What do pearls mean to you? The pearl is June’s birthstone and have a demure glow that has been described as pure, feminine and even virginal. Fashion experts consider them a jewellery essential. But what’s more, they have a rather juicy and intriguing history full of sex, power and wealth.
The ultimate gem of feminine power
Have you seen the way Kate Middleton, Rihanna, Scarlett Johansson and Drew Barrymore have flaunted pearls recently? There is no doubt that the pearl is the go-to gem for powerful women who attend royal balls, walk red carpets and rule executive boardrooms. This natural gem’s feminine luster somehow manages to create a look that’s simple, elegant and, let’s face it, very sexy.
Scarlett Johansson wearing pearls
Michelle Obama wearing pearls
Two powerful women whose pearls rocked the world
Before we look at pearl birthstone mythology and lore in more detail, there are two pearl stories that any lover of gemstones should be aware of. Both stories are about rich, powerful, famous women known for their breathtaking beauty and sex appeal. These stories contribute to the pearl’s mysterious meaning and help to explain our deep fascination with this exquisite gemstone.
The first pearl story: how Cleopatra won her bet
Two thousand years ago, pearls were
considered the ultimate symbol of wealth.
You might remember from history class that Queen Cleopatra was the last, and the richest, of all the pharaohs to rule Egypt.
Only months before her downfall, Cleopatra became embroiled in a heated love affair with the handsome Marc Anthony, who’d been sent to submit her to the the Roman Empire’s rule.
But Cleopatra was not an easy woman to conquer and she was famous for her love of extravagance and luxury. So despite sharing a bed with Marc Anthony, she sneered at his efforts to seduce her with Roman riches.
To prove that Egypt didn’t need any additional wealth, and this was not going to be the way to persuade her to give up her queendom, Cleopatra wagered Marc Anthony that she could serve him a dinner so expensive that Rome would never be able to match the cost.
Marc Anthony laughed and agreed, but when dinner arrived, he was in for a shock.
Pale-faced, he watched as Cleopatra dissolved a magnificent, enormous pearl in her wine and drank it.
In the face of such wealth and feminine power, Marc Anthony had no choice but to admit he’d lost the bet!
This famous story is still told today, thousands of years later. It symbolises the relationship women share with pearls, as well as the power they lend.
The second pearl story: Marilyn Monroe’s Mikimoto necklace
Almost two millenia later, the pearl had become so coveted that the natural pearl beds of South America and the Pacific had almost been depleted.
The greed of Spanish, French and British colonial rulers was to blame. By Queen Victoria’s era, pearls had become so rare they were no longer affordable to ordinary people; only the rich were able to own them.
However, all this changed in 1907, when a Japanese man called Kokichi Mikimoto invented and patented the cultivated pearl – and Marilyn Monroe ended up wearing one of his creations.
Mikimoto’s method of creating cultivated pearls consisted of inserting a tiny pebble into an oyster. This then went on to produce a beautiful pearl.
At first, Mikimoto’s cultivated pearls were shunned by the wealthy, considered as cheap, poor imitations of the real thing.
That is, until Joe DiMaggio bought Marilyn Monroe a real Mikimoto necklace as a honeymoon gift when the newlywed couple visited a Japanese pearl farm during their 1954 world tour.
Instantly, the story shot into the limelight. As soon as Marilyn was photographed with Mikimoto’s necklace around her beautiful neck, it turned into the ultimate emblem of glamour, fashion and sex appeal. Everybody wanted to own one.
Pearl birthstone myths and lore
To astrologists, the pearl represents the birthstone for June. They also say that the gem is aligned with the zodiac sign of Gemini. Since ancient times, the pearl birthstone has been said to bring love, luck, wisdom and peace to those born in early summer.
Their white colour is associated with light and purity. Therefore the pearl birthstone stands for innocence, sincerity and true feelings. If you wear it as your birthstone, it is said to make your new ventures successful and bless your new life beginnings (like marriage, house moves and babies) with love and luck.
White is also a colour that’s full of positive meaning for newly engaged couples, which is why the pearl is such a popular wedding accessory.
Curious pearl traditions around the world
Many wonderful, and sometime strange, cultural traditions have formed around the pearl.
Ancient Romans believed that pearls could prevent young wives from crying. In some parts of India, an un-pierced pearl is traditionally presented as a wedding gift and then drilled with a hole during the marriage ceremony.
In Old China, pearls were said to protect their wearer’s from fire and dragons. In medieval Europe, their pure white shimmer was tied to religious beliefs, symbolising chastity and pure thoughts for brides on their wedding day.
Why pearls are predicted as the ultra-trendy accessory for 2017-2018
If you’re in the 20-35 age group, up until recently, wearing a double-strand of pearls might not have been seen as cool and fashionable as it was during your grandmother’s era. However, the blockbusting Netflix series, The Crown, caused a huge boom in its popularity. Suddenly, pearls are very trendy again.
A go-to jewellery essential
In history the pearl was called the ‘queen of gems’. Expert gemmologists consider it as rare a natural treasure as diamonds. As we have seen, from ancient history through the centuries to modern day, they have surfaced again and again as something women covet to own and wear. So if you’re thinking of a new addition to your jewellery collection, the pearl is a surefire choice.
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