June is one of the few lucky months that three magnificent birthstones are linked to it; giving those born in this month the choice between pearls, moonstone and alexandrite. Pearls are one of the few gemstones on earth which are made by living creatures; mollusks. They work by putting deposits of calcium carbonate around miniscule irritants which get stuck in their hard shells. Although any shelled mollusc is capable of making a pearl, only bivalve mollusks can do so.
The name “pearl” is taken from an Old French word ‘perle’, meaning leg. It pays reference to the mutton-leg shape of an open mollusc. Perfectly round pearls are very rare and uncommon in the natural world and therefore extremely valuable. Consequently, the rarest pearls in the world are in the wild. Most pearls are farmed or cultured; raised artificially. Natural pearls have a creamy white appearance and an iridescent sheen that can cast many hues. Cultured freshwater pearls are dyed in different colors.
Pearls are a soft stone, rated 2.5 to 4.5 on the Mohs hardness scale. These delicate gems are very sensitive to acidity and heat. Natural pearling occurs in the Persian Gulf near Bahrain. Australia continues to maintain the last pearl diving fleet and harvests pearls from the waters of the Indian Ocean. Freshwater cultured pearls are manufactured in China, Indonesia, Philippines and Australia.
Pearls have been used as ornaments by many civilizations in ancient Greece. Pearls were thought to be tears of the gods. Some of the oldest pearls were discovered on the sarcophagus of a Persian queen from 520 BC. Ancient Egyptians buried their royalty with pearls. In the Byzantine Empire, only kings were allowed to wear pearls.
In modern times, locating pearls in the wild is rare. Due to the increase of manufactured fresh water pearls, owning this gemstone is now far more affordable.