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Pearl History

The delicate beauty of the pearl has fascinated mankind since the dawn of time. Both primitive tribes and advanced civilizations have cherished the aesthetically pure shape of the pearl representing a special appreciation of art. From early in the history of mankind, the pearl has been a treasure-a symbol of wealth, power, and prestige as well as an object of devotion and respect. Today, the pearl is without a doubt a treasure valued far beyond its worth as an object of fashion.

Pearls have been discovered since prehistoric times. It is not difficult to imagine that the first pearls were found accidentally while searching for food and this round, white and shining object inspired the admiration of our early ancestors. Since then, countless legends from all countries attest that pearl jewelry began to play a part in our human civilization.

In ancient Greece, the pearl was dedicated to Aphrodite, the Goddess of Love. When God built the Garden of Eden, pearls were placed along with agates by a river running through the garden. Mother-of-pearl inlays made around 4500 BC were found within the ruins of Bismaya in Mesopotamia. Indian history makes first mention of pearls around 1500 BC.

The oldest Chinese history book, the Shui ging, mentions ''strings of not completely round pearls" that were given to the great emperor Yu in the third millennium BC. The Chinese are considered today as the inventors of the cultured pearl. Regular production started as early as the 12th century.

Before the creation of cultured pearls in the early 1900s, natural pearls were so rare and expensive that they were reserved almost exclusively for the noble and very wealthy. A jewelry item that today's working women might take for granted, a 16-inch strand of perhaps 50 pearls, often costs between $500 and $5,000. At the height of the Roman Empire, when pearl fever reached its peak, the historian Suetonius wrote that the Roman general Vitellius financed an entire military campaign by selling just one of his mother's pearl earrings.

The Japanese independently discovered the secret of pearl culturing: inserting a piece of oyster epithelial membrane (the lip of the mantle tissue) with the nucleus of a shell or piece of metal into the oyster's body. The mantle causes the tissue to form a pearl sack. The sack will then secrete nacre to coat the nucleus and create a pearl. This technology was created by Tokichi Nishikawa and Tatsuhei Mise and is the heart of pearl culturing.

Kokichi Mikimoto, who received a patent in 1896 for producing hemispherical pearls or mabes and a patent in 1908 for culturing in mantle tissue, began an unprecedented expansion. His expansion involved buying the rights to the Mise-Nishikawa method and eclipsing those originators of cultured pearls thus leaving their names only for the history books.

Since 1916 pearl culturing technology has been successfully developed in Japan and shared worldwide. Eventually, cultured seawater pearls and cultured freshwater pearls became mass-produced. This makes pearl jewelry affordable and available to virtually anyone in the world.

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