Pearl jewelry has a rich history. Today, young brands and progressive designers make pearls not only in classic Chanel-style necklaces, but also in fancy hair jewelry and minimalist mono-earrings. Think of the pearl spiral earrings that Y / Project presented in the Fall / Winter 2018 collection, or the Gucci balaclava at the cruise show of the same year, reminiscent of amphibian scales. Today, natural pearls can be found even in the assortment of the mass market. Let's figure out how it became available.
Text: Anna Eliseeva
How it was discovered
History is silent about who first found pearls and even when and at what point on the planet it happened. But it is interesting that, from the first mentions in antiquity to the 20th century, the gem was considered a symbol of luxury and was available only to members of the privileged classes. The first mention of pearls dates back to 2300 BC in China. A fragment of pearl jewelry was found in the sarcophagus of a Persian princess, which dates back to 420 BC. Cleopatra, according to legend, crumbled a pearl into a glass of wine to prove to Mark Antony that she could host the most expensive dinner in history. And Julius Caesar, in the first century BC, adopted a law according to which only the ruling class had the right to wear pearl jewelry.
In the dark ages, the knights allegedly took the precious mineral with them to battle, believing that it would protect them. Over time, the demand for pearls only grew: at the end of the 19th century, for example, there was even a pearl rush in the upper Mississippi River. Hunters destroyed thousands of mollusks in order to find the very "bead" among them.
The most famous is considered the pearl of the 16th century called "Peregrina" - it belonged to Mary Tudor, later - to the elder brother of Napoleon I Joseph, then to his nephew, Napoleon III. In the 20th century, it was bought at an auction for 37 thousand dollars by actor Richard Burton and presented as at to his wife Elizabeth Taylor. In 2011, Peregrina went under the hammer for $ 11.8 million.
Despite the fact that at the beginning of the 20th century, pearls began to be grown en masse in the world, they still remained available only for actresses, princesses and aristocrats. The main trendsetter of that time was Coco Chanel - the designer did not part with pearl necklaces, which she wore in combination with jewelry (but this fact hardly influenced the status of the precious mineral). Later, simple and elegant strands of pearls were brought into fashion by Grace Kelly and Audrey Hepburn, who wore them both with evening dresses and with everyday clothes.
Already in the 80s, the attitude to pearl jewelry ceased to be so sacred - long pearl beads were on both the daring Madonna, who performed in revealing outfits, and in the punk collections of Vivienne Westwood. In the 90s, mass fashion struck out pearls as outdated - the mineral was perceived as an attribute of the classics. But he was still loved by business women loyal to the elegant style: Nancy Reagan, Barbara Bush, Princess Diana.
How is it mined
In theory, pearls can form in a wide variety of molluscs, but bivalves remain the main source of pearl. Pearl formation is a defense reaction of the body. When a foreign body - a grain of sand or a parasite - enters the shell of a sea oyster or river mussel, they cover it with mother-of-pearl layer by layer for several years. That is why wild pearls are so rare - they are just an accident that happened to one out of tens of thousands of mollusks.
Until the 20th century, divers hunted for pearls, often risking their lives - amateurs dived without special equipment to great depths. But everything changed in 1893, when the Japanese Kokichi Mikimoto received the first cultured pearl - it had all the same properties as the “wild” pearl. The only difference was that the foreign body was planted by hand.By 1935, there were 350 pearl farms in Japan, producing 10 million beads a year. And today they are all over the world.
One of the largest companies in the production of organic pearls (not grown, but artificially created) is the Spanish brand Majorica. It has patented a technology that the company says is "identical" to the processes in a clam shell. Essentially, an opaline crystal (frosted glass) is covered with multiple layers of essence “derived from marine organic elements”. However, the brand keeps part of the production technology secret, so it is not known which organic substances are used. The price of a Majorica product can be hundreds of thousands of times cheaper than an identical Mikimoto jewelry. If the former can be considered a mass market in the world of jewelry and bijouterie, the latter is “high jewelry art”.
What determines the price
“The cost of a pearl is influenced by many factors: uniformity, intensity and depth of shine, size, color, origin, thickness of the mother-of-pearl layer, absence of mechanical damage and the number of natural (natural) defects. It is a mistake to believe that the price of only “wild” pearls can be high. Many famous farms like Mikimoto have long ago achieved the perfect result, the cost of such a pearl will not be inferior to a rare analogue,”says Lilia Khazhieva, designer of Copine Jewelry brand.
Today, China is considered the leader in the cultivation of freshwater pearls: in 2010 it produced 20 tons (Australia in the same year - 10 tons). Because of this amount, pearls are becoming more and more affordable. Among the sea pearls are "Akoya", which was first raised by Mikimoto - this pearl is more often than other types of round pearls in blue, cream and pale pink shades. Tahitian pearls are prized for their dark colors: black, gray, blue, green and purple. In the waters of Australia, Myanmar, Indonesia, the Philippines and Japan, pearls of the southern seas are grown - one of the largest. But the pearls "Melo Melo", "Konk" and "Abalon" are mined only in the wild, which is why they are considered the most valuable. The former have a rich yellow color, the latter are bright pink, and the third are intense pearlescent.
“We only use baroque freshwater pearls, they have an irregular shape. There is no fundamental difference, there is a difference in the price and labor intensity of cultivation. The nacre layer of a sea pearl is usually thicker, but only an experienced specialist can determine its origin. We work directly with Asian pearl suppliers. When the party arrives in Moscow, we manually select suitable pearls in shape, color and size and immediately form pairs,”adds Khazhieva.
Is pearl production ethical?
When asked whether the molluscs die after pearls are taken out of them, the founder of the American brand The Pearl Girls, India Rose, answers unequivocally - yes. In her blog, she writes that the lifespan of oysters and mussels on farms depends on how good they produce pearls. If it turns out to be of high quality, then the next foreign body will be planted in the oyster, and if not, then, most likely, it will simply be eaten, and the shell will be allowed to produce other decor - for example, buttons.
Pearl advocates point out that molluscs do not have a central nervous system and therefore cannot feel pain the way we do, for example. But PETA finds arguments against this. According to the organization, animals are stressed when foreign bodies are implanted in them, placed in cages and moved in water of different temperatures. In addition, fragments of soft tissue from other molluscs are transplanted into the shells, which help the oyster or mussel start producing nacre. It goes without saying that it is unacceptable for them to kill animals and re-exploit them to grow new pearls.
Still, pearl producers are pushing for the environmental benefits of such farms.For example, Josh Humbert, who runs the Kamoka Pearl family business in French Polynesia, notes that cages are needed to protect shellfish from predators such as sea turtles. Rose also points out the benefits of growing pearls, because molluscs are natural water filtering agents. In her opinion, the opening of new responsible and sustainable farms helps to cleanse the ocean.
At the same time, alternatives to pearls exist and will be found both in the mass market and in niche brands that advocate environmentally friendly and ethical production. Beads resembling natural pearls are made of glass with the addition of wax or celluloid. And CLED, a Los Angeles-based brand that campaigns against thoughtless production and planet pollution, creates imitation pearls from recycled glass bottles. The beautiful Instagram of the brand deserves special attention.
Do pearls need care
“Don't forget that pearls are quite fragile and can be easily scratched. It is worth protecting it from falls, do not use any chemicals for cleaning, so as not to spoil the color. Pearls can be washed under filtered water and wiped clean with a soft cloth. With proper care and careful wear, it will live for a very long time,”notes the Copine Jewelry designer. And the Mikimoto brand recommends avoiding contact of pearls with any cosmetics and perfumery, keeping them in special soft jewelry cases separately from the rest. But not too long: pearls can be "dehydrated" in a dark impenetrable box.
PHOTOS: wikimedia, copinejewelry, yurchello108 - stock.adobe.com, dream79 - stock.adobe.com, W.Scott McGill - stock.adobe.com, Tanaly - stock.adobe.com