Pearls throughout history
Jewellery with pearls are stunning. The beauty of pearls has been described since the early antiquity. There are many references to pearls in mythology and religion. There is an old Arab legend that pearls are formed by saturated dew drops that fell down in the oceans at moonlight and were devoured by oysters. Many painters were inspired by the soft glow of pearls. Also in the bible and in the hieroglyphs you can find references to pearls.
Cleopatra’s pearl earrings are praised in ancient texts. Gaius Plinius called Cleopatra’s pearls the most unique and remarkable pearls that men could imagine. The two pearls had an extraordinary size, with the shape of a pear and were worn as drops earrings. Cleopatra placed a bet to impress Marcus Anthonius. She claimed that she could offer him the most extravagant and expensive banquet of all time. During the banquet, Anthonius enjoyed the lovely food and wines, but it was not what he had expected. During the banquet Cleopatra ordered one of her slaves to bring her a glass with cider. She removed one of her ear drops and pulverized the pearl and drank it. With this action she had won the bet.
How do pearls come to be?
Pearls are so wondrous. Just by how they grow. They form in oysters, some freshwater mussels and sometimes also in snails. When a grain of sand or a piece of shell gets stuck in an oyster, the oyster will form fine layers of mother of pearl around the intruder to protect itself. This process continues for years until the shiny pearl is complete formed.
It is estimated that 1 in 15.000 wild oysters has a pearl inside. These oysters are very hard to dive for and there is a huge chance that the oyster does not have any pearl inside. The word pearl is synonym for treasure because of its rarity and the beautiful mysterious luster. Pearls suit really everybody because of the very subtle way they reflect the tone of your skin and clothes.
In the 1920ties the Mikimoto team found a procedure to cultivate pearls, which made Japan a leader in cultivating pearls to this day. Another reason to love Japan.
This last century pearls have been cultivated too. Then they are known as cultivé or cultured pearls. In this procedure the oysters are grown in nets till they are mature enough. At that stage they are operated and epithelial tissue (or even a mother of pearl core) is inserted into the tissue. We will explain more about 6 kinds of cultured pearls you will find in our jewellery collection. They all come in different sizes, shapes and colour nuances. What all pearls have in common is a classical, luxurious appearance.
Akoya pearls are the most well-known pearls. When people think of pearls they mostly mean these pearls. This pearl has a stunning pure beauty with its soft gentle colours and perfect round shape. The most common colours are ivory white, creamy white, and silver white and they have a soft yellow or pink undertone. Grey and black Akoya exist as well but are very rare. These are mainly grown in bays at sea in Japan. Akoya means ‘my child’ in Japanese. That’s why it is extra symbolic to use Akoya pearls in push presents.
South Sea Pearls
South Sea pearls are grown in big oysters in clear sea water mainly in northern Australia, Indonesia and the Philippines. These pearls come from two different oysters from the same family. The ‘silver lipped’ and the ‘gold lipped’ pinctada maxima. The silver edge oyster forms white and silver grey pearls. These oysters can get very big, up to 30 cm in size. That’s why they can form really large pearls as well, up to max 20 mm. The colour of the pearls this gold lipped oyster grows runs from champagne to warm gold. This oyster is smaller in size than the silver lipped oyster and therefore produces smaller pearls as well.
The Tahitian pearl is also a South Sea pearl, but the pearls found around the island of Tahiti come from another oyster species, the pinctada margaritefera oyster. These pearls have very different colours than the other South Sea pearls. The most well-known colour is blueish black, but the pearls range from silver grey, brownish black to deep purple. The colour will be influenced by mineral salts, plankton, and the temperature of the water. It takes up to 6 years for a pearl to be considered ready to harvest.
Fresh water Pearls
Fresh water pearls are grown in mussels in lakes at different pearl farms in Japan and China. To get a mussel to produce a pearl they will be inserted with little pieces of epithelium. The mussel encapsulates the tissue which forms a little pearl sac in which the pearls will grow. The most common natural colours are white, salmon pink, lavender, purplish blue and greenish. Sometimes pearls will be coloured as well. Fresh water pearls come in many different shapes, but usually not as a perfectly round sphere.
Pearl farmers always wanted fresh water pearls to get as big as South Sea pearls, but they never succeeded. Five years ago there was an invention that changed this limitation. By inserting a XL core made of mother of pearl, these pearls can get as big as the South Sea pearls. This way we got the sweet colours of the Freshwater pearls with the size of the South Sea pearls. These pearls mostly grow in a whimsical shape and are named baroque pearls.
Keshi pearls can be all of the above described pearls. They accidentally arise as a by-product while growing cultured pearls. Keshi pearls start to grown spontaneously when a piece of tissue remains when the inserted epithelial tissue is repelled by the oyster or when a little piece tears off. These cells will form a pearl sac, but because this pearl sac isn’t filled with a core, the pearl will grow into a unique free-form. These pearls have a very thick layer of mother of pearl, this is also the reason why they have their extraordinary beautiful glow.
Diving for pearls at the Oogst goldsmith studio in Amsterdam
Why don’t you make an appointment and come over to harvest your own pearls. We have selected the most beautiful examples. Some are still waiting for their destination and others are already turned into pretty jewellery. Real gems!