Pearls really are a gift from Mother Nature and have been treasured by Man for over 3,500 years. They really are the oldest known gem. For thousands of years pearls were retrieved from the depths of the oceans by pearl fishers diving to gather oysters from the seabed. The pearl fisher never knew whether the oyster he had risked his life for would reveal a priceless pearl until it was opened. Often hundreds had to be opened just to find one pearl so imagine how many oysters needed to be opened to find enough pearls to make a necklace of matching pearls. This rarity explains why pearls were so highly prized. Pearls have come to symbolise purity, chastity and perfection and were thought to bring good fortune to the wearer.
Pearls are the only gemstone to originate from a living organism. All pearls start as a tiny irritant that finds it’s way in to the mantle of the mollusk which, in an effort to protect itself, coats the pearl with nacre (calcium carbonate). This is the very same substance it uses to make it’s protective shell. As time passes the pearl grows in size. However,over fishing, oil drilling in the Arabian Gulf and other environmental pressures had a dramatic effect on the numbers of pearls found.
In 1916 Mikimoto became the first to commercially develop British biologist William Saville-Kent’s process of producing cultured pearls. The process involved replicating nature by inserting a bead nucleus in to the mantle of the oyster and allowing the oyster to take over. Pearls grown in this way became commercially available from 1928 and nowadays are grown in waters off Japan, South Korea, The Philippines, China and Australia.