Every lady needs a set of pearls; or two, or...

however many you'd like.

The pearl is the oldest treasured gem; its allure, infinite and universal. Hinduism (the world's oldest existing religion, apparently) pays homage to the magnificence of the pearl: Krishna brought forth pearls from the sea to give to his daughter on her wedding day. Presumably the most important gift he could give, the tradition of presenting brides with strands of pearls is inferred from this tale. Side-tracked - reading more about Hinduism - I discover that the saying "pearls of wisdom" originates here as well. Isn't that beautiful?? I thought it was. Now, fully distracted - I've ADHD or more correctly adult ADHD - I began reading about world religions and their fascination with pearls.

The Sri Guru Granth Sahib, Holy texts of Sikhism (fifth largest organized religion) asserts, "God's name is the Jewel, the Pearl. It cannot be stolen or taken away." (134-3, mwJ, mÚ 5) Ahh... Divine. Of course, I did a quick search of references to pearls in the Bible: "...the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant looking for fine pearls. When he found one of great value, he went away and sold everything he had and bought it." Matthew 13:45-46. Indeed, in the early centuries A.D, pearls were adorned only by royalty because they were rare and invaluable. "The rarest things in the world, next to a spirit of discernment, are diamonds and pearls." [Translated from the French lang: Apres l'esprit de discernement, ce qu'il y a au monde de plus rare, ce sont les diamants et les perles.] Jean de la Bruyere, Les Caracteres (XII). Only at the end of the 19th century did the pearl become available to mere mortals!! Ha! This was the result of culturing techniques developed by Mikimoto, Kokichi.

For me, this awe-inspiring history of pearls is matched only by actually adorning a strand myself. I think it transforms me to into a simple, yet subtly elegant and knowingly sophisticated; and delicate, yet bold (young) woman. And, I'm not sure how it does this precisely. Perhaps, it's the secret and yet visible knowledge of just how precious and beautiful a seemly uncomplicated gemstone as a (round) pearl conjures up for me, the adorner; just like putting on a pair of sexy lingerie. Without much thought, I feel complete when I put on a pearl necklace. I think many women feel this way. Pearls are classic, and yet alluringly provocative!! Just so many juxtapositions; you see, this is the nature of the pearl. Recently, I joked that all I knew about pearls I'd learned from my three M's: my mom, Mikimoto and Majorica fauxs. Suffice it to say, it's all the knowledge I've really ever needed!! But for the sake of completeness, I did some more research (Wikipedia, Farlang: Gem & Diamond Foundation, American Museum of Natural History) and I can now write a 10-page report on pearls, if I ever need to!!

Consumer-wise, buying pearls - trying them on and admiring the gracefulness of your neck in front a mirror - is a very satisfying endeavor. Haha. A modern grading system proffered by Mikimoto appraises the luster, quality, surface perfection, color, shape and size of each pearl used in jewelry-making, evaluating each pearl each from AAA to A1 (and below, in which case, those pearls do not make it as part of Miki jewelry!! Sad!!) Variations of this grading system exist according to each manufacturer and/or seller. (Right: Mikimoto Akoya cultured pearls.)

Natural pearls are super super expensive and remain elusive to non-royalty. Naturally occuring reserves have run out; so the process of culturing is really just perfect!! It involves injecting a piece of one oyster's mantle tissue ('antigen': see how useful by Bio lessons have become) into the silky wall lining of another oyster. The oyster's reaction to this inserted tissue is identical to its reaction to a natural intruder such as a piece of rubble or parasite - otherwise, the course of natural pearl formation. To soothe the irritant, the oyster releases a silky-milky substance - nacre (microscopic calcium carbonate crystals.) Gradually, these crystals form concentric layers that after several years evolve into pearls. Only limited species of oysters secrete pearls. Each oyster specie producing unique pearls.

Akoya pearls are produced by Akoya oysters in Japanese salt waters. Depending on the size of the oyster, the pearl varies in size between 2-10mm. Its color includes white, cream, pink/rose, green, silver, and gold. Akoya pearls are the most beautiful and expensive pearls because of their perfect roundness, luxurious color, and laborious culturing process. Pearls with rose overtones are the rarest. I think I read that some oysters could produce as many as two pearls in their lifetimes!! Too funny, but not really!!

South sea cultured pearls are large - more than 10mm, and produced by much larger oysters in the warm waters of the South Seas, in Australia, Indonesia and the Philippines. Their colors vary with the producing oyster. White South Sea pearls are produced by silver-lipped oysters and the golden pearls are produced by the golden-lipped oyster.

Black south sea or Tahitian pearls come from black-lipped oysters, in Tahiti and Okinawa and are 8-15 mm. Their blackish/gray colors have deliciously beautiful blue, green and violet overtones. Apparently, it could take ten harvest years to collect enough black pearls that match in size, shape and color to create one necklace.

Freshwater or Chinese pearls are cultured in the rivers of China. As many as ten to fourteen pearls can be cultured in one mussel. These pearls are oval-shaped, or like rice grains.

Conch pearls come from the queen conch, which lives in the Caribbean and Gulf of Mexico. They are characterized by a distinctive 'flame quality' that gives the appearance of a burning fire. I think they are exceptionally pretty.
(Characterizations primarily according to Mikimoto.)

And lastly, there are imitation pearls which do not even involve mollusc organisms at all. Faux pearls, the only recognised brand being Majorica (or Mallorca) pearls - pioneered by the Heusch Family in Majorca/Mallorca, Spain - are darling, I think!! At least I force myself to afford these majoricas, so what's not to love. The complete manufacturing process is supposed to be secret; as it does an extremely good job imitating cultured pearls. They're available at Saks & Neimans.

Perhaps, the most intriguing detail I happened on during my research was the work of Betty Sue King at pearl goddess. Her pearls and gems are exquisite, unique and come in a variety of enthralling shapes and colors and are featured on the Farlang Gem & Diamond Foundation. I'm still trying to learn more about her jewelry.

Pearlescent kisses. Muah. Muah.