Pearl Jewellery and High Society

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Pearl Jewellery and High Society | JAKE Blog

Pearl Jewellery and High Society | JAKE Blog


For thousands of years, pearl gemstone jewellery has been associated with high society and the upper class. According to myth and legend, Cleopatra is thought to have crushed a pearl into a glass of wine for Marc Antony, just so she could provide him with the most expensive dinner in history. In this article we explore the history of the beautiful, naturally formed precious stone, and begin to look into a few of the reasons why pearl jewellery has always been associated with such exquisite taste and high social standing.


History of the Pearl

Thousands of years ago, the first pearl was discovered; thought to be accidentally stumbled across on the seashore, by humans, while they were searching for food. Still known today as being one of the most expensive, and sought after gems, the pearl is yearned after for its inner shine, and dazzling iridescent quality. Throughout history, countless references have been made to the pearl, able to be sourced in religious contexts from thousands of years, previous. Seeing pearls as the ultimate symbol of wealth, the ancient Egyptians loved the natural stone so much, that they chose to be buried with them.

Looked to as a symbol of social standing, people of ancient Greece held the pearl in high regard due to not only its indescribable beauty but also for its association with romance and commitment. Even during the Dark Ages, pearls still had their place, with knights often choosing to wear them into battle, believing that the magical gemstones would protect them from harm. During the Renaissance, a number of countries in Europe actually ended up passing a law that disallowed anyone but nobility to wear the precious stones.

When pearls were discovered in Central American waters, during the expansion into the New World, a source of wealth was instantly added to Europe. Unfortunately though, not long after this, virtually all American pearl oysters diminished, due to the sheer greed of divers hunting for the beautiful gems. From this point onwards, until the start of the 1900’s, the pearl population was so low, that the natural stones were only available to the rich and famous, making them even more valuable and sought after than ever before.


How the Pearl is formed

Unlike most natural gemstones, that form from a chemical reaction deep inside the earth, pearls are the product of a living organism, known today as an oyster. Living far below the surface of the ocean, oysters produce a pearl when a foreign object such as a parasite, or a piece of shell, accidentally lodges itself inside of the oyster’s body. Unable to expel the object, the oyster’s body then goes into defensive action, beginning to create a smooth, hard substance around the foreign object, in the hope of protecting themselves from harm. Referred to today as “nacre”, the smooth, crystalline substance forms on the irritant, layer-upon-layer, for as long as it remains inside of the oyster’s body. Once the irritant is completed covered in the silky, smooth layers, the beautiful gem we know today as a pearl, is born.


The appeal of Pearl Jewellery

So what is it that makes Pearl jewellery so appealing to high society? Below we discuss just a couple of reasons why the natural forming gems are considered today, and throughout history, as exquisite pieces of jewellery, solely for the upper class.

Expensive Price – The expensive price of a naturally formed pearl, is something that only the rich can afford. The high-end jewellery created with the now, ever rare natural gemstones, are deemed to be totally unaffordable for the lower class, giving the proud wearer of the expensive, pearl gemstone jewellery, high social standing.

Link with purity – By the Middle Ages, Christians had started to consider pearls as sacred objects, due to the association they have with religious purity. The pearls covering the Holy Grail were reported by early Christians, to make the water pure.

Resembling Royalty – It is no secret that for many years, pearl jewellery has been seen as somewhat of a luxury purchase, most associated with Royalty. As touched on earlier in the article, during the Renaissance, a new law was passed that meant everybody was forbidden to wear pearl jewellery, aside from nobility. This in itself is probably one of the many reasons today, that high society has such a love for pearl jewellery, as there was a time when only the most important people in the world were legally allowed to own it. Today, you can see Kate Middleton, the Duchess of Cambridge, elegantly pulling off a beautiful pair of pearl earrings or American Icon, Lady Michelle Obama sporting a full, double strand pearl necklace. Traditionally viewed as old fashioned accessories to jewellery collections, pearls are now, definitely on their way back in, with some of the most influential celebrities such as Angelina Jolie, Keira Knightley and Katy Perry, all introducing pearls into their modern outfit choices.

Religious and mythological references – The pearl made its first appearance in religious contexts when it was claimed in Christian accounts that Adam and Eve wept, soon after they were diminished from Paradise. This was thought to create a lake of pearls, white gemstones formed from the female tears of Eve, and darker, black pearls formed from Adam. When asked to explain the rarity of the black pearl today, in comparison to the white, it is said that men have more control over their emotions than women do, so Adam consequently shed fewer tears than Eve.

No two pearls are exactly alike – In high society today, pearl and diamond jewellery is seen as being the most popular. One advantage of a pearl over its diamond competitor is that the natural formed method of the stone, means no two pearls are created the same, while handcrafted diamonds can be identically faceted.

Natural Perfection – Thinking, again, about the particular appeal of pearls over beautiful diamonds; although both gemstones are formed naturally, pearls come straight out of an oyster naturally polished to perfection by the sea. Diamonds, on the other hand, need to be cut, cleaned and polished before they can even begin to be used.


With the outstanding amount of references to pearls, and their use in high society, made throughout history, it truly cannot be argued that pearl jewellery continues to be seen today as a symbol of wealth, importance, and high social standing. With its religious references to purity, and it’s perfect, natural perfection, it’s really no surprise that the beautiful gemstone jewellery is so highly sought after.

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