from Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

A pearl is a solid, often round, foreign body made of mother-of-pearl that grows in certain pearl-forming shells , and more rarely in snails .

Cultural meaning

In 2012, French archaeologists discovered a pearl in a grave in the emirate of Umm al-Qaiwain (United Arab Emirates), the date of which they could date between 5547 and 5235 BC. The find shows that the population of the Arabian Peninsula dived for mussels as early as the early Neolithic . The first traditions in which pearls are mentioned can be found in the Chinese history book by Shu King ("... King Yu received pearls as a tribute from the Hwai River ...").

Pearls were valued throughout ancient times. In pearl symbolism, the pearl is usually associated with virginity . For the Kurdish mystics , the pearl is like "an embryo that slumbers at the bottom of its conch uterus" . In Christian iconography, the pearl is also considered a symbol of the virgin conception of Mary.

Pearls were also very popular with the Greeks and Romans . The Romans took over the Greek name “margarita” for pearls as a name for the beloved, a term that has been preserved in the name of Margaret to this day . A number of mussels were later given the addition of “margaritifera”, which means pearls in German.

In many cultures the pearl was and still is deeply symbolic. So beads are in China for. B. the symbol of wealth , wisdom and dignity ; in Japan they mean happiness , in India there are many children . In many cultures women or certain parts of the body such as B. Teeth often compared to pearls. The pearl was also considered both an aphrodisiac and a remedy for melancholy and madness . It is also a symbol of tears.

In the Middle Ages it also acquired a sacred character. Pearls were considered a symbol of love for God. They are also mentioned in the New Testament of the Bible : And the twelve gates were twelve pearls, each one of the gates was made of a pearl, and the street of the city was pure gold, like transparent glass ( Revelation of John ). Not least because they were mentioned in the Holy Scriptures, they were an indispensable part of the demonstration of power by Christian rulers, who used them primarily in the sense of number symbolism.

The margarite romance deals with divination with the help of pearls. Under Arab influence, it was used as a medicine from the 8th century . In Europe, river pearls were used to make pearl milk, and the “aqua perlata” of the Middle Ages consisted of pearl powder, vinegar or lemon juice , sugar and herbs. Pearls had a permanent place in pharmacy textbooks until the mid-19th century .


Pearls form in nature under circumstances that have not been precisely clarified. The earlier assumption that a grain of sand that has penetrated the shell was the trigger for the formation of a pearl is now mostly rejected by science. It is assumed that a grain of sand does not cause any problems for an animal such as the mussel that has adapted to life on the ground.

Henry A. Hänni, Professor of Gemmology at the University of Basel, as well as Jochen Schlüter, Head of the Mineralogical Museum of the University of Hamburg, assume that epithelial cells of the mussel are responsible for the formation of pearls , which are caused by parasites or other injuries the deeper mantle tissue of the clam, where they form a cyst. Calcium carbonate , the building material of the shell, is deposited there and is deposited layer by layer, ultimately creating a pearl.


Fracture surface of mother-of-pearl in the scanning electron microscope

The pearl has a crystalline structure and, like the mussel shell, consists of 80–92% calcium carbonate (CaCO 3 ) in its primary form, aragonite . Calcium carbonate is also represented as calcite , with a small amount of water. The crystals grow in the form of platelets, are arranged in layers and are loosely “cemented” together by an organic mixture of proteins and conchin (or conchiolin ). This creates a high level of resistance to breakage and impact. The components of mother- of- pearl and the components of pearls are identical, but the proportions differ. Mother-of-pearl contains z. B. a little more water.

Pearls are harder or more resistant than mother-of-pearl. Their Mohs' hardness is 3.5–4. They grow in layers that are similar to tree rings when a pearl is sawn through.

The shine, called " luster ", is created by the reflection and refraction of light at the crystal boundaries of the calcium carbonate and the water molecules stored there and becomes finer the thinner and more numerous the layers are ( interference ). The aging of the pearls results from the "drying out" and a change in the organic components.

The color depends on the type of pearl mussel, its habitat and the water temperature. It ranges from white to yellow and pink to gray. Pearls can be dyed in almost any color after they have been removed from the shell. However, they do not tolerate heat, alkalis and acids.


An internationally binding nomenclature is a prerequisite for correct pearl trading. The respective criteria must be specified in the trade and are binding for a serious purchase and sale. A distinction is made between natural pearls, cultured pearls with an implanted mother-of-pearl core or an implant made of epithelium , imitations of natural or cultured pearls, pearls made of composite material, such as Mallorcan pearls . Treatments of pearls must also be indicated.

  • Only pearls that have grown in bodies of water without human intervention may be referred to as “real pearls” or “natural pearls”. They are also referred to as "Orient pearls" when they were fished by pearl divers, especially in the Persian Gulf until the 19th century. At the same time, the river pearls from Central European mountain streams were of great importance for centuries. One example are the pearl-embroidered robes in the treasury of Vienna .
  • “Cultivated pearl” or “cultured pearl” is the common name for a pearl that has been implanted in the shell body by human hands. It is grown on mussel beds and intensively cared for during its two to three year growth phase.
  • Irregularly shaped pearls are called "baroque pearls".
  • Japanese freshwater pearls that were grown in Lake Biwa are called “Biwa pearls” . They have a soft epithelial core and therefore exclusively baroque shapes. Today cultured pearls with an epithelial core are grown in many other waters. Today, Lake Biwa is so polluted by industrial pollutants that breeding farms hardly produce good yields.
  • "Button pearl" describes a pearl with an even surface that is circular but flat-spherical, that is, it has grown elliptically. It can occur naturally or it can be grown by implanting a suitably shaped solid core.
  • Mabé pearls ” are half pearls in a variety of shapes, often with a baroque surface. They can grow naturally or be cultivated as hemispheres, hearts, squares, etc. through appropriate implants.
  • "Keshi pearls" ("poppy seed pearls") are small pearls that can form unplanned when a much larger pearl with a core grows in an Akoya shell.

Criteria for assessment

In the case of an item of jewelery, there are objective criteria as well as criteria that are subjective in nature or subject to fashion. The criteria for pearls are shape, size, luster, surface quality, color, type of pearl, thickness of mother-of-pearl and hole. Surface quality and luster are of central importance here, as they are decisive for the beauty of the pearl and are usually less of a problem with a strand of pearls in terms of size and shape. To assess color and luster one should look at them in daylight, never in artificial light; they should also be placed on a neutral gray surface, never on a white or black one.

The main forms are: round or semi-round (spherical), teardrop-shaped , button, oval, ringed , baroque / semi-baroque (abstract and uneven). The shape of a pearl is mainly assigned as a fashion judgment. The most popular are the perfect spheres, although almost spherical pearls are easier and cheaper to get and you can only see the difference on closer inspection.
Size specifications always apply to the mean diameter of the pearl, not to its length. The weight is usually given in carat , grain ( 1 grain = 0.06479891 grams) or momme (old Japanese weight designation, 1 momme = 3.75 grams). Cultured pearls are usually weighed in carat or momme, while natural pearl weights are given in grains. Strands and larger quantities of pearls are often weighed in grams or kilograms . As with all other gemstones, size is crucial: the larger the pearl, the higher its value. The largest cultured pearls are usually the Tahitian and South Sea pearls, due to the size of the oysters and their amazing mother-of-pearl production.
The luster describes the iridescent pearlescent luster (enamel) of the surface, caused by the refraction and reflection of the light on the fine, uppermost aragonite layers, i.e. the quality of the light reflections from the surface. The luster is the main criterion for determining the pearl quality for the same size. It should be even and without dull, doughy spots. When comparing several strands you can see the quality of the pearl luster better. When the jeweler speaks of a chandelier , then the interaction between light reflection (chandelier in the narrower sense) and the Orient (see below) is meant.
Surface quality
The quality of the chandelier is directly related to the surface quality of the pearl. A pearl with a smooth, silky surface always reflects the light better and more evenly than a pearl with pronounced defects. The individual mollusc species have surfaces of varying quality, from smooth to granular. Smaller unevenness, scarring and depressions on the surface are called spots, they reduce the value of the pearl.
The colored exterior is made up of the basic or body color and a mostly pink or green shimmer that seems to float above the pearl surface (the Orient , sometimes there is talk of an intermediate shade or an overcolour ). The color depends on the type of shell and where the pearl was created in the shell and is also shaped by the habitat. The food supply, water quality and temperature all play a role. It should be even and not show any speckles or discoloration. Often pearls are bleached with hydrogen peroxide to remove ugly organic stains on the surface or to change their original color to a more shopper-friendly color. After drilling, the pearls can be colored: The color of the pearls is then uniform and without any defects. They cost less than natural-colored pearls and must be declared as colored in trade and sale. Discoloration due to irradiation is also possible and must be reported. When harvested, Akoya pearls are mostly cream-colored, yellowish or greenish and after treatment they acquire white, silver and pink hues. The color determined by the comparison with colored scales is irrelevant for the pearl quality. Nevertheless, it should be emphasized as a criterion for the value of the pearl, as some colors are particularly in demand.
Type of pearl
Pearls from different regions differ in quality and price, so the origin is decisive. Natural pearls are still given a considerably higher value than all cultured pearls. The value of the seedless cultured freshwater pearls is depressed by Chinese overproduction.
Strength of mother-of-pearl
The thickness and quality of the mother-of-pearl layers determine the life of a pearl. A strong luster usually means that the pearl bowl is strong and durable. Sometimes the layers do not crystallize out properly, so that the desired luster is missing regardless of the thickness.
For testing, the strand of pearls is placed on a flat surface and it is checked whether all the pearls are in a row. Pearls that are not drilled exactly in the middle protrude from the side. The drill holes should all be the same size in order to be easy to open. Check whether there is any mother-of-pearl damage to the drill holes.

Cultured pearls

Cultured pearls in an open freshwater
mussel of the species Hyriopsis cumingi

Almost all of the pearls used in jewelry making today are cultured. The reason for the formation of a cultured pearl is an inserted transplant that grows into a pearl sack. The small transplant consists of outer mantle tissue, the organ that forms the mussel shell. Grafts are taken from a sacrificed donor clam. The recipient mussel forms the cultured pearl over a period of a few months to several years. The decisive factor here is whether a spherical core is inserted with the transplant or not. Therefore, one speaks of seedless cultured pearls and cultured pearls with a core. Against this background, two “normal cases” have emerged. Seedless cultured pearls are mostly produced in freshwater mussels , they grow in the mantle of the recipient mussel. The resulting product is the Chinese freshwater cultured pearl. Cultured pearls with a core are mostly produced in saltwater oysters, they grow in the gonad of the recipient mussel. Well-known products of this type are the Japanese Akoya, the white or gold-colored South Sea or the dark Tahiti cultured pearls. Since up to 40 cultured pearls (20 cultured pearls on each shell half) can be produced in one period in the mantle, but only one per cycle in the gonad, marine cultured pearls with a core are generally much more expensive than seedless freshwater cultured pearls.

The Japanese Kokichi Mikimoto managed to bring the first full-round cultured pearls onto the market in the early 1920s. Ten years earlier, in 1913, the German zoologist Friedrich Alverdes had shown that pearls are formed by the displacement of epithelial cells into the connective tissue of the shell of the mussel. The process ultimately used by Mikimoto goes back to two other Japanese, Tokichi Nishikawa and Tatsuhei Mise , who in turn probably adopted it from the Australian William Saville-Kent .

However, n. Chr in were already in the 5th century. China "Buddha beads" (such. As in freshwater mussels Hyriopsis cumingi ) bred. These were small Buddha figures made of ivory, plaster of paris or lead, which were inserted into the shells and which were coated with mother-of-pearl over time. The Swedish scientist Carl von Linné had already succeeded in 1758 in inserting a plaster of paris core into a freshwater mussel, the painter's mussel ( Unio pictorum ), using a T-shaped silver wire , in order to grow round pearls. He later sold the patented process. However, the patent was never put to practical use and was forgotten.

The mussels have to coat the foreign body implant layer by layer in their “pearl sack” in open water on mussel banks for about two years, whereby not every mussel survives the operation or the assumed foreign body implant for a period of at least two years. A pearl develops in only about 30% of the mussels provided with an implant. Only 10% of these pearls are commercially viable. Only 3% of this harvest is perfectly round. Only 0.5% of this achieve the highest quality level in terms of color, shape, surface texture and luster.

These numbers vary depending on the type of mussel, location, and breeding conditions. In addition to a cultured pearl, a number of very small pearls, the seed pearls, can also form in the mussel during their growth phase without further human intervention. Mussels can sheath a foreign body implant several times in their life.

Only a few of 10,000 shell species worldwide can produce pearls. When breeding in sea water, mussels of the genus Pinctada , the pearl mussels (often incorrectly called pearl oysters), are used; Freshwater cultured pearls are grown in clams of the genus Hyriopsis .

Non-tradable pearls are sorted out and shredded in the pearl farms. The powder is processed further by the cosmetics industry.

Pearl oyster

Mussels of the genus Pinctada ( pearl mussels ) are used for breeding in the sea . The English name pearl oyster is often translated as " pearl oyster ". However, the term oyster is traditionally used in English in a broader sense than in German and does not only include the oyster family , several types of which are consumed as a delicacy . Pearl mussels, on the other hand, belong to the winged mussel family .

The most common farmed mussels include:

  • Pinctada martensii (Dunker, 1872): This shell is found mainly off the southern islands of Japan . The up to 8 cm large Pinctada martensii is also known as Akoya (Japanese ako "my child", ya "shows affection"). The pearls of this shell reach a size of up to 12 mm. They have been grown for pearl production in Japan for about 100 years, and in China since 1980.
  • Pinctada maxima (Jameson, 1901): The pearl mussel species Pinctada maxima is an extremely large mussel. She can weigh over 5 kg. It occurs in the eastern Indian Ocean to the tropical western Pacific . The pearls of this mussel, which is well suited for breeding, can reach a size of 20 mm.
  • Pteria penguin (Röding, 1798): Pteria penguin is native to the Red Sea , Persian Gulf , Indian Ocean and the tropical western Pacific . It is sometimes referred to as the "black wing mussel". Like Pinctada margaritifera , it produces the most famous black pearls.
Tahitian pearl ( Pinctada margaritifera cumingi of pearl
oyster )
  • Pinctada margaritifera (Linnaeus, 1758): This mussel is native to the east coast of Africa , the Red Sea , the Persian Gulf , the Indian Ocean and the western and central Pacific region. It is in Pinctada margaritifera rather a group of slightly different shells. For example, the "black-lipped pearl mussel" from the Polynesian region, from which the Tahitian pearl is extracted, is classified as Pinctada margaritifera cumingi . In terms of cultural history, the most precious and famous pearls of antiquity (such as the legendary pearl earrings of Queen Cleopatra) are likely to come from this type of shell.
  • Pinctada radiata (Leach, 1814) is native to the Persian Gulf, Red Sea, Indian Ocean and, since the construction of the Suez Canal , now also in places in the Mediterranean . Most of the pearls of antiquity were probably due to this type of shell. The extent of cultivation of this type of mussel in terms of cultured pearls is considered to be unnoticeable. However, their natural pearls still enjoy a high priority today.
  • Pinctada imbricata (Röding, 1798): The shell species Pinctada imbricata is the pearl mussel that produced the first pearls from the New World (America). The world discoverer Columbus found pearls of this type of shell among Indians on the coast of Venezuela . It is also known as the "Atlantic pearl mussel" because it is native to the western Atlantic ( Bermuda , Florida and northern South America ). The natural stocks of this type of mussel are considered extinct or endangered in many places due to overfishing, especially since this type of mussel is not cultivated in the sense of cultured pearls.
  • Pinctada fucata (Gould, 1857) could be considered the most important type of shell in the history of pearl farming. With this type of shell, the Japanese pearl grower Mikimoto opened the world market for cultured pearls at the beginning of the 20th century. It is also known as the " Akoya oyster ". The name Pinctada fucada is scientifically a bit unstable. It is native to the marine waters of Japan , China , Taiwan , Vietnam, and Australia .
  • Pinctada mazatlanica (Hanley, 1855) is sometimes referred to as the "La Paz pearl mussel". Probably the most famous teardrop-shaped (semi-baroque) pearl of all time, La Peregrina, is likely to come from this type of shell. The distribution area of ​​this East Pacific mussel species extends from the west coast of Mexico ( Baja California ) to Peru . It can reach a size of over 20 cm. Natural pearls can be over 10 mm in size. In addition to white pearls, this type of shell also produces dark-colored pearls.

Pearl type

The most famous types of pearls are

River pearls

Necklace made from Bavarian river pearls

The freshwater pearl mussel Margaritifera margaritifera (L., 1758) is a maximum of 14 cm. It usually forms small, not quite round pearls with a slightly weaker luster than seawater pearls and occurs in the rivers and streams of the northern hemisphere . A growth time of 20 to 25 years is expected for a pearl of 4 mm, and 40 to 50 years for pearls of 6–7 mm. River pearls larger than 20 mm in size are extremely rare and can only be found in mussels over 250 years old. On closer inspection, the pearls usually turn out to be artifacts or the age of the shells does not meet expectations. The mussel needs absolutely clean, lime-poor waters, which arise in the primary rock, and is therefore an excellent "environmental indicator".

Seawater pearl varieties

Tahitian pearls

The Tahitian pearl from the pearl mussel Pinctada margaritifera is named after the tropical island in French Polynesia. It has only been known in Europe since 1845. This type of pearl has a great contrast between its gray, silver or black basic colors and the colorful Orient. Typical are blue, green (the most common oriental color of the Tahitian pearl is dark green and is called “fly wing”), pink (in combination with a black base color, the color “aubergine” is created) or purple. The rarest and therefore most valuable Oriente of the Tahitian pearl are "peacock" (ie "peacock", a green-pink combination) and pure purple. Tahitian pearls usually grow for four to five years. Only one nucleus can be implanted into the mussels at a time, but they can be occupied several times in succession and ultimately even released into the wild. Tahitian pearls are among the largest pearls; they are about 8 to 16 millimeters in diameter. They became famous in the western world through Empress Eugenie, wife of Napoleon III.

South Sea pearls

South Sea pearls from the Pinctada maxima pearl oyster are cultured in Indonesia, Australia and the Philippines. This type of pearl is known for its white, silver and gold pearls. It usually takes two to six years to grow. Only one nucleus can be implanted into the mussels at a time, but they can be occupied several times in succession and ultimately even released into the wild in order to pass their genes on to future generations. South Sea pearls are among the largest pearls; they are usually 10 to 16 millimeters in diameter, but can also be up to 20 millimeters in size. Because they go well with light skin tones, white pearls are still the most popular and expensive pearls.

Akoya pearl

" Akoya pearl" is a general trade name for cultured pearls from the species Pinctada martensii and Pinctada fucata grown in the Sea of ​​Japan . For several years now, the Akoya pearl has also been grown in China, Tahiti and Vietnam. The Akoya pearl mussels secrete much less mother-of-pearl than the South Sea or Tahitian mussels. The coating of the mother-of-pearl core is therefore much thinner in the Akoya pearls. They usually grow for eight months to two years and can contain up to five spherical nuclei; two are common. Akoya pearls have an average diameter of 2 to 6 millimeters. Approximately one in five occupied Akoya clams produces pearls, but only a small fraction of these pearls are gem quality. They are naturally white or cream in color, but human treatment has made them available in a wide variety of colors.

Keshi pearls

Keshi pearls (poppy seed pearls) are tiny pearls that form unplanned when a much larger pearl with a core matures in an Akoya shell. Since keshi are seedless, they are natural pearls in the strict sense of the word. They have the same color spectrum as the Akoya pearls. Shells that produce South Sea and Tahitian pearls also produce Keshi pearls, which are sometimes more than 10mm long. Because of the interesting shapes of the Keshi pearls, they are often made into jewelry.

Freshwater pearl varieties

Freshwater pearls differ from other cultured pearls in that they are not provided with a nucleus. Instead, just a small incision is made in the tissue and a piece of tissue from another mussel is inserted into it. This process is carried out up to 25 times on each half of the shell, so that up to 50 pearls can be created. The mussels, u. a. Hyriopsis schlegelii (Martens, 1861) are then put back into their freshwater habitat and cherished for between two and six years. The pearls consist of solid mother-of-pearl , which makes them very bright and colorful, but are rarely round (mostly baroque-shaped), as no nucleus has been implanted that could influence the shape. The clams are also much easier to grow. Their death rate is significantly lower than that of those with nucleus. In addition, freshwater clams are much less likely to be victims of natural disasters such as typhoons and tidal waves that plague seawater pearl farms.

Most freshwater pearls now come from China, after the first seedless cultured freshwater pearls came on the market in the early 1960s. Today it is possible to grow almost round pearls up to 12 millimeters in size with a fine luster. For this purpose, harvested pearls with new epithelial material are planted a second or third time in an oyster shell such as Hyriopsis cumingii (Lea, 1852). More recently, Chinese freshwater pearls have also been grown with nucleus, which then produce pearls with a diameter of up to 14 millimeters and are very similar to the Japanese saltwater cultured pearl.

Biwa pearls

The largest lake in Japan is Lake Biwa. Biwa pearls are known for their high quality, even, strong luster and smooth surface. The color spectrum includes cream white, white pink, salmon orange, dark wine red and purple. The oysters do not take pits, so they are seedless pearls and therefore often grow in bizarre shapes. Many freshwater pearls are called Biwa pearls even though they are native to China.


Making pearl necklaces: threading glass beads, 1956.

Pliny and Tacitus already described the river pearl, but neither show any great enthusiasm. Suetonius , the secretary of Emperor Hadrian , writes in his History of the Roman Emperors that the British pearls at that time "had moved the divine Julius to the British campaign".

The pearls have always been very rare and therefore extremely valuable, even though they were grown in the 19th century. Saxony presented its cultured pearls at a fishing exhibition in Berlin in 1880. It should be considered certain that the European cultured pearl methods were also known to Japanese natural scientists, especially since the acquisition of all western knowledge was one of the main concerns of the Meiji Restoration under Emperor Meiji (1868–1912). Due to the very slow growth and the high ecological requirements, however, the cultivation of the river pearl was probably not profitable.

The history of Saxon pearl fishing begins in the 16th century and lasts until the end of the 19th century. A total of 22,732 pearls were found between 1719 and 1879. In the Grünes Gewölbe in Dresden lies a necklace made of river pearls that has achieved fame and dates back to 1734.

In Russia there has been in recent centuries, the richest pearl finds. Sacred goldsmithing resorted to pearls early on, and unique specimens can now be seen in the armory of the Kremlin in Moscow and in the museums of Saint Petersburg , Novgorod and other cities.

Handicrafts with river pearls have in Germany u. a. the Treasury of the Residenz in Munich , the Treasury in Altötting , the Bavarian National Museum in Munich, the Kronburg Castle south of Memmingen , the Hildesheim Cathedral Treasury , the Ebstorf Monastery in the Lüneburg Heath, the Green Vault in Dresden and the Kestner Museum in Hanover .


Jan Vermeer: ​​The Pearl Weigher
around 1665

Legends about the black pearl

One of the most famous black oriental pearls is the azra . It is the centerpiece of a chain of the Russian crown jewels. It is estimated that more than 15,000 natural pearl oysters would have to be opened to find one of these pearls.

According to a Polynesian legend, the pearl mussel was given to the people of Oro , the god of peace and fertility, who descended to earth over a rainbow. There is also the story that he gave this gift out of love for the beautiful princess of the island of Bora-Bora.

According to ancient Indian tradition, which Pliny and many others after him reported, pearls are created when the mussel is fertilized by dew. These ideas u. a. were later displaced by those who came closer to the truth, in that the pearls were created like bezoar stones , with which they have in common that they grow in layers.

In the Chinese Empire , a large pearl was placed in the mouth of the Chinese emperors when they died.

Pearls in Greece

The older Greek writers do not speak of pearls; the first to see them was Theophrastus , a pupil of Aristotle . In his book about the stones he writes that precious collars are made of pearls. With the Medes and Persians, especially after the victory over Croesus, bracelets and necklaces made of pearls, in which they were rich, were so popular that they - as Chares testifies - valued them more than gold jewelry .

Cleopatra's vinegar

Pliny tells one of the many episodes that make Cleopatra appear in an unfavorable light, reflecting Octavian's propaganda campaign against the Egyptian queen. With this description the Roman author of a natural history wanted to denounce Cleopatra's alleged wastefulness. Accordingly, the Ptolemaic was in possession of the two largest pearls in the world. She always prepared luxurious banquets for her lover, Mark Antony . Once, however, the “royal whore” (according to Pliny) disdainfully dismissed the food as modest. Now the triumvir was curious how one could increase such effort and pomp. Cleopatra had boasted that she wanted to invest the enormous sum of money of 10 million sesterces in a single banquet. The incredulous Antonius had bet that such an expensive production would not be possible. The next day, an exquisite but not extraordinary meal was served again. Antonius already felt like a winner when Cleopatra had a bowl of hot vinegar served as the second course. Now, according to Pliny, the Egyptian queen dissolved one of the two large pearls of her earrings in vinegar and drank it. Then she intended to do the same with her second pearl, but the former consul Lucius Munatius Plancus , who had been appointed as arbitrator, intervened with the remark that Antonius had lost the bet. The second pearl was cut apart after Cleopatra's defeat by Octavian and used as earrings for the statue of Venus in the Pantheon in Rome.

For a long time it was assumed that pearls would not dissolve in vinegar. For example, it was suggested that she swallowed the pearl whole. In 2010, however, a researcher at Montclair University found out that in a 5% acid solution (as is the case with vinegar) mother-of-pearl dissolves in a short time, while this takes significantly longer with vinegar essence (25% acetic acid).

Pearls in Rome

The Roman emperor Caligula (12–41 AD) appointed his favorite horse Incitatus a senator and then adorned it with a pearl necklace. His third wife, Lollia Paulina, was a real pearl fanatic. Pliny tells of a rather embarrassing encounter with her on a completely informal occasion. Her head, neck, ears, wrists and fingers were decorated with pearls and emeralds valued at 40 million sesterces. He mentions that she even carried receipts from various jewelry dealers to prove how valuable her jewelry actually was.

The fashion of wearing a large pearl in the ear had become so common during the imperial era in Rome that every joy girl boasted with this jewelry. In order to distinguish themselves from such, women from higher classes wore earrings made of two or three pear-shaped pearls, which were associated with the fashionable expression elks or pearls of respect .

Seneca is already fighting against this sumptuous luxury . The church father Tertullian , who was known for his particularly rigorous moral standards, paints pearl cultivation in vivid colors by exclaiming: “A million sesterces are lined up on a simple string of pearls, whole forests and islands have a weak neck; A heavy interest book hangs in delicate earlobes and every finger has its treasure with which it taunts. Vanity has risen so high that a single woman carries all her belongings on her body. "

La Peregrina

Maria Tudor with La Peregrina on a brooch

La Peregrina is arguably the most famous pearl in the world. It was probably found in the 16th century at the Islas de las Perlas on the Pacific coast of Panama . The pear-shaped pearl weighs 203.8 grains (approx. 13.2 g) and is known for its extraordinary beauty. It was owned by the Spanish Crown. Prince Philip II of Spain gave it to his bride, the then Queen of England , Maria Tudor , the daughter of Henry VIII. From then on, the pearl "made a pilgrimage" through many royal jewelry boxes, including Napoleon III. and Queen Victoria .

In 1969 it was auctioned at Sotheby’s , where actor Richard Burton bought it for $ 37,000 as a Valentine's Day gift to Elizabeth Taylor , who had the pearl set in a necklace at Cartier . Delighted by the result, Taylor put on the necklace and danced around the apartment, but the precious pearl was lost. Horrified, she began walking barefoot all over the apartment, perhaps trying to find the jewel. When this was unsuccessful, she tried to distract herself and decided to feed her Pekingese puppies. But when she called them both over to her, one of the dogs was already chewing on something: he had found the pearl and thought it was a tasty snack. Taylor was relieved, especially since she had La Peregrina back without any scratches.

After Taylor's death, her necklace, which contains La Peregrina , was auctioned at Sotheby’s in London for $ 10.5 million in December 2011, with a portion of the proceeds going to Taylor's AIDS Foundation.

La regente

With 337 grains, La Regente is one of the largest pearls in the world. Napoleon I gave this pearl to his second wife for the birth of his son, who later became King of Rome. Later it belonged to the French crown treasure and was auctioned in 1887 by the jeweler Fabergé during the sale of the crown treasure, who resold the pearl to the pearl collector Princess Jussupowa , who also owned the pearl La Pellegrina (not to be confused with La Peregrina ). La Regente was among the few jewels of vast fortune that her son, Prince Felix , was able to save after fleeing Russia. He was able to live for a few years on the proceeds from the pearl. In 2005 the pearl was offered again at an auction and was the most expensive pearl in the world until 2011 with a sales value of 2.1 million euros.

Extraction of pearls by submarine

The Sub Marine Explorer , built in 1865 by the German-American Julius Kröhl , is considered the world's first functional submarine. The project was funded by William Henry Tiffany, brother of the founder of Tiffany & Co. and one of the main shareholders of the Pacific Pearl Company . The boat had hatches on its underside through which the occupants could pick up pearl oysters from the seabed. However, the entire crew died a short time later, probably from the then unknown diving disease . The wreck, which was only identified in 2001, is still lying on the beach of an island off Panama.

See also

Web links

Commons : Pearls  - collection of images, videos and audio files
Wikisource: Pearls  - Sources and Full Texts

Individual evidence

  1. Angelika Franz: Excavated: The six-headed saint. In: Spiegel Online . June 23, 2012, accessed June 9, 2018 .
  2. SSEF Pearls, Tutorial CD, 2002
  3. natur + kosmos 6/2007, page 56
  4. Michael Müller: Pearls Cleopatra. Retrieved January 14, 2020 .
  6. Elizabeth Taylor, My Love Affair with Jewelry, 2002.