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  • Writer's pictureAntiques in Oxford

June Birthstone: Pearl

Pearl takes its name from the Latin word ‘perna’ meaning ‘leg’ as in the shape of the mollusc which hosts the pearl whilst it grows. Pearls are formed as a defence mechanism when a grain of sand invades a mollusc, the mollusc secretes what is known as nacre in layers, ultimately forming the spherical pearl shape.

Most pearls are seawater pearls, formed in pearl oysters. These are found in tropical and subtropical waters such as the Persian Gulf, Oman, Qatar and the Indian Ocean to name a few. The other family of natural pearls are freshwater pearls, formed in freshwater mussels. These are found in lakes and rivers in places such as Europe, Scotland and the USA in the Mississippi River.

The Romans valued pearls as prized gems. Julius Caesar passed a law in 1BC where only high ranking citizens were allowed to wear pearls. Ancient Japanese folklore tells how they believed pearls were created out of the tears of mermaids, angels and mythical creatures. Tahitian myths claim Oro, the God of peace and fertility, visited Earth on a rainbow to bring a magical oyster containing a black pearl and offering this to Princess Bora Bora as a symbol of his love and devotion.

In 1916 Pierre Cartier traded a two row pearl necklace roughly valued at a million dollars for a similarly valued mansion on New York’s Fifth Avenue and in 1917 opened their flagship Cartier store. Pearls are often gifted for a 30th wedding anniversary to represent wisdom and loyalty.

“Pearls were also gifted traditionally to a bride on her wedding day to symbolise purity.”

One of the largest pearls in the world is the ‘Pearl of Lao Tzu’ found in the Philippines in 1934 and weighed an astounding 6.37 kilograms.

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