First of all we have to separate the Natural Pearls and the Cultivated Pearls. Despite that both have the same nature, nonetheless they are the different gems if to review their value on jewelry market and a history of each.
The Natural Pearls were known even by the ancients, who discovered it trying to find a food in the sea, therefore for describing the Pearls itself, we’ll use the terms “Perals” or “a Pearl” in their “natural” significance.
History & Origin of Natural Pearls
It is obviously that the Pearls indeed is not a mineral and it have an organic origin. Even the ancients believed that a pearl itself is a result of the process of the hard pains of a mollusk, on account of existing an alien object inside it, and in the result of the efforts to remove this object, the oyster crying and its teardrops emanating in the form of a pearl.
However, there were a lot of hypotheses regarding the origin of these unusual teardrops.
There are two types of commonly known mollusks producing true pearls appropriate for commercial purposes, they are the marine pearl oyster and the pearl mussel of fresh water, from whence there are two separated types of pearls — marine and river pearls.
Ancient History of Natural Pearls
What about the history, the pearls were probably the first gemstone known to the ancients. Prehistoric men at once noticed and estimated a beauty of an object founded by them inside the mollusk.
Even in Indian Vedas we can meet with pearls symbolized one of the names of Krishna, additionally to this, both Ramayana and Mahabharata (Indian sacred treatises) also mentioned pearls.
We’ve mentioned these greets Indian treatises, as two other, called Mahavansa and the Dipavansa, tell us about the pearl production and estimation on Ceylon, therefore we can conclude that exactly these places such as India & Ceylon were the first regions produced pearls for jewelry purposes.
George F. Kunz also mentions such ancient Chinese book as Shu King, where we can find a record which tells us that the river Hwai, was a spot of pear production even in XXIII century BC, therefore there were too many legends and myths about the pearls in ancient Chinese treatises & literature.
Moreover, the information about pearls mentioned in Egyptian, Assyrian, Persian, Hebrew and other ancient literature, but we’ll not dwell on this. All that we can say, we concluded that pearls have an oriental origin. And it is not surprising, because the oriental climate contributes to formation the pearl inside the shell.
Medieval & Modern History of Natural Pearls
Medieval travelers brought the first pearls to Europe, thus the pearls first appeared inside the crowns of many European dynasties. Medieval kings have collected immense pearl treasures, but many of them were destroyed and despoiled during the wars.
Since VI century and several centuries after the Franks due to their military triumphs had a dominant position in Europe and their treasury contains a huge amount of gems and pearls, from whence their splendid palaces and churches, therefore the medieval treatises full of extended information about pearls, its value, and its use in jewelry. A remarkable example of this medieval art can be demonstrated in such known in US manuscript as Ashburnham, owned by the family of J.P. Morgan.
During the “Dark Ages” pearls were also used for sacred rituals, nonetheless, it is worth noting that pearls were actually used more for ornamental purposes than for jewelry. In the period from IX to XIV c., the pearls used in medicine, alchemy and magic. This was due to oriental influence where to pearls and gemstones were attributed magical and healing features. Thus we have to state the fact, that pearls and other gems were indeed used for principally medicinal purposes during the medieval time, these pearls also so-called “medicinal pearls.”
Later, medieval travelers, who paid a visit to India and India and China, mentioned that the Oriental Kings wear pearls and decorated their clothes with pearls, moreover the court and army officers also wear pearls like jewelry, hence the custom to wear pearls in the form of jewelry came to Europe.
The proof of this fact, we can find in the diaries belonged to Marco Polo. For example, he described king of Malabar who wearing a chain containing of 104 splendid large pearls, moreover him wearing a ring decorated with immense white pearl. Marco Polo also emphasizes that the King collected all of the largest pearls, only for his own purpose. For others, it was prohibited to wear pearls weighing more than half a “saggio.”
Since that moment, during the XII-XIII centuries, all noble person be honored to wear pearls and other gems and collect them for personal use and purposes. Both men, as well as women dress, were decorated with pearls of various value and size. This was due to the fact that at that time the method of cutting and faceting of gems wasn’t known.
The Pearls of New World
The greatest surge in the pearl market was happened after Columbus discovered America. Peru, Venezuela and Mexico, (especially Montezuma district) immediately turned to the greatest source of the pearls, due to the fact that the Aztecs kings possessed pearls in immeasurable quantity.
The Spanish discovered a lot of fisheries owned by the locals on the coasts of Venezuela, Panama and Mexico, from whence there is a legend about the Eldorado. Since that moment, the American pearls were represented in all of the European markets.
Outstanding features attributed to Pearls
All noble persons, princes and even kings wore pearls jewelry in the Middle Ages in enormous quantities. This was due to two main reasons: first of all, it was necessary in association with mysterious power, attributed to this gem, the second reason was that, during the long wars and battles many treasures were robbed, therefore all the noble persons preferred to keep their treasures in private ownership. Thus, many of distinguished pearls survived to our time.
In pre-Columbian America pearls were used to decorate the temples. It was a sacred gem for Indians, therefore they paid tribute to their divinities in the form of pearls.
It was a custom in France for no married woman to wear pearls on her dress, thus, the pearls symbolized an innocence. Moreover, since 1345 this custom has been legitimized and was regulated by law entitled “the law of Ulm.”
A few words about origin of the name “Pearls”
The word “Pearl” came to us about XIV century. Some authors used the name “margaritas” or “margarita,” others used the term “parle,” some of them combined these words such as “Margeri perles,” thus, probably subsequent authors began to use a short term “pearl” or “pearls.”
Today, pearl has its second name such great as June Birthstone. Read more in this article.