THE NATURAL PEARL’S BEAUTY, RARITY AND ALLURE HAVE INSPIRED countless legends and myths originating in nearly every culture. Such celebrated ancient literatures as Homer’s Iliad, India’s Ramayana, and China’s Shu King extoll the mystifying reverence commanded by the pearl’s enchanting glow. The ancient Greeks dedicated the pearl to Aphrodite who, like a pearl, issued forth from the sea in fully-formed, voluptuous glory. The Ramayana tells of offerings made by the Elements to the deity Rama: Fire presented a meteor, the Earth offered a ruby, and the Sea bestowed a pearl to be worn upon his heart. Another Sanskrit text refers to pearls as “gems of the moon” comparing them to that most feminine and mysterious of celestial bodies.
The pearl’s power to captivate is timeless, providing ample inspiration to modern writers as well. In The Pearl, John Steinbeck describes the fateful moment when a giant oyster is first opened in rapturous terms: “the great pearl, perfect as the moon. It captured the light and refined it and gave it back in silver incandescence.” Part of the magic of pearls is in their discovery. Steinbeck explains that “the pearls were accidents, and the finding of one was luck, a little pat on the back by God or the gods or both.”
Unlike crystalline gemstones, pearls emerge as finished products, requiring no cutting or polishing to produce their luster. Nature’s uncontrollable forces guarantee that each pearl is unique, a reflection of the conditions under which it was born. Pearls are organic gems composed of innumerable layers of nacre secreted by certain mollusks in the right conditions of the sea. Saltwater pearls emerge from their oyster shells in a diverse range of shapes and colors which are determined by the conditions in which they grow. Unlike freshwater mollusks, saltwater oysters produce only one to three pearls at a time and exist in more turbulent conditions, making saltwater pearls far less common and consequently more highly prized.