This week I bring you the topic of pearls. In a three part series! Stringing it along. Get it? I know, enough with the very horrible puns.
Pealrs are simply, a lovely accident. Pearls are formed when an irritant is introduced to the soft inside off an oyster, whether a foreign irritant or a part of the shell. It is actually a myth that pearls form from sand, as the irritant is more likely a parasite if not shell that manages to get into the oyster. It lodges itself into it’s squishy center, causing the pearl to emit a protective fluid that coats the irritant with lay upon layer, until bam: what we know as a pearl is formed. Without these irritates occurring, there are no gems.
Pearls are the worlds oldest gem. Going as far back as 420 BC, were pearl fragments were discovered in a Persian princess’s sarcophagus. No one quiet knows who or when pearls were discovered. Historians guess that it was probably ancient humans in search of food at a sea shore that first discovered the tiny gems. From across civilizations and time periods, pearls have managed to maintain their hold on people.
In the 15th and 16th century pearls were discovered in the South and Central America, leading to The Pearl Age, where the demand of pearl in Western Europe rose. Nobles began adorning themselves more and more in pearls, from earrings, to brooches, bracelets, neck collars, hair pieces, accessories on clothing and the like. This high demand ultimately led to a decline in oyster supply by the 19th century.
Until the 20th century the only way to access pearls were for divers to retrieve oysters from depths up to 100 feet.
Even then, there was no guarantee of a successful harvest.
Shallow water mollusks were typically reserved for royalty harvesting. Today, natural pearls found in the wild are far and few (now found only in the seas off Bahrain and Australia, if they are found at all) thanks to previous heavy harvesting.
It was thanks to Kokichi Mikimoto (a son of a noodle maker) who created the world’s first cultured pearl in 1893 that the harvesting of naturally occurring pearls was stopped for the most part. He was the first to introduce a bit of pearl shell into an oyster purposefully, with the intent of cultivating a pearl.
By the 1930’s there were a few hundred pearl farms in Japan. Many people accused Mikimoto’s pearls of not being authentic, or “real”, however, science has proven that the cultivated pearls are very much “real” and made of the same materials of naturally occurring pearls.
Pearls continued to be a vocal point in fashion well into the 20th century, being a staple in 20’s fashion (with “ropes” of pearls made and adorning women’s necks). They were a favorite of Coco Chanel’s who famously mixed real and fake pearls together and styled them with every day clothing. This encouraged costume jewelry sales and many women mixed the two types of pearls together frequently. Another unofficial spokes person for the tiny gem was Jackie O, who frequently wore three strands around her neck (mixing it up with real and fax pearl strands). By the 70’s pearls started to fall out of popular fashion as the stereotype of them being “old” or “stuffy” became popular. However, currently pearls are making a comeback and a staple in popular fashion once again.
Pearls are a classic bit of fashion history. They have been there from the very start and accessorized all types of people and styles. Here are the shop, we have a wide variety of vintage pearl strands for you to accessorize your wardrobe with. Keep an eye out for next weeks blog post we’re we covere the different types of pearls.