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June's Birthstone: Pearls

One of the most common gemstones used in jewelry is the pearl. There's a timeless beauty to them, which is why people refer to them as the "Queen of Jewels." One quality you'll find in a pearl is that they can go with just about any color and style of clothing. There are a lot of fun facts about this ancient jewel, like how it's the only one made by a living creature. It's known as the world's oldest gem and has a fascinating history behind it.

freshwater pearl 18k gold pendant

Historical Uses

People saw pearls as symbols of wealth and power. That's mostly because these radiant gems were rare to find. The only way people could find this stone is in oysters found in specific bodies and parts of water. These were known as pearl harbors. Over time, a lot of styles spawned from this jewel. It wasn't until the 1900s when people discovered a more efficient way to harvest a pearl.

Pearl Facts

These gemstones are naturally hard to find, but humans have developed a way to create their own. That certainly wasn't the case in ancient times. When Julius Caesar ruled, he enacted a law that states that only aristocrats could wear jewelry with this gemstone. It could take an oyster between one and six years in freshwater and 5-20 years in the sea to produce a pearl. The longer it takes, the bigger the pearl. The first color most people would associate with this gemstone is white, but they can also come in black, pink, cream, yellow, and silver.

Common Uses for Wearable Decorations

A pearl is a versatile jewel. You can find them in earrings, brooches, and bracelets. The most common form of bodily ornamentation for these gemstones are necklaces. This type of embellishment has existed since ancient times. No two pearl necklaces are the same, however. Their value is determined by factors like color, luster, size, smoothness, and more. Not all pearls have to be round to be of great worth; the world-famous gem of this type, La Peregrina, is shaped like a pear.

The Most Popular Times for the Pearl

This gemstone is already well-beloved today. However, the pearl was known for being worn by royalty. People reserved these jewels for high societies in places like Ancient Greece and Egypt. The monarchy and court ladies commonly wore pearl embellishments during medieval times. The Renaissance Period and 16th century Europe were among the most prominent eras for this jewel. It was known as the Pearl Age, and even people like Queen Elizabeth the first were in love with this gem.

Different Pearl Types

You can only obtain these gems through oysters and other mollusks. In the beginning, people could only acquire natural pearls. That means individuals had to dive and sort through many oysters to find these jewels. In addition to being dangerous, this method is what made the pearl such a rare gemstone. In the early 1900s, however, someone discovered a way to artificially create these jewels in less time than they do in nature. A pearl made this way is known as a cultured pearl.

Cultured Varieties

People can cultivate this jewel from freshwater or saltwater. Usually, a freshwater pearl originates from China. They're relatively small, not as round, and lacks a bit of sheen. A saltwater pearl is more valuable than freshwater. The multiple kinds of these saltwater jewels include Akoya, baroque, south sea, mabe, and Tahitian. Each of these cultured pearls varies in size, shape, color, and more:

  • An Akoya pearl is perfectly round and comes in the colors black, white, gray, and cream. This gem was the first type ever to be cultured.

  • Baroque refers to an abnormally shaped pearl, having multiple categories of its own mostly based on the various body types.

  • A south sea deviation is generally bigger than an Akoya and come in the colors of cream, gold, and white.

  • The reason a pearl is dome-shaped is that it grows against the shell of an oyster rather than inside of it. This gem variation is known as a mabe.

  • A Tahitian pearl was cultured in Tahiti, coming in colors like black, gray, and silver.

I have always loved and used pearls extensively in my designs. Being on the Seacoast of New Hampshire, one can certainly conjure up images of oysters filled with shining pearls, but as you can see, there's a lot more to them than the rare natural occurrence of pearls. Contact me for pearl jewelry or head to my shop link to buy.


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