June Birthstone: Pearl

The Organic Gemstone

Pearl’s are believed to be the oldest gemstone in the world.  The history of pearls is as long as the known history of mankind. The use and trade of pearls is recorded in virtually every major world civilization.

A Chinese book from the 23rd century BC recorded the trade value of pearls at the time... Which means there was already an established market where they were recognized as valuable and traded for many years before that.

One early Chinese dictionary from 1,000 B.C., holds an entry for pearls, and Chinese myths from that time told of pearls falling from the sky when dragons fought.

In the 8th century BC, the ancient Greek poet Homer described pearl earrings in the Odyssey as  "Earrings bright with triple drops that cast a trembling light."  Ancient Greeks believed that pearls were the tears of the gods.  They gave them as wedding gifts to prevent newlywed women from crying and promote overall marital bliss.

From ancient Hindu epics, to Marco Polo's accounts of the king of China, to Pliny's 1st century, A.D. “Historia Naturalis," pearls have been used for adornment for millennia...

Their dominance in history is a result of pearls being an organic gemstone.  They could be found, and immediately sold or traded.  Pearls are perfectly finished by nature and require no mining, cutting, or polishing.

Pearls are formed inside mollusks like oysters and mussels. They form 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 --- layer by layer --- to protect the soft internal surface of the mollusk.  As each layer of nacre coats the irritant, a pearl is formed.  This process can take up to seven or eight years.

The most important oyster beds are traditionally in the Persian Gulf, along the coasts of India and Sri Lanka, and in the Red Sea...  But overfishing and pollution have made natural pearls (100% formed in nature) extremely rare, and very expensive.

So, why are pearls so readily available and relatively inexpensive in most jewelry stores?

In the late 1800’s, Kokichi Mikimoto discovered a process to create pearls “on demand”.  Today, Mikimoto is credited with almost single-handedly having created the worldwide cultured pearl industry.

Cultured pearls are essentially started by man, then finished by nature. Instead of a piece of sand "accidentally" entering the oyster, a person intentionally inserts a piece of mother of pearl shell into the oyster. 

This works the same as a farmer planting a seed. He waits for it to grow, and harvests it at the proper time. Mikimoto’s process allowed people to grow and harvest regular “crops” of  cultured pearls.

This made the supply of pearls infinite and dropped the price dramatically.  By the 1920’s, in less than 50 years, Mikimoto had rewritten thousands of years of pearl history... 

Where pearls used to be possessed only by the wealthy and royal, they were now available to virtually everyone on the planet.

Pearl is one of the three June birthstones. It’s also the designated wedding anniversary gift for 1st, 3rd, 12th, and 30th wedding anniversaries.

Other June Birthstones: