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Article: Pearls, The Queen of Gems...

Pearls, The Queen of Gems...

Pearls, The Queen of Gems...

Pearls, The Queen of gems.


Pearls are probably one of, if not the earliest gem known to man. Frequently referred to as” The Queen of gems and the gem of Queens”, it’s not surprising that they have been revered for many centuries and imbued with mystical and magical significance. Cleopatra once bet Marc Anthony that she could host the most expensive dinner ever. In her clever attempt to do so she dissolved one of a pair of pearl earrings into wine and gulped it down. Astonished, Marc Anthony declined his dinner, the matching pearl and admitted she had won.

Pearls throughout history have always been a treasure of almost incomparable value. Pearls were presented as gifts to Chinese Royalty as early as 2300 BC. Predominantly from the Persian Gulf, pearls have had great importance to Arab cultures. Legend has it that pearls were created by oysters swallowing dew drops that fell into the ocean. Unfortunately, the pearl beds over the last 200 years have been over fished and slowly killed with pollution resulting in very few natural beds remaining.


In Roman times, pearls were of such value that in 1BC Julius Ceasar passed a law permitting only the ruling classes to wear them. They have long been the preserve of monarchs and the highest  and richest in society. In ancient China, pearl jewellery symbolised the purity of the person wearing it and in the Middle Ages Knights often wore pearls on the battlefield believing it would afford them protection.


Moving forward to the 19th century, pearl jewellery was so in demand that oyster beds were in serious decline. The Chinese had been culturing freshwater pearls for hundreds of years by implanting figures of Budda and other objects into oysters and allowing them to be covered in pearl nacre. Sometimes these would be successful, but many times failed. The culturing process was very crude and as yet no-one had successfully managed culture perfectly round pearls. Enter Julius Ceasar.



Kokichi Mikimoto, the son of a Japanese noodle maker is usually referred to as The Pearl King, however he wasn’t the man who created the technique but did successfully produce it on a large scale to make it commercially viable. Mikimoto had tried for many years to culture pearls and had been successful in producing button and baroque shaped pearls. The goal that eluded him was to produce perfectly round pearls.


This is the part that usually gets forgotten in history. William Saville-Kent was a British Marine Biologist working in Queensland Australia. His main experimentation for culturing pearls on Thursday Island was successful in producing round pearls and is directly responsible for the latter patenting by Dr Tokichi Nishikawa. A later patent was the applied for jointly with Tatsuhei Mise and Nishikawa. Coincidentally Mise had been William Saville Kents assistant at one point. He also went on to marry Mikimoto’s daughter. Coincidence? Maybe not as, Mikimoto then went on to use the joint patent to advance his cultured pearl business.


There is no doubt that Mikimoto brought cultured pearls to the world through marketing his product. The cultured pearl within 40 years had to establish itself as a genuine product. Up until the invention of pearl culturing they had always been the preserve of Royalty or the ultra wealthy. To give you an idea of the value of pearls at the beginning of the 20th century a single pearl discovered in The Persian Gulf was a major event. The value of such a discovery could throw the financial markets into a state of alert by depressing the value of everything else.


In 1916 Cartier, put what he believed to be the most expensive necklace in the world in his New York showroom. It consisted of two strings of perfectly matched pearls, one strand of 55 and the other of 73. It was worth more than $1,000,000 (around $24,000,000 in todays money) and became an overnight sensation. Many admirers travelled to see it in the flesh, but one 31 year old, Maisie Plant was more captivated than most.


One evening Maisie Plant was sat next to Pierre Cartier at dinner extoling the virtues of the beautiful pearl necklace she had seen in his Showroom but said she couldn’t possibly afford it. Pierre knew that Maisie’s husband, Morton Plant in his sixties, was besotted by Maisie his much younger second wife and would ensure that she got her heart’s desire. Cartier also knew that Plant was considering selling his 5th Avenue and 52nd street Renaissance style mansion as he felt the area no longer had a residential feel to it.


As both the 5-story town House and the necklace were valued at around a million Dollars, Pierre Cartier wondered if Mr Plant might be open to a deal: “Give me your townhouse and I’ll let you have the necklace.” A short time later the keys to the house were exchanged for a pearl necklace and the rest as they say, is history.



The refinement of pearl culturing over the next 30 years brought the price of pearls down considerably. Although still very expensive they were now within the reach of everyday people. During the 50s particularly, the simple strand of pearls was the aspiration of every housewife. Even today it is considered the ultimate bridal accessory for a perfect wedding day. Pearls and their wearing have changed drastically during the last 20 years. Styles and tastes are changing and evolving continuously and the way pearls are used in jewellery is very different to the last century. Indeed pearls are once again becoming the jewellery accessory of choice for men as they were back in the 16th and 17th centuries. Media stars like Harry Styles and Jaden Smith have popularised the wearing of pearls by men. Fashion houses such as Gucci, Dior and Ryan Roche have all featured male models wearing pearls.  Men or women can now choose a classic strand or for something a little more Avent Gard choose designers like Shuan Leane or George Jensen.



The pearl is a gem that is always a classic and fits in to every social situation. Always tasteful, always stylish and transitions from day to evening flawlessly.


Please come visite our Jewellery showroom in Harrogate to try some on.

Team Fogal and Barnes 

Fine Jewellers of Harrogate 

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