June babies are truly special. They not only have one or two, but three birthstones to lay claim to. From the “emerald by day, ruby by night” colour-changing alexandrite, to the mystifying moonstone. But perhaps the most popular one of the lot is the precious pearl.
Though commonly associated with being round in this day and age, the word ‘pearl’ actually derives from pirum, which is the Latin word for pear — the natural shape most pearls take on in the wild. A pearl is a reaction to an irritant, may it be a fragment of a shell or a parasite, within a mollusk. It’s essentially the shiny secretion, commonly known as nacre, of oysters, coating vexing visitors, either natural or manmade. Round pearls used to be extremely rare before men learnt how to create cultured pearls in the late 19th century.
Uses of pearl
As natural pearls are rare, the practice in which a small bead or piece of shell is hand-placed inside the oyster in order to stimulate the nacre production makes up about 90 percent, if not all, of the pearl industry today. Once harvested, these pearls are cleaned and bleached before being made into jewellery. Many famous names in the past and present, such as Grace Kelly, Coco Chanel, Elizabeth Taylor, Oprah and Rihanna, have adorned themselves with a string of pearls to charm their audience. The pearl has even been crushed into fine powders for use in cosmetics.
On a more environmental front, pearl-production plants have been serving as an early-warning sign of pollution problems. They need pristine water to grow and even miniscule levels of aquatic contamination will prevent the oysters from making proper pearls. Therefore, most pearl farms are pretty remote and pearl farmers are often the front-liners of the green movement to protect their livelihood.
Why pearl is such a gem
Whether found in the wild or cultured, gem-quality pearls are iridescent, just like the insides of the shell that makes them, making it irresistible. At one time, only royalty were allowed to wear pearl jewellery. Eventually, they were seen worn by all, especially political figures and grandmothers. They may be a symbol of purity, enhances one’s integrity and culture, but they’re also fit for the millennium with ultra-chic design elements by many luxury jewellery and fashion houses. It definitely helps that the pearl is generally viewed as a sign of good taste and refinement.
Traditionally, white pearls are perceived as the most worthy — it’s even part of the marketing motto for textbook teeth: “Pearly whites”. However, there are a wide variety of spectrum that the pearl can grow: Cream, gold, black and more. In recent years, the popularity of Tahitian black pearls has surged. These shady pearls are formed inside of black-lipped oysters, primarily found in French Polynesia.
But no matter the colour, its radiant aesthetic symbolises beauty and timeless elegance. And if you’re seeking some pearl jewellery to call your own, here are four fanciful pieces that are just pearl-fect.
SEE ALSO: The various uses of amethyst