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History of Pearl & Cultured Pearl

Pearl has been coveted for centuries across different cultures and is known as the Queen of Gems for good reasons. For it is the only gemstone in the world with an organic origin. The oldest known pearl in the world is the “Abud Dhabi Pearl”, which archaeologists determined to be a Neolithic trade commodity from 5800-5600 BC, making it about 8000 years old. Other evidence suggested that pearls were used as gifts to the Chinese emperors since 2300 BC, while pearl powder was used in traditional Chinese medicine for various health benefits. On the other hand, the earliest pearl jewellery discovered dates back to 420 BC from a sarcophagus of a Persian princess.

Modern symbolism

Pearl, along with alexandrite and moonstone are the birthstone for June. Pearl is believed to have a calming property that promotes integrity and stability, it is also considered to be connected to the moon and feminine energy, and a symbol of wisdom by Buddhists.

Natural pearl vs Cultured pearl

Is cultured pearl “natural”?

Yes. A cultured pearl is natural as a pearl can get, cultured pearls are also created by shellfishes but through human interventions, where steps are taken to ensure the formation, as well as other factors like shape, size and colour.

History of Cultured Pearls

The first cultured pearl was developed by a Japanese entrepreneur Kōkichi Mikimoto about 130 years ago in 1893. Mikimoto, now known for his eponymous jewellery brand, was born in 1858 in Toba, a sea town on the peninsula of Shima, Japan famous for its natural pearls. Pearl was, still is, a rare commodity since the odds of finding one in the wild is approximately 1 in 10,000. As a judge of a pearl exhibition, Mikimoto noticed many of them are flawed, and he wondered about the value of gem-quality pearls. Pearl trade was booming, and it didn’t take long for the oyster bed to become over-harvested. For Mikimoto, it was then the idea of cultivating his own pearls began to take shape. Mikimoto started his first pearl farm in 1888 at 30-year-old, and successfully cultured the world’s first semi-spherical pearl in 1893. He continued to culture a fully spherical pearl and achieved it 12 years later, during that time he also began exporting pearls. His venture in inventing the world’s first cultured pearl was so impressive at the time that Thomas Edison once said to him, “There are two things which couldn’t be made at my laboratory – diamonds and pearls. It is one of the wonders of the world that you were able to culture pearls. It is something which is supposed to be biologically impossible.”  Coupling his superb entrepreneurial skills with eye-catching pearl jewellery designs, Mikomoto made a name for himself and cultured pearls on the world’s stage and the rest is history.

Types of Pearl

Saltwater Pearl

Akoya pearls, Tahitian pearls and South Sea Pearls are the most common types of saltwater pearls each produced by a different species of oysters. Their appearance varies by size and colour, while Tahitian pearl is known for its mysterious black appeal, South Sea pearl is the only type that can result in gold colour.

Freshwater Pearl

As the name suggests, freshwater pearls are created in freshwater environments such as lakes and rivers, unlike its saltwater counterpart, freshwater pearl are created by mussels

Baroque Pearl

Baroque pearls refer to any pearls with an irregular, non-spherical shape.

Mother of Pearl

Also known as nacre, Mother of Pearl is the inner layer of the shell where the pearl is produced, hence the name.

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Image: Paige Johnson on Unsplash