Did you know ...?
At the height of the Roman Empire, when pearl fever reached its peak, the historian Suetonius wrote that the Roman General, Vitellius, financed an entire military campaign by selling just one of his mother's pearl earrings.
That the technique of culturing round pearls was not discovered by Mikimoto. The first patents in Japan were awarded to Government biologist Tokichi Nishikawa and carpenter Tatsuhei Mise. The Mise-Nishikawa method remains the basis for the pearl culturing industry.
A gemologist, Fredrick Kunz, once estimated that it may have taken as many as 100,000 oysters from the Arabian Gulf to make a single matched natural pearl necklace. The mystery that surrounded the discovery of pearls led to a number of delightful myths and legends about their origin. One tells that the pearl was formed when a dewdrop fell from a mangrove tree and rolled into an oyster. Another that it was the tear drop of an angel. A third that a pearl was formed when lightning struck the ocean.
Throughout history, pearls have always been mentioned as a key element of most recipes for aphrodisiacs. In the medieval times, pearls were an essential ingredient in love potions. Today pearls ground into a powder are used to make Chinese Nanzhung capsules, which supposedly cure impotence. Perhaps the best advice is from the Gem Institute of America, "while the supposed aphrodisiac effect of pearls is debatable ... pearl jewelry given to a loved one can certainly do no harm."
Gently rubbing pearls along the edge of your teeth is a simple test to see if they are real or artificial. If you feel or "hear" a slight grating sound the pearl is very likely to be a cultured pearl. A real pearl's surface is covered with tiny evenly distributed lines and minute craters. If there is no sound or sensation then it is probably an imitation. The surface of most imitation pearls is absolutely uniform - hence no sensation when you rub them along your teeth.
Since ancient times, the pearl has been a symbol of unblemished perfection. It is the oldest known gem, and for centuries it was considered the most valuable. A fragment of the oldest known pearl jewelry, found in the sarcophagus of a Persian princess who died in 520 BC, is displayed in the Louvre in Paris. To the ancients, pearls were a symbol of the moon and had magical powers. In classical Rome, only persons above a certain rank were allowed to wear pearl jewelry. The Latin word for pearl literally means "unique" attesting to the fact that no two pearls are identical.
Pearls have been considered ideal wedding gifts because they symbolize purity and innocence. In the Hindu religion, the presentation of an undrilled pearl and its piercing has formed part of the marriage ceremony.
In the romance languages (Spanish, French, Italian), margarita means pearl. The word pearl appeared in the English language in the fourteenth century. In the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries, pearls were very fashionable in Europe as personal ornaments. The clothing of both men and women were embroidered with them.
In the Americas, both the Incas and Aztecs prized pearls for their beauty and magical powers. Spanish explorers of the New World found the natives in possession of rich pearl fisheries. For many years, the New World was best known in European cities like Seville and Cadiz as the land where pearls came from.
Most European countries in the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries had laws regarding who could and could not wear pearls. Teachers and lawyers, for example, could not wear fringes or chains with pearls.
Native Americans of the Atlantic Coastal areas and the Mississippi River Basin were the first to collect and use U.S. freshwater mussel pearls and shells. Pearl pendants and ear pendants were worn by both sexes and both pearl and shell were used for decorative purposes on articles of clothing. Some of the tribes used pearls as tributes, reportedly Powhattan (Pocahontas' father) had large stores of pearls received as tribute. Additionally armlets, pendants, and gaming pieces were made from mussel shell.