Pearl Fashion History

The recorded oldest piece of pearl jewellery is almost 3,000 years old dating back a time from the 7th to the 9th Century B.C. and was discovered in Susa, which is an ancient Persian city. It was discovered by an archeologist J. Morgan. He discovered it inside a bronze sarcophagus (Sarcophagus refers to the carved, generally stone case in which the linen-wrapped mummy was placed). The exquisite piece is a three-stranded necklace with 216 perfectly conserved pearls. The pearl necklace is on display at the Louvre Museum in Paris, in the Persian gallery. There are also ancient displays of the initial attempts at imitating the pearl, with spheres of baked clay and mother of pearl.

In ancient Rome, pearls were considered the ultimate symbol of wealth and social standing. Pearl necklaces were so highly sought after that a law was developed: the wearing and ownership of pearls was restricted to the Elite only.

The Greeks used the Pearl in its association with love and marriage. In the Metropolitan museum of New York is a beautiful 2,300 year old Greek Pearl Necklace that has been on display for 100 years. Although the Luster is gone from this piece it is still an outstanding piece of Ancient Pearl Jewelry.

Fair maidens of nobility cherished delicate Pearl Necklaces, gallant knights often wore pearls onto the battlefield. During the Dark Ages the belief was that the magic possessed by the lustrous gems would protect them from harm.

During the Renaissance the courts of Europe were awash in pearls. Since pearls were so highly regarded, a number of European countries passed laws forbidding the wearing of pearls unless you were Nobility. Irregularly shaped “baroque” pearls were used essentially to represent mythological characters or animals. Part of the collection of the Grand Duke of Tuscany is the “Florentine rooster”, and is presently displayed in the Musei degli Argenti museum in Florence. The animal is shaped around a unique baroque pearl, which fashions the bust. The head and body are made of gold enamel, and the feathers of the tail are studded with square shaped gems. In a painting from 1567, Elizabeth I of England was portrayed wearing a pearl-studded dress and very long . It is said that the sovereign's passion for these jewels was so great that the most precious of pearls were used on her pet stoat’s collar.

The Europeans expanded into the New World of North and Central America. This was the beginning of the discovery of Pearls in Central America. This added to the wealth of the European counties such as Spain, England and France. Unfortunately, greed for natural sea grown pearls resulted in the near extinction of virtually all the American pearl oysters by the 17th Century.

In 1916 Jacques Cartier bought his landmark store on New York’s famous Fifth Avenue by trading two pearl necklaces for the valuable property. This provides an idea of the value of the Natural Pearl in the early 1900’s.

With the introduction of cultured pearls made popular by research and dedication from Kokichi Mikimoto from 1893 to 1905, pearl necklaces are now affordable to everyone, not just the elite. Cultured pearls share the same properties as natural pearls and are grown by live Oysters and Mollusks. The only difference is a bit of encouragement by man during the Nucleation Process.