Diamonds might be a girl’s best friend, but another stone has ascended to a title far beyond friendship. Held in royal regard since the days of its discovery, the pearl is believed to possess everything from status to safety. While its powers can’t necessarily be proven, the pearl does have a solid track record of conquering jewelry gemstone hierarchy. As the OG of all precious and semiprecious stones, generations across the globe have used pearls to pay homage to the royal + righteous. Dating back to 420 BC, evidence of the pearl was first discovered in the sarcophagus of a Persian Princess. From there, its royal roots continued to spread across the globe. While early civilizations like China increased the exclusivity surrounding the stone, in Rome the pearl was so revered that Julius Cesar passed a law that allowed them only to be worn by the ruling class. This tabloid-esque moment only foreshadowed what would follow for the pearl – high end and high drama.
Fit for a queen, it’s no surprise that the pearl would warrant the attention of Cleopatra. Legend has it that at the time, this Egyptian queen was tirelessly courted by Mark Anthony with many lavish dinners. In response, Cleopatra insisted that she could outdo the Roman general. During the infamous dinner, she was brought a glass of “wine” (which was actually vinegar), removed one of her massive pearl earrings, and like a true queen KWEEN, crushes up the pearl and drinks it. For the storied stone, this was just the start.
The 1900’s marked a new era for the pearl with the creation of a process called culturing. Pioneered by Mikimoto Kokichi, cultured pearls are grown in a controlled environment, as opposed to occurring naturally. Opening the door to accessibility, the new technique made natural pearls even more valuable and rare. For elite jewelry house Cartier, the continued use of natural pearls lead to the existence of their flagship store in New York City. In 1916, Cartier crafted what was believed at the time to be the most expensive necklace in the world. Consisting of 2 strands, the necklace boasted 128 perfect, natural pearls and caught the attention of Maisie Plant, one of the wealthiest women in the world at that time. Plant was so enamored with the million-dollar necklace, that her husband bought it in exchange for his Fifth Avenue Renaissance-style mansion— and the rest is history.
Although natural pearls are the most coveted of their class, they only make up about 1% of the market today. While we have Mikimoto to thank for cultured pearls, the rise of costume pearls come largely from fashion icon Coco Chanel. Dripping in decadence from head to toe, Chanel pioneered the layered look, mixing faux and real pearls which made the trend both popular and socially acceptable. Beloved in all of its forms, the pearl is still used today as a way to instantly add beauty or boldness to your look. So, what gives this stone its style longevity? Its uniqueness. As the only gemstone that comes from a living creature, pearls are truly in a league of their own. Created completely by chance, this natural occurrence is a constant reminder that both mistakes and coincidences have the power to turn you into something better than you were before.