THE LEGEND OF PEARLS
In 1908, George Frederick Kunze and Charles Hugh Stevenson, authored 'The Book Of The Pearl' and surmised that ancient fish eating tribes along the coast of India most likely first discovered salt water pearls while collecting oysters.
That was 5000 years ago.
As the oldest known gem in human history, the story of pearls is replete with rich symbolism, a cherished symbol of love, purity, beauty, nobility, wisdom & wealth.
Chinese records dating from 2300BC indicate that pearls were prized possessions of royalty.
Ancient Hindu texts from India also refer to pearls, stating that the god Krishna discovered the first pearl.
The Romans valued pearls highly, especially as a symbol of wealth and prestige, so much so that an effort was made to prohibit the wearing of pearls by those not deserving of them.
In ancient Greece, pearls were highly valued, especially at weddings, where they were said to bring love.
History is sated with legends & records that document epic tales of military commanders, royalty, adventurers, traders and explorers & their obsession with this remarkable gem.
Alexander the Great, Kublai Khan, Marco Polo, Cleopatra & Marc Antony, Elizabeth 1 and the Cartier Brothers are just some of the great names.
Sacred books of all cultures abound with references to pearls; even the world's most prominent religious texts elevate pearls to the most illustrious of positions.
The world's greatest saltwater natural pearl bearing oyster beds lay in the Persian Gulf, Ceylon, India & the Red Sea. Ruthlessly exploited, they supplied world demand for 2000 years.
With the discovery of the new American continent, and its abundant supply of both saltwater and freshwater natural pearls, these illustrious gems soon became the most important product sent from the colonies back to Europe, setting off a pearl craze that lasted 400 years.
Many famous natural pearls were found during this period, including 'La Peregrina' (The Wanderer) in 1560, a 17 X 25mm white drop which forms the centerpiece of a magnificent Cartier necklace created for (and still owned by) Elizabeth Taylor.
On of the most engaging modern pearl stories relates to the establishment of the House of Cartier in New York.
In 1917, Pierre Cartier purchased a well positioned house from Morton Plant for $100 plus a natural pearl strand valued at 1 million dollars. This house at 653 Fifth Avenue still stands as Cartier, New York.
At the beginning of the 20th century, the fabled natural pearl beds of the world were dramatically depleted and increasingly polluted, never to recover.
However, a new chapter in the enduring legend of pearls was about to begin.
By 1916, a team of Japanese scientists had discovered a clever technique which could be used to cause generic Akoya oysters Pinctada Fucata Martensii to create pearls.
This process of pearl culture, the Mise-Nishikawa method, so named for the scientists that invented the technique, used a grafting needle to surgically insert a metal nucleus & a piece of oyster mantle tissue into the gonad of an oyster shell.
The mantle graft then grew around the nucleus, depositing nacre around it, thus creating a cultured pearl.
This radical new technology was purchased by a man who would forever alter the course of the worlds oldest gem.
Having experimented with pearl culture techniques for 20 years, Mikimoto did contribute one crucial discovery. Whereas the Mise-Nishikawa method nucleated with silver and gold beads, Mikimoto experimented with everything from glass to lead to clay to wood.
He found he had the highest success rates when he inserted round nuclei cut from mussel shells originating from the Mississippi River in the United States.
The Modern Pearl Era had begun.
Mikimoto was a tireless advocate of the new culturing techniques and their resulting gems. Perhaps his greatest achievement was convincing the general global public (most notably the USA) to accept cultured pearls as worthwhile & valuable.
His efforts opened new markets worldwide for cultured pearls, and essentially created the pearl industry that exists today.
The effect on the pearl industry of the discovery of pearl culturing combined with Mikimoto's marketing enthusiasm cannot be understated. Within a span of less than 50 years at the beginning of the 20th century, thousands of years of pearl history were rewritten. Pearls, historically the exclusive possessions of royalty and aristocracy had now become available to virtually anyone on the planet.
[ » see Pearl Quality]