Pearls: A gem any Cleopatra would love
Pearls may well have been the first gemstones used by ancient man.
Pearls have long been considered among the most precious of gems, even though it is much softer than the standard demanded of other gem materials. In fact indications are pearls may well have been the first gemstones used by ancient man since it requires no lapidary treatments to enhance its beauty.
Pearls held the center stage among the world's most precious gems until five or six hundred years, when the diamond and ruby gained an edge due to the improved cutting techniques. Not only was the pearl desired for its beauty, but it was also sought after as a talisman to bring good fortune, to ward off evil spirits and to cure
Even today small pearls are ground into powder in a number of countries in Asia and used as a medicine.
The existence and usage of pearls can be traced as far back as 4,000 B.C. The ladies of Rome developed such a fondness for pearls that the Caesars issued an edict that barred woman under the age of 55, who was unmarried or childless, from wearing pearl jewelry. That's why Pliny the elder wrote in his book 77 A.D. that " The richest merchandises of all, and the most sovereign commodity throughout the whole world are pearls."
The most famous story about pearls centers on pride
The most famous story about pearls centers on pride and was told by Pliny in his book on natural history written some 1,900 years ago. According to the story when Anthony met Cleopatra he strained himself to offer all the pleasure he possibly could and feasted her day after day.
When Anthony boasted and wanted to know how it was possible to exceed the magnificence he had lavished upon her, Cleopatra said she would spend 10 million sesterji on one supper for him. Anthony's response was to wager that she could not.
On the following day, Cleopatra provided Anthony with a royal supper, but nothing remarkable. Mocking her, Anthony requested to see a bill with an account of expenses to which Cleopatra declared that what had already been served was well over the value she had declared. But because of his doubts, she said she would eat a supper that would cost six million sesterji more.
Cleopatra called for a second service and a servant set before her just one cup of vinegar. She then place one of her exquisite pearl eardrops – literally valued as the ransom of a kingdom – into it and swallowed it whole. She was about to do the same with her other pearl when the judge of the wager laid hold of it and declared that Anthony had lost.
Gem quality pearls are produced in salt water
A pearl is formed when a mollusk deposits a substance called nacre around an irritant. Any mollusk can produce a pearl, but only the species that have a pearly, or nacreous lining can for a lustrous pearl suitable for use as a gem. Gem quality pearls are produced in salt water almost exclusively by the mollusk species Pinctada.
The finest natural pearls come from fisheries in the Persian Gulf, especially off the islands of Bahrein. Other less important sources are in the Gulf of Mannar and in the Red Sea.
The value of a pearl depends on its shape, color, size and luster. The most valuable are perfectly round pearls.
Woman with fair complexions in Europe and the U.S. prefer rose color, brunettes and dark haired southern ladies prefer cream-colored pearls. Dull colors are often bleached or dyed. Pearls are weighed in grains 1 grain = 0.005 grams. When shopping for pearls jewelry, beware of imitations. A fine imitation is the fish-scale imitation pearl which is made of a glass ball coated with so called essence d'orient which is produced from the scales of certain fish.
Special to Japan Update June 4-10, 1992