Pearls are produced by different mollusks; the best known being the oyster. Nacre, or mother of pearl, is the base substance secreted by these and other mollusks to cover the inside of their shell walls. When a foreign body gets into the shell and irritates the mollusk, it reacts by covering this object with layers of nacre in order to later expel it. These irritants can be grains of sand, small crabs or other elements of animal, vegetable or mineral origin.
The brightness and color of a pearl depend on the mollusk that produced it and the number of layers of nacre it has. They can come from fresh water or salt water. The freshwater ones are made up of almost 100% nacre, while the saltwater ones have a thin layer of mother-of-pearl, making them more fragile but more valuable due to their scarcity.
The coloration of a pearl can be silver, white, blue, champagne, cream, brown, yellow, black, peach, pink or green. Its iridescence is due to the way pearls reflect, refract and diffract light. This characteristic natural glow is also called the orient.
Considered a precious gem in ancient times, the Egyptians, the Greeks and the Romans all associated them with power, prestige, social status and wealth. This is due to their rarity and scarcity as natural (or wild) pearls occur often but are extremely difficult to find. It is said that in the 1st century (BC), Julius Caesar would have bought a single pearl for 60,000 gold coins as well as promulgating a law that prohibited the lower classes from wearing them.
Pearls fascinated English queen Elizabeth I so much that she was called "the queen of pearls". On the other hand, the pearl has been a symbol of purity and spirituality (especially white pearls), which is why they have been used for funeral rites in places such as the Persian Gulf where a pearl was placed on the forehead of the deceased and then in the palm of the hand. In China they were considered a gift from nature and were given as a wedding present.
Spherical and symmetrical pearls are the best known, although we find irregularly shaped pearls called baroque pearls. The natural process of creating a pearl is from a few months to about 10 years depending on the mollusk that produces them and the type of pearl.
In the 19th century, a Japanese named Kokichi Mikimoto developed pearl farming techniques. These cultured pearls are obtained by putting a foreign body inside the mollusk through various processes in order to cause the formation of a pearl. These are what are sometimes called "artificial" pearls because their development has been forced.
Abalone pearls come from a specific type of mollusk called Haliotis Ramtaschakana, which covers both inside and out of its shell with mother of pearl. They are covered with thin layers of nacre due to the little space inside the animal that produces them. These interfere with luminosity, thus creating an impressive color palette with mixtures of blue, lavender, green, pink, orange and silver in all possible combinations. Its cultivation is very complicated since this mollusk has hemophilia (it bleeds easily). Abalone pearls and mother of pearl come from the United States and New Zealand.
Mabe pearls are hemispherical (half a sphere) as they grow against the inner wall of the oysters and not in their soft tissue (or mantle), as is the case with other pearls. The rough part of the pearl is cut from the shell of the mollusk and then polished and sanded to become a Mabe pearl. Due to their shape, they are generally used in the manufacture of earrings and rings, as it allows hiding mechanisms to close jewelry. The most reputable come from Polynesia.
They are recommended for those who seek relaxation, to repel sadness and nerves. Pearls soothe and generate vital energy at the same time. They are recommended for those who suffer from stomach problems, temperature rises and eye discomfort by reinforcing the nerve endings of the eyes.
The virtues associated with a pearl depend on its color. A white pearl represents purity and spirituality and when it has gray nuances, discretion and modesty. A white pearl with shades of pink is linked to love and affection, while if it has shades of green, it relieves anguish due to its calming virtues. Blue nuances encourage artistic creativity and a black pearl protection by producing benefits on the physical and psychological planes.
Usually associated with the feminine due to its softness, it is attributed to fertility in women as well as having an aphrodisiac aspect. The pearl also combats sadness and helps with mood swings by enhancing the sensitivity and positive waves that emanate from those who possess it.
One of the most famous pearls is called the pearl of Allah, sometimes also called the pearl of Lao Tzu. Found in 1934 in the Philippines, the fisherman who discovered it died trying to retrieve it. Previously known as the world's largest pearl, its shape is irregular and it weighs around 14 pounds (6.4 kilograms).
The world's largest natural pearl was also found in the Philippines and is called the Pearl of Puerto or Pearl of Puerto Princesa. A group of fishermen who wanted to free their anchor from the seabed due to an approaching storm found a giant clam while diving. In it they found this irregularly shaped pearl which weighs about 75 pounds (34 kilograms).
The Peregrina pearl has a history that spans over nearly 500 years. It was found by a slave in the 16th century in the Gulf of Panama who is said to have been freed due to this discovery as to thank him. It was brought to Spain to King Philip II who gave it to Queen Mary I of England, whom she wanted to marry. After the death of the queen, it returned to be part of the Spanish crown jewels for 250 years until it reached the hands of Napoleon III, the English royalty and was bought by Richard Burton who gave it to his wife Elizabeth Taylor.