The History of Pearl Jewelry

Unique amid other gemstones, pearls do not arise from the depths of the earth but the water. Pearls do not require special cutting or polishing to maximize their lustrous beauty, which has made them a sought-after treasure since ancient times and has ensured that pearl jewelry has never and will never go out of style.

Pearls have been revered long before written history mentioned their beloved status. Worn for adornment for millennia, evidence of such adornment can be found around the world. A fragment of a pearl was found in the sarcophagus of a Persian princess dated back to 420 B.C. Pearls were presented as gifts to Chinese royalty as early as 2300 B.C., and a Chinese historian wrote possibly the earliest mention of them in 2206 B.C.

In the 1st century B.C., Julius Caesar passed a law declaring that the wearing of pearls was only legal for the ruling classes. According to one legend, Cleopatra was said to crush a pearl into a glass of wine to prove she could give the most expensive dinner in history.

Pearls were an essential trade commodity during Roman times, and the 15th and 16th century was often referred to as the Pearl Age, with escalating demand for pearls in Western Europe for the ladies of nobility, that by the 19th century, were incredibly rare. The demand soared so high that oyster supplies began to dwindle, making pearls a rare commodity.

It was in 1893 when Kokichi Mikimoto, the son of a Japanese noodle maker, created the world's first cultured pearl by manually introducing an irritant into an oyster to stimulate it to form a pearl. By 1935, there were 350 pearl farms in Japan, producing 10 million cultured pearls a year. Mikimoto had to constantly defend himself against accusations that his pearls were not 'real,' and scientific evidence spoke the truth; the cultivated pearls were the same properties as those formed in deep sea beds. The only difference was that cultured pearls had a boost at getting the same natural process started.

Today naturally formed pearls are one of the rarest of gems, and their price-point is far above what most people can afford. Originally, many associated the wearing of pearls with elderly aunts and grandmas, but with the rise of dramatic black pearls with dark, iridescent shimmers, to imperfect baroque pearls in off-white, cream, pink, or silver—these miracles of the sea have once again become a must-have gem. Shop our stunning pearl jewelry selection today to find your must-have and enjoy an almost unlimited array of pearl colors, finishes, and jewelry pieces that will create a memorable statement no matter where it is worn.