Perfectly created by nature without any human assistance to enhance their beauty, pearls were the first gems coveted by prehistoric people. Found by chance while opening shells for food, those prehistoric people were enchanted by the luminous glow emanating from these gifts of the sea.
As civilizations grew, both men and women began to appreciate beauty and personal adornment. Pearl jewelry became the gem of choice for the highest echelons of societies around the world. Pearls are even mentioned in the Talmud and the Bible, where in early Hebrew translations, dress provided to Adam and Eve is called “as beautiful as pearls.”
Pearls rarely form around a grain of sand. Most often, pearls form around a small bit of organic matter or are a result of damage to the shell.
Cultured akoya pearls are what most envision when they think of a strand of cultured pearls. White, round and lustrous, akoya pearls are the classic cultured pearls, revered for more than 100 years. The finest strands emanate a glow rarely found in other cultured pearl varieties, which is one reason akoya pearls are still considered the gold standard in cultured pearl jewelry.
Perhaps no other type of cultured pearl has gone through more change over the past twenty years than the freshwater pearl. Freshwater pearls were traditionally grown using only a small piece of donor tissue inserted into a host mussel’s mantle. But recent innovations have led to a new way of farming freshwater pearls—inserting a bead or other substance into the mussel, similar to the methods used in saltwater pearl farming.
Freshwater pearls come in the widest variety of shapes, sizes and colors of all cultured pearl types. Since they’re grown without a bead nucleus, the mussel determines the resulting shape of these gems, which naturally grow in a rainbow of pastel colors. Freshwater pearls as small as a single millimeter in diameter up to 50 millimeters in length have been grown.
Black pearls burst into the limelight in the early 1970s, after being relatively unknown in most of the world. They were first viewed with skepticism, but quickly became a symbol of status and prestige. Elizabeth Taylor and other Hollywood elite draped themselves with strands of these dark exotic beauties, starting a new era of cultured pearl love.
The term “black pearl” is a misnomer, as the pearls are rarely black. They come in a rainbow of different body colors and overtones. The finest pearls can hardly be described as black, exhibiting dark green and blue colors, with iridescent overtones of rose and gold.
Most associate black pearls with Tahitian pearls grown in the black-lipped mollusk in French Polynesia, Pinctada margaritifera. Only pearls grown in French Polynesia earn the name Tahitian, yet the mollusk is used extensively throughout the Cook Islands and other parts of the South Pacific.
French Polynesia remained isolated until Spanish explorers sailed into the island nation in the sixteenth century. They brought home stories of incomparable beauty, untouched natural resources, and a pearl mollusk boasting dark, gleaming mother of pearl in a rainbow of colors. It’s no wonder this exotic paradise is home to one of the most treasured oceanic gems - the Tahitian pearl.
Little is known about the natural pearls that were found before the Spanish (and subsequent English and French) arrival. The royal Tahitian family of that time owned pearls the size of grapes, but the first Europeans focused on the collection of shells for the mother-of-pearl trade. They didn’t realize the value of the thousands of dark pearls they found. Prized oriental pearls of the time were white. But these Polynesian gems were dark and exotic, like the mother of pearl they collected from the native black-lipped pearl mollusk, Pinctada margaritifera, or Tahitian pearl oyster.
The Tahitian pearl is one of my favorites. I have used the pearl in a lot of different pieces, and many more to come! Especially the Galaxy collection is a collection I found a perfect match for these somewhat galactic pearls.
Next to these black Tahitian pearls I was also very lucky to find a very special colored Tahitian pearl; a pistache colored one. I used this precious one in one of my latest earrings, the Monkey on Pearl earrings.
*The source of this article is the excellent Pearl course of Pearls as One. Sign up for their increcible course and find out more about this precious material.