The popularity of pearls has withstood the test of time. These precious stones never go out of style, no matter what the current trends may be. They have a lustrous, elegant beauty that steals the show at any event or occasion they are worn at.
Pearls have a long history, far beyond what modern wearers of the gem may recognize. In the past, pearls were extremely rare. Only the richest nobles could afford them, so they were deeply treasured and revered. Nowadays, we tend to take pearls for granted since they are so common and relatively inexpensive due to the invention of cultured pearls.
In the early 1900s, cultured pearls were created, which currently make up the vast majority of the pearl market. But before that, there were only natural pearls, the ones found in the wild and grown without human intervention. Even today, natural pearls are considered a rarity.
No one can say with certainty who discovered pearls, but it is believed that they were first found by people from ancient times searching for food along the seashore. The oldest piece of pearl jewelry dates all the way back to 420 BC and was discovered in the sarcophagus of a Persian princess.
Pearls were the ultimate status symbol across many cultures. As early as 2300 BC, pearls were given as gifts to Chinese royalty. In ancient China, pearls signified the purity of the person who wore them.
Ancient Rome’s pearl craze reached its peak during the first century BC. Roman women sewed the stones into their gowns and upholstered couches with them. Eventually, pearls became so prized that Julius Caesar passed a law stating that the adornment of pearls would be restricted to the upper classes.
Additionally, pearls have held great importance in Arab culture, especially since the Persian Gulf contained the bulk of natural oyster beds, making it the center of the pearl trade. According to legend, pearls were formed from dewdrops after they fell into the sea and were swallowed by oysters.
It was also said that Cleopatra crushed a pearl into a goblet of wine and drank it down to prove to Marc Antony that she could host history’s most expensive dinner. So, as you can see, pearls played a large role in history.
Over the years, the demand for pearls grew. By the nineteenth century, the number of oysters began to dwindle, and pearls became even harder to obtain. Since they are now almost entirely depleted, natural pearls can only be found in the seas near Bahrain and Australia. Their scarcity means that they sell for astronomical prices at auctions.