Monday, November 29, 2010

Pearls of Wisdom

Pearls are the first gems known to mankind.  Legend has it that lightening struck a mollusk and, terrified, it spit forth the first pearl.  Another legend holds that while dining with Mark Antony, Cleopatra dramatically removed one of her pearl earrings, dissolved it in a glass of vinegar, and drank it.  It is no legend, however, that the 17th century vogue for wearing one immense pearl earring died along with Charles I, who upon the occasion of his beheading discreetly removed his jewel and handed it over to a loyal follower.

A few pearls of wisdom:

In early times, people thought pearls came from rain - when a raindrop fell into an oyster shell, the mollusk produced a substance that caused the drop to harden.  This belief was partly right.  Pearls are created by the secretions of mollusks that form around particles of sand, not raindrops.  Pearls formed in this way are called blister pearls because they are usually embedded in the lining of the shell and can be cut away to make jewelry.

In the Middle Ages the Chinese discovered that if they shoot a pellet of mud or a tiny piece of twig or bone into a mollusk and return it to its bed for three years, they could "culture" or coax the production of a pearl.  But it was the Japanese who made pearl culture a fine art, by thee early 20th century.

Imitation pearls have existed for centuries; many of the ones adorned the celebrated gowns of Elizabeth I, the 16th century queen of England, are fakes.  These fake or "Roman" pearls were spheres of glass filled with wax and coated with fish scale essence to make them pearly.

 Queen Elizabeth

 Amelie Von Heine

 The Girl with the Pearl Earring

 
 Natalie Portman as Anne Boleyn

Queen Alexandra

Flapper
 
 Audrey Hepburn

 

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