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Pearl History

In this section we invite you to read about the Myths and Legends of Pearls, its special place in history, the Famous Regions that were known for its Pearl fertility, and how its appeal remains as powerful today, as it was in ancient times.

Myth & Legend

Pearls are and have always been, a divine treasure of nature, they have been prized and adorned for thousands of years.

To start, we can really only assume that the earliest Pearls found were by ancient fish eating tribes discovering Pearls while opening oysters for food, but their mesmerizing and mysterious appeal has led to many myths, and Pearls feature in many ancient written records, describing Pearls as a Heavenly object.

A small capture:

  • Dating back as far as 2300 BC Chinese records already mention Pearl as a highly valued possession, and in China, where Pearl oysters have been gathered for thousands of years in freshwater rivers and the southern coasts, the character Pearl first appears in a written dictionary in 1000 BC.
  • Ancient Greek Mythology speaks of Pearls being the Tears of God.
  • Ancient Japanese believed that Pearls were created by Angels, Mermaids and Nymphs.
  • A Persian legend tells that Pearls were created when a rainbow met the earth after a storm. Thunder and lightning would be the cause of imperfections in a Pearl.
  • Ancient Hindu texts also refer to Pearls many times, stating that the God Krishna discovered the very first Pearl. He reached for one from the ocean, to present this to his daughter on her wedding day.
  • In Religious texts a lake of Pearls was created by the tears of Adam & Eve when they were cast out of Paradise, White Pearls being the tears of Eve, Black Pearls being the tears of Adam. Since men would supposedly be able to control their emotions better, Adam shed fewer tears than Eve, explaining the rarity of the black Pearl.
  • Many phrases in the Quran refer to the Pearl as being one of highest Treasures in Paradise.

Many more myths exist in various cultures; the pure beauty of the Pearl will always mystify people.

Famous Pearl Regions

Following these stories, Pearl fishing became a major source of income for many fortune seekers; four major regions were famous for their Pearl fertility in History;

  • The Gulf of Mannar
  • The Persian Gulf
  • The Red Sea
  • The New World

The Gulf of Mannar (Between India and Sri Lanka) is mentioned in records dating back to the 6th century BC, many merchants were in search of their fortune here. It was Persia and Arabia who fought to rule the Pearl beds for many centuries, The Portuguese took control in 1510, followed by the Dutch until the end of the 18th century, when the British Empire claimed India.

Pearl History

For The Persian Gulf (Between Saudi-Arabia and Iran) Pearls were the most important source of income before oil was discovered in the Gulf area in the 20th century. They were traded and shipped by Indian merchants to the Bombay Pearl markets. Pearls were highly appreciated and valued in Arab cultures.

Pearl History Jewelry

Seafaring Phoenicians brought Pearls to the Mediterranean by sea as the Greek were highly captivated by the Pearls. They were often worn at weddings, as Pearls would bring Love and symbolize purity.

During Alexander the Great’s reign (4th century BC), trade routes were opened between the orient and the Known world. The Pearl’s magnificent beauty made them a valuable trading object, and the pearl made its way into the western world making the Pearl market flourish.

After the fall of Alexandria, the Roman Empire took control of the Red Sea Pearl beds. Pearls were considered to be the highest symbol of status and wealth. One famous incident describes how Cleopatra, the Egyptian Queen, gives a banquet for the Roman Leader Marc Antony. A wager was made that Cleopatra could give the most expensive dinner ever. She had only a glass of sour wine, or vinegar as she removed one of her Pearl earrings, mentioned that this Pearl was worth 10 million Sesterces, crushed it and dropped it into the solution, dissolving the Pearl. When Cleopatra than drank it down she won her wager over the astonished Marc Anthony.

Pearl History Pearls

Following the fall of the Roman Empire, Pearls became closely identified with the monarchies, being a symbol of power, class and wealth. The appreciation spread to other nations in Europe during mediaeval times. But since arts and fashion were strictly under the control of the Church, and Pearls were considered sacred Christian objects, fashion for Pearls for others than the monarchies declined over the following centuries.

A real new chapter in Pearl history starts when Christopher Columbus made his voyages under the support of the Spanish Crown to the New World. Saltwater Pearls were discovered in Central in South America. Colonial slavery in those times meant Pearl diving was an occupation of many slaves. With the shark infested waters their lives were often short-lived, unless a great Pearl was found, with that a slave could sometimes purchase his freedom.

The Pearl harvesting brought great wealth to the Spanish Crown and a new Pearl Age was born. The love for Pearls spread among the wealthier middle class throughout Europe, the Church did no longer control arts and culture, and new Pearl markets arose, such as Venice and Genoa. The Pearl, which was till then still identified as Jewelry only meant for the monarchies since the beginning of the Christian era, made them the most desirable piece of Jewelry in those times.

European colonizers and explorers also found Native Americans wearing Pearls. Native Americans used Pearls for trade and Freshwater Pearls beds were discovered in the Mississippi, Ohio and Tennessee River. Pearls became one the most important products sent back to the colonies.

As a result of pollution and overfishing both the saltwater regions in the Caribbean, along the coasts of Central and South America, and the Freshwater regions in the rivers of America began to dry up by 1930. The government began to strictly regulate the harvesting to prevent the oysters from becoming extinct. The Mexican government even banned all Pearl harvesting between 1942 and 1963.

Overfishing of wild oysters in French Polynesia, the Gulf of Mannar and other areas also led to the depletion of many pearl beds.

The demise of natural Pearl fishing came hand in hand with the start of a new Era in Pearl History.

Pearl History Elisabeth
Pearl History Queen
Pearl History Elisabeth Taylor

Kokichi Mikimoto, Tatsuhei Mise, and Tokichi Nishikawa all discovered the secret of culturing a Pearl in the same time period: Inserting a nucleus into an oyster’s body or mantle causing the tissue to form a Pearl sack, the sack then secretes nacre to coat the nucleus, and a Pearl is being created. Both Mise and Nishikawa applied for a patent for nucleating, in a compromise between the two an agreement was made and the Mise-Nishikawa method was born.

Kokichi Mikimoto also applied for patents; in 1896 for producing hemispherical pearls and in 1908 for culturing Pearls in mantle tissue. Mikomoto altered his patent application to cover a technique to create round Pearls in mantle tissue. This patent was granted to him in 1916. Mikomoto than bought the rights to the Mise-Niskikawa method. Experimenting with different kind of beads, Mikomoto discovered the highest success rate in Pearl Culturing was when a round nuclei was cut from US Mussel shell.

The Pearl industry was now officially revolutionized by Mikomoto and a new chapter in Pearl History begun.

No longer having to overcome the dangers Pearl diving offered; Pearl farming changed the entire industry.

Though still very valuable, and highly adorned, these Jewels of nature are no longer only for the Riches, the Royals or the Aristocrats. Pearls are now available to everyone, and that means you as well.

We at Pearl Universe are proud to present to you such a history rich gem, and invite you to judge for yourself at Pearl Universe why Pearls are, and have always been, a divine treasure of nature.

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