeth Taylor and Coco Chanel as pearl enthusiasts, it’s no surprise that they became one of the most wanted jewellery item.
The History of Pearls
Pearls were discovered before written history began, so it is hard to attribute their discovery to one particular time or place. We know that they have been worn as a form of jewellery for millennia thanks to a fragment of pearl jewellery found in the sarcophagus of a Persian princess that dates back to 420 BC, which is now on display at the Louvre museum in Paris.
Pearls were presented as gifts to Chinese royalty as early as 2300 BC, while in ancient Rome, pearl jewellery was considered the ultimate status symbol. So precious were the spherical gems that in the 1st century BC, Julius Caesar passed a law limiting the wearing of pearls only to the ruling classes.
The difference between Natural Pearls and Cultured Pearls
Natural pearls are believed to form in the mantle membrane of an oyster, when a cell has been dislodged. This causes the secretion of thousands of layers of nacre building up over the initial cell. Taking over six years to form, with only one in two thousand oysters producing a pearl during their lifetime, even fewer of good quality, natural pearls are exceptionally scarce and incredibly high prices are paid. Cultured pearls are formed by artificial initiation, by implanting mantle tissue or using a shell bead, causing the secretion of nacre over the bead. Cultured pearls take only a few months to a few years to grow.
Where are Pearls found?
In geographic range, the source of pearls is widely distributed, and different types of pearls are found in different locations.
South Sea white pearls are the top grade cultured pearl on the market. They are harvested from a silver or golden-lipped oyster, on the shorelines of Indonesia, Philippines, and Australia. Whereas Akoya Cultured Pearls come exclusively from Japan’s saltwater, harvested from Pinctada Fucata oyster, also known as the Akoya pearl oyster. To the untrained eye, they appear similar to freshwater pearls, but tend to be rounder and smoother.
Freshwater pearls are found in the lakes and rivers of China, and to a lesser degree Japan and the USA. They are harvested from freshwater mussels, and tend to be white and pink in appearance.
Stunning black pearls are found exclusively in Tahiti and other French Polynesian islands, and despite the name, are found in hues of peacock green, silver green, charcoal, blue and eggplant, among others. They are harvested from the Pinctada Margaritifera oyster.
Natural Pearls Today
After a century of economic and social changes, one of the biggest hurdles the pearl market is now facing is the environment. The changing water temperature, ocean acidification and plankton profile are causing volatility in pearl production. It is believed that 90% of natural saltwater pearls on the market were harvested over 90 years ago. This finite supply and increasing rarity of pearls has caused an explosive price increase in natural pearls over the past few decades.
If you are looking to purchase or sell some natural pearls, feel free to get in touch with one of our friendly experts here at Hatton Jewels, or book an appointment to visit our beautiful new showroom where you can peruse our range of antique natural pearl jewellery.