Let's deep dive into the fascinating, and at times elitist, history of pearls, one of the ocean's most beloved lustrous treasures throughout history. With its warm inner glow and shimmering iridescence, they have been worn for centuries and referenced in countless religions, myths, and cultures.
What makes pearls so special and captivating is the process by which they are manufactured, wholly by living creatures. While gemstones and precious metals get mined from the earth, requiring to be cut and polished to magnify their beauty, pearls are grown by oysters both in fresh and salt waters, and are naturally shaped into flawless and stunning spheres.
The formation of a natural pearl begins as a natural defence to protect the soft structure of marine oysters and freshwater mussels against a foreign substance that has accidentally slipped into their shell. In order to protect itself, the mollusc begins to secrete a crystalline substance around the irritant. This substance is called "nacre", also known as mother-of-pearl.
As long as the irritant remains within its body, the oyster will continue to secrete nacre around it, layer upon layer. Over time, the irritant will be entirely encased by the silky crystalline coatings, which engender a rainbow of light and color, ultimately resulting in a stunning and radiating gem.
It truly is one of nature's most precious quirks, turning an irritable inconvenience into something so captivatingly alluring. Pearls undeniably show us the mesmerising beauty behind nature's capacity to adapt as means of surviving. Cultured pearls undergo the same process, the only difference being that the irritant is artificially injected in order to promote the production of the mother-of-pearl.
The first finding of a pearl fragment dates back to the sarcophagus of a Persian princess in 420 BC. Chinese royalty used to present this gem as a gift in 2300 BC. For the ancient Romans and Egyptians, pearls were considered the ultimate status symbol. History tells us that Cleopatra dropped a pearl in a glass of wine and drank it, merely to prove Mark Antony that she could blow the wealth of an entire nation in only one meal. Nevertheless, the true value of pearls resides in their supernatural origin.
The Greeks appreciated pearls both for their unrivalled beauty and for their allegorical meaning of love and marriage. During the Dark Ages, courageous knights frequently wore them into battle, believing in their magical and protective powers. For centuries, royals have also been immortalised over rows upon rows of pearls, and many European countries established laws that forbade anyone but the aristocracy to wear pearls. In essence, up until the early 1900s, natural pearls were accessible only to the rich and prominent, or to the nobility.
In early modern history, pearls continued to be the gems of icons such as Audrey Hepburn, Coco Chanel, Jacqueline Onassis and Grace Kelly.
It was only in 2013 that the reputation of pearls began to shift thanks to Alber Elbaz and his Fall/Winter 2013 runway, which brought attention to pearls from high-street brands.
Pharrell Williams wore pearls around his neck on a Chanel show in Paris, and from that moment on, the popularisation of these gems just kept growing, with and increasing amount of singers, rappers, and actors donning them in various fashions.
Over the last decade, fashion has undoubtedly evolved, revolutionising and reinventing the use of pearls for the new generations. Driven by undercurrents of sustainability and an appetite for rebellion, these more accessible and playful pieces always feel timeless. Reimagined and celebrated with their imperfections, today’s pearls have become the chic, contemporary essential for an effortless yet enduring style. Ideal to wear to work, formal functions and beyond.