HISTORY OF PEARLS

Pearls are amongst the oldest and most universal of all gems. They are the oldest jewels know to man, and the only gem made by a living animal. The oldest surviving pearl necklace is nearly 2000 years old and was found in the sarcophagus of a Persian Princess. In many countries pearls were worn as a declaration of wealth and power, and also used as a talisman to bring good fortune, to ward off evil spirits and to cure illnesses. Pearls were symbolic of purity, chastity and feminine charm.

Pearls were worn in civilised Middle East and Asian societies as early as 3500 BC., and continued to grow in popularity during Roman times when pearl fever reached its peak. A pearl earring reportedly paid for one Roman general's political campaign, and Roman women were richly covered in pearls. Pearls found a place in Julius Caesar's heart, and Cleopatra dissolved a pearl in wine and drank it to prove her love to Marc Antonius.

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The dawn of the Christian era saw the continued popularity of pearls. The bible refers to pearls several times, and the value still placed on the gem. Following the sacking of Rome, Constantinople became the most important centre of wealth and, indeed, pearls because of its strategic position between the source and the consumers. Pearls continued to be featured in jewellery and clothes as well as art.

The early 1700s saw a decline in the demand for pearls. The discovery of diamonds in Brazil made diamonds for the first time more affordable and demand soared. Pearl supplies from traditional sources became unsteady, and cheap imitations appeared on the markets. All these factors led to a decline in the demand for pearls.

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The late 1700s saw a reversal in fortunes. Good harvests from several established pearl sources and the discovery of new ones gave the pearl industry a much needed boost.

The early 1900s saw trade affected by a supply shortage and the appearance of cultured pearls on the market. Cultured pearls were not accepted immediately, it took several years for consumers and the industry to accept this new kind of pearl.

Since then, cultured pearls have replaced natural pearls and now many different countries participate in the cultured pearl industry.

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