There are so many things that we love about the Lowcountry and the incredible gems that are right here in our own backyard! Oysters are one of our biggest delicacies, and what comes with an oyster? Why, pearls of course! 
The movie industry of 1997 introduced the world to the wonders of The Heart Of The Ocean (and a young Leonard DiCaprio in a 1900s tuxedo!). Although the gem is fictional it is based on one of the most incredible gems known to man, The Hope Diamond. Gems like that are easy to explain why diamonds are a girls (and everyone’s) best friend. When it comes to the Lowcountry we boast our very own gems: the birthplace of sweet tea, incredible beaches, and seafood! There within our delicious pallet of seafood is the gem of the Lowcountry – the oyster! Living within those delicious delicacies is our own version of the Heart Of The Ocean – the pearl! According to GIA, these little beauties are found in both saltwater and freshwater mollusks created naturally or cultivated by the human hand with great care.
The history of this beautiful gem is just as timeless as its fashion statement. According to GIA, the first time it was ever written about or mentioned in literature was in 2206 BC by a Chinese historian. Even before its first debut in literature, the pearl has been one of the most beloved and cherished gems of all time. It is the birthstone for June and is the common gift given for the 3rd and 13th wedding anniversary. Alexandrite and Moonstone are also the birthstones for June.
Pearls are formed in two different ways. The first is the natural pearl. These are created with no help from human hands and grow within a mollusk’s body. The pearl is formed from a very small irritant, like a grain of sand. The second type of pearl is a cultured pearl. These are still grown within a mollusk but with the help, support, and intervention of the human hand. According to GIA, the very first time a pearl was successfully cultured was in 1893 Japan by Kokhichi Mikimoto. When it comes to the creation of cultured pearls, the mollusks used to make them are raised specifically to grow pearls. Although on some rare occasions, some wild mollusks are still used. To successfully culture a pearl, a technician will insert a shell bead or a piece of mantle flesh from another mollusk. The pearl mollusk will then form a nacre sac around or insert nacre into the foreign object. Both of these actions cause a pearl to grow within the mollusk. Nacre, according to Harvard University, is an incredibly strong substance that is produced by the mollusk’s shell.
Pearls can be found in an incredible variety of colors. Its most famous colors, according to GIA, are white and cream. Depending on where they’re grown and how they’re cultured, they can range to almost every color and size imaginable. Black, grey, and silver pearls are also very common. To get those unique and uncommon colors, overtones are added, according to GIA. This will create pink, purple, blue, green, and rose-colored pearls. Some can even be iridescent in very rare situations and are called orient pearls. Their mineral makeup is calcium carbonate and they have a 2.5 to 3.0 level of hardness on the Mohs Scale.
There are many different types of cultured pearls, but there are four major categories according to GIA. These categories are Freshwater, Tahitian, South Sea, and Akoya.
  • Freshwater: These are the most common types of pearls. This is due to the multiple sizes, shapes, and colors they can come in and how readily available they are to the market. China cultures most of these pearls.
  • Tahitian: These are most commonly found in French Polynesia, Tahiti being the most famous of these islands. They come in incredible colors like black, brown, and grey. They can also be found in blue, green, purple, or pink.
  • South Sea: These pearls are found in Australia, Indonesia, and the Philippines. They are known for their incredibly large size and thickness. They can be found in white, silver, or even a golden hue depending on the oyster they’re grown in, according to GIA.
  • Akoya: These oysters hail from China and Japan. They are what the pearl market considers the “classic pearl” found in most pieces of fine jewelry.
The mystery and adoration of the pearl have been around for thousands of years. What makes them even more precious is that, according to AGTA, a pearl only appears naturally once in every 10,000 mollusks. They have been a symbol of wealth and power and coveted for their beauty. It is even said, according to AGTA, that Krishna from the ancient Hindu religion, gave his daughter pearls for her wedding day. This story is accredited to why pearls have always been associated with the wedding gem and how they became such a popular and common staple in bridal jewelry. According to GIA, Christoper Columbus even stumbled upon native cultures wearing natural pearls, which fed the demand and adoration of pearls in Europe at the time. Sadly, due to this high demand, these natural pearl sources of what is now Panama and Venezuela have significantly if not completely declined.
Pearls are such statement gems and have been beloved worldwide. They are still very loved and cherished here in the Lowcountry. Their connection to mollusks has given them a connection to our beautiful oceans. Even if they’re not grown here or found very often, they still echo the beauty of our shores. You can find these stunning gems in our shop, and sometimes in stunning historical heirlooms that make their way into our hands. Come and see these treasures for yourselves. We would love to chat more about pearls with you anytime! If you’d also like to learn more and see some of our favorite stones and specimens, please stop by. Thank you, Summerville. Remember to keep calm, and rock on!
Joke Of The Day:
Why didn’t the oyster share her pearl?
Because she’s shellfish!