Pearls: Beauties of the Deep
Hailing from 10,000 leagues under the sea, Pearls are renowned for their beauty– their name synonymous with something rare, fine, admirable and valuable. Prized by European royalty, such as by George Villiers– 1st Duke of Buckingham (1600’s) and Queen Margherita of Italy (1880’s), pearls were actually purveyed far before Europe’s tastes began including high jewelry. Thousands of years of documented history point to all corners of Asia having found and excavated pearls, from Prince Vijaya of India in 500 BC to the Han Dynasty in China (206 BC–220 AD) and even the famed Kuwaiti divers of the 15th Century.
Famously formed inside the shells of underwater mollusks, such as oysters, they are actually formed to protect the animal from irritants and parasites, though the byproduct is prized by gem collectors worldwide. Originally found in wild mollusk shells, Pearls are now sustainably farmed and cultured, as natural pearl fishing is often unsustainable.
Most of the pearls seen in the market today are cultured pearls, farmed sustainably with modern practices. Natural freshwater pearls, however, are increasingly rare and of superlative value. Pierre Cartier of the eponymously-named “Cartier” purchased the Fifth Avenue mansion that remains the New York Cartier flagship store in exchange for a matched double strand of natural pearls that was valued at US$1 million back then. The “La Peregrina Pearl”, previously owned by figures such as Napoleon and Philippe II of Spain, was purchased by actor Richard Burton for wife/actress Elizabeth Taylor in 1969 for $37,000. It was sold in 2011 for a whopping $11.8 Million USD. Other high-end pearl jewelry, such as the grey “Cowdray Pearls” necklace which sold for $5.3 Million USD in 2015, continue to be prized by connoisseurs for their rarity, beauty and ultimate value.