Friday, June 1, 2018

Pearl, The Natural Wonder

Birthstones Series - June Pearl

The month of June is associated with the beginning of summer and carefree weekends spent at favorite vacation spots.  But for the past 100 years, one other thing that is associated with June is the pearl.  Pearl is the official birthstone for the month of June as adopted by the American National Association of Jewelers in 1912. It is also the birthstone for the Sun Signs of Gemini and Cancer.

Pearls are the oldest jewels known to man, and the only gem made by a living creature.  Since the beginning of time, pearls have been revered as one of the world's most beautiful and magical gems, and throughout the ages, with their warm inner glow and shimmering iridescence, have been one of the most highly prized and sought-after natural wonders.
An organic gem, pearls are formed inside mollusks like oysters and mussels. They are formed when an irritant such as a tiny stone or bit of sand gets inside the mollusk's shell. A lustrous substance, called nacre, is secreted around the object to protect the soft internal surface of the mollusk. As layer upon layer of nacre coats the irritant, a pearl is formed. Light that is reflected from these overlapping layers produces a characteristic iridescent luster. This process of building a solid pearl can take up to seven or eight years.

Pearls are unlike other gemstones because they do not have to be cut and polished to enhance their natural beauty—they grow into it on their own. No wonder pearls have been prized for their beauty, perfection, and rarity!

Nobody knows when someone first pried open an oyster and found a pearl. Although there are many stories about the discovery of pearls, the one I like the most is that more than likely the first pearl was discovered when a prehistoric man chipped his tooth when he bit into an oyster that contained a pearl.  With its soft, rainbow-hued inner radiance, that first pearl must have seemed like a magical gift from the gods.

For thousands of years, pearls have been the exclusive gemstones of royalty and nobility in every culture. The oldest surviving pearl necklace is nearly 2,000 years old and was found in the sarcophagus of a Persian Princess.  In China, they were used for over five thousand years to decorate the crowns of emperors, the robes of noblewomen, and the sacred statues of the Buddha.

In ancient Rome and medieval France, only the aristocracy were allowed to wear pearls. In Elizabethan England, only royalty could wear them. Pearls became associated with wealth, status, and power, and ordinary people began to desire them as symbols of these things.

Fascinating myths and legends are associated with the pearl.  Throughout their history, different cultures have assigned various meanings to pearls.  Early Chinese myths told of pearls falling from the sky when dragons fought. Ancient legend says that pearls were thought to be the tears of the gods. Pearls have been considered ideal wedding jewelry for centuries because they symbolize purity and innocence. The Greeks believed that wearing pearls would promote marital bliss and prevent newlywed brides from crying. An Old Arabic legend romantically explains that the pearls formed when moonlight-filled dew drops descended from the sky into the oceans and were swallowed by oysters.  Another legend has the Hindu god Krishna discovering pearls when he plucks the first one from the sea and presents it to his daughter on her wedding day.  The Ancient Hebrews believed that pearls had been used by God to decorate the Garden of Eden. Roman ladies believed that pearls were lucky and attracted wealth. In China, pearls are symbolic of the incomparable beauty of the legendary pearl maiden, XiShi (or Shecy).

Throughout all of recorded history, pearls were far too valuable and rare for any but the royalty and aristocracy to afford. However, due to advances in pearl cultivation, growing and harvesting technology, pearls are now affordable and accessible to everyone. Today, you can wear a string of pearls that two hundred years ago only a queen could wear.

Pearls are still cherished today as lovely jewelry. They make tasteful gifts, and are usually passed down as treasured heirlooms for generations.  

Happy Birthday to all of you born in June!

Sources:  Gem Select, Crystal Vaults and American Gem Society. Thank you!  

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