Pearls and Mythology

The Egyptians were among the first in recorded history to prize the pearl in their society. These are exampled through rare paintings and sculptures from that era. It is said that Cleopatra once swallowed a pearl with a glass of wine just to prove a point to Marc Antony that she could consume the wealth of an entire nation in one meal; the value worth thirty million Sesterces (“the price of a kingdom in one mouthful”).

The Chinese are among the first to have recorded the use of Pearl Jewelry in their text going back as far a 4,000 years. In the symbolic language of ancient China, pearls represented preciousness and purity. The imperial house accepted pearls in payment for taxes, and a pearl was placed in the mouths of the deceased who came from wealthy families. In fact they were known to actually specified Freshwater Pearls from the river of Hwai in a southern province. There is also documented evidence of Saltwater Pearls from the Sea on the coast of China and the coast of Japan.

The oldest individual pearl to be recorded is the famous “Jomon”, which is a Japanese pearl dating back to more than 5,500 years old.

“A great dish has been discovered: the gem of all jewels” 23-79 AD. This is how Plinio described the pearl in his work “Naturalis Historia”. He named it to be “the most precious of all valuable things”. The famous writer dedicated an entire chapter to these “Margaritae”, a Greek term used by the Latin people to denote the pearl. They also used the word “unions”, from the name of a fresh water pearl mollusk. “Pirulae” or “Perulae” were used, because of the usual pear shape of many pearls.

This was the first rudimentary indications regarding evaluation elements of the pearl such as degree of luster, size, roundness, and surface appearance. Pliny was the first to highlight the impossibility of finding two perfectly identical specimens.

In the protochristian text Phisiologus, is the first attempt at the origin of Pearls which states “there is a sea shell, which is named purple shell. It comes from the bottom of the sea…, opens its mouth and drinks up the sky’s dew and the rays of the sun, the moon and the stars, and these superior lights bring the pearl to completion.” This theory survived and was quoted in countless scientific publications, right up to the last century.