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Birthstone of the Month for June: Pearl

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Another month means another birthstone.

We’ve previously talked about diamonds and emeralds – now, we’re focusing on another beautiful birthstone that is unlike any other for being the only one with an organic origin: the pearl.

While the month of June possesses two more gems associated with it, alexandrite and moonstone, it is the pearl that has been used as an adornment for centuries.

History of the Pearl

Pearls have been collected for more than 4,000 years, making them the world’s oldest gemstones. Around 2,300 BC, pearls were already a symbol of royalty, according to Chinese records, and ancient Hindu texts state that the god Krishna was the one who discovered the first pearl.

These gemstones were incredibly popular in Ancient Egypt and people were buried with them to show their wealth. Mother-of-pearl was also used for decorative purposes throughout this country. Cleopatra is said to have crushed one of her pearl earrings (believed to have been worth 10 million sesterces) into a glass of wine and drunk it to prove to Marc Anthony that she could ‘devour the fortune of a whole nation in just one meal’.

In Ancient Rome, these gemstones were a status symbol, so much so that there were efforts to forbid ‘common people’ from wearing them. The Ancient Greeks viewed pearls as a beautiful natural phenomenon that helped to bring love and marriage, and Arab cultures valued pearls immensely as well, as they believed they were one of the greatest treasures provided in Paradise. Tudor England was called the ‘Pearl Age’, as this gemstone became extremely popular during the 16th century; pearls were also used for medicinal purposes in Europe until the 17th century.

In the early 1900s, these gemstones became more accessible when the first commercial culturing of saltwater pearls started in the Asian continent. From the 1920s onwards, cultured pearls have nearly replaced natural ones in the market.

Image: 18ct White Gold 0.44ct Diamond and Pearl Teardrop Pendant

How Are Pearls Formed?

The beautiful pearl is composed of calcium carbonate, typically aragonite, which is a relatively soft material that also makes up the shells of molluscs. It is formed in concentric layers and the perfect pearl is flawlessly round and smooth. However, pearls can come in many other shapes.

They are created when an irritant is introduced into oysters or mussels as a defence mechanism against a potential threat. This can be a grafted piece of shell in cultured pearls and a grain of sand in naturally-occurring ones.

The mollusc creates a pearl sac to seal off the irritant and the protective membrane of the animal deposits layers of calcium carbonate continuously as a way to fight off the ‘invader’.

The end result is the gorgeous and luxurious gemstone we all know and love.

Image: 18ct White Gold Akoya Pearl Two Row

Properties of the Pearl

The properties of these stunning gemstones are what make them so sought-after and desired around the world. Below are a few of the features that make pearls so special:

Type – Pearls are either cultured or natural. Cultured pearls can be freshwater or saltwater, while natural ones occur ‘in the wild’. The three main types of saltwater pearls in the world are Akoya, Tahitian and South Sea, which accounts for around 5% of the total weight of global production. China produces the majority of freshwater pearls, which accounts for 95%.

Softness – This gemstone is very soft, usually ranging between 2.5 and 4.5 on the Mohs scale, and is also sensitive to extreme heat and acidity.

Lustre – The finest pearls are known to have a reflective lustre that adds a beautiful colourful iridescence to it. They’re also nacreous, just like the interior of the shells that created them. The thinner and more numerous the layers, the finer the lustre will be.

Colour – Pearls come in many different colours and it’s the type of mollusc that will determine their hues. A pearl from a mussel will look different from a pearl created by an oyster, for example. Pearls can also be dyed in colours like yellow, blue, pink and black. Naturally-occurring black pearls are extremely rare.

Weight – All gemstones are measured in carats, except the pearl, as its weight is given in grains. To equal a gemstone carat, four grains of pearl are needed.

Image: 18ct White Gold South Sea Pearl and Diamond Drop Earrings

Famous Pearls Around the World

The Pearl of Lao Tzu (previously called Pearl of Allah) is the largest recognised pearl on the globe, measuring 24cm in diameter and weighing a spectacular 6.4kg. Found in the Palawan Sea by a Filipino diver, this pearl came from a giant clam, which makes it a ‘clam pearl’ or ‘Tridacna pearl’.

However, this pearl is not considered a gemstone, but many other famous pearls are, including:

  • The Pearl of Asia – Believed to be the largest natural pearl in the world and with a weight of 2,400 grains (600 carats), this pearl entered the court of the Moghul Emperors of India at the time of Emperor Shah Jahan. Spanning almost 400 years of history, the Pearl of Asia has since then passed through the courts of some of the greatest empires of Asia.
  • The Hope Pearl – Once owned by 19th-century gem collector Henry Philip Hope, whose name also adorns the Hope Diamond, the Hope Pearl is one of the largest known saltwater pearls and weighs 1,800 grains (or 450 carats). Its shape and colour are unique, grading from a dark bronze to white.
  • La Peregrina (The Pilgrim or The Wanderer) – Considered to be the most beautiful pearl in the world, La Peregrina is also one of the most famous. Its history spans nearly half a millennium and it once belonged to Queen Mary I of England, to Prince Louis Napoleon of France, and to Elizabeth Taylor. Originally, this pearl weighed 223.8 grains (55.95 carats) but, after being cleaned and drilled, this weight decreased to 203.84 grains (50.96 carats).

Pearl Jewellery at Banks Lyon

Pearls are beautifully graceful gemstones that are unique in the gemmology world for its aesthetic appeal and origin. They’re also one of the most iconic ones, embodying charm, beauty and class no matter their shape, size or colour.

We stock a superb range of pearl jewellery at Banks Lyon that is perfect for any occasion, from an everyday statement to a special evening out or a wedding. Enjoy the luxurious iridescence of this stunning June birthstone that is desired by many and adds elegance and sophistication to any wardrobe.

Image: Fresh Water Pearl Necklace with 18ct yellow Gold Oval Ball Clasp

To learn more about our pearl jewellery, be it our wonderful pendants, bracelets or earrings, don’t hesitate to get in touch with the Banks Lyon team today or visit us in Lancaster (01524 38 10 20) or Kendal (01539 73 03 00), where you can see them in person. Alternatively, you can also follow us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.