It’s hard to say much about pearls that isn’t general knowledge, but that’s also part of their magic. Once known as the Queen of Gems, pearls have always been fashionable and valuable, across all of the major societies of the ancient world. They were once so rare that they were nearly priceless, and there are too many awesome legends for me to tackle them all. The efforts of Kokichi Mikimoto and other Japanese enthusiasts brought us the techniques that led to the abundance of pearls we have today. For very little money we can have pearl jewelry that rivals and even surpasses the quality of the fabled pearls of the ancient world.
Pearls are made of nacre secreted by certain mollusks as a form of protection against foreign substances. Nacre is made of hard layers of Aragonite (a specific crystalline structure of calcium carbonate), regularly arranged like bricks and laced together with organic, flexible biopolymers. This creates a very durable substance, and the smooth layers create the iridescent effect. Gem-quality saltwater pearls come from oysters of the genus Pinctada of the Pteriidae family, which are different from the true oysters typically grown for consumption. (Not knowing this as a child, I secretly wanted to get otherwise unappetizing oysters at seafood restaurants in hopes of finding a pearl.) Freshwater pearls come from a variety of mussel species across the world. It can take decades for a natural saltwater pearl to form, while in the freshwater pearl industry it can be as little as six months.
Pearls naturally come in shades of white, cream, pink, mauve, purple, and black that can have hints of green. The color of the Mother of Pearl lining inside the oyster or mussel dictates the color of the pearl. Bleaching and dying processes exist to create every color of pearl imaginable, though as always, I prefer untreated gems.
Pearls have historically been associated with the moon, purity, love, and good fortune. Since they historically arose from a coarse grain of sand, pearls can also mean overcoming adversity.