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Pearl – Beautiful Gift from Ocean


The Birth Stone of June is the Pearl.

Japan is a world-leading producer and a big consumer of pearls, and it is no exaggeration to say every household has a piece of pearl or a single layered choker, as it is a favourite gift choice for a baby girl, or for a young girl turning twenty years old.

It is easy to acknowledge the beauty of this precious gem, but why does it have a special place in Japan?

The World’s First Jewellery – Natural Treasure

Ancient Egyptians knew of pearls since 3200 BC.  Soon, people learned to use it as medicine, cosmetics, or as a paint mix. Cleopatra allegedly dissolved a pearl in a goblet of vinegar to drink to maintain her beauty. But the main attractions were its perfect spherical shape and iridescent surface, fit for decorating royal and noble people, as a symbol of wealth and power.

It was the first and only jewellery known to humanity until the development of the technique of separating and polishing mineral gemstones from rough rock.  Ancient people called them “Drops from the Moon”, or “Mermaid’s Tear Drop”.

Pearls are bio-minerals. When a small foreign object gets inside an oyster shell by chance, the oyster wraps it around with alternating thin layers of aragonite and protein, up to 1000 times.The unique combination of the thickness and balance of the layers determine the shape, colour and shimmer, and therefore each gem found in a mother of pearl is never identical.

Such incidents are rare, as they form only under the right condition and in the specific types of shellfish, making it very sought after.

Long History of Admiration in Japan

Japan has always been a pearl producer.  Archaeologists have excavated many freshwater pearls with threading holes, from sites from the Jomon era. In China, there is an account that Japan’s ruler sent 5000 pearls to the Northern Wey Dynasty (213 – 266 AD).

Nihon Shoki, the Chronicles of Japan (720 AD), mentions this mesmerising object hidden in an oyster, hunted by skilled local divers for noble peoples, and mainly used for ceremonies. In a poetic compilation, Man-you Shu (approx. 759 AD), there are fifty-six pieces using pearls as metaphors for precious people, referring them as “sphere”, “true sphere”, or “pure white sphere”.

The pearls is one of the seven treasures in Buddhism, and ancient pearls are occasionally excavated from temples, thought to be used at the time of consecration, to pray for the longevity of the building.

This perfectly round pearl is a real gift from the ocean and always attracted people, especially the Japanese, who have a strong connection to the sea.

Developing the Cultivation of Pearl

The rarity of natural pearls led to considerable interest in developing cultivated pearl production around the world in the 19th century. There were a handful of successes in laboratories, but it was in Japan that this led to the commercialisation. Faced with the loss in value, it met a fierce protest from then dealers, arguing that the natural pearl is of far superior quality, but the court ruled that they are not distinguishable.

It needs X-Ray analysis to separate the two. The only significant human intervention with the artificial process is to plant suitable seeds into the oyster; then it is left to natural process for six months to create the iridescent gem. Humans can help to provide the right conditions during this period.

As availability grew, prices came down, making it affordable for many people around the world. Still mesmerisingly beautiful, producers made sure that the unique quality was maintained, and never to cross the line to lose connectivity with the wonder of Mother Nature.

Available and Still Precious

Some of the qualities associated with the Pearl are Health, Longevity, Wealth, Purity, Harmony, and Completeness. They represent ideas that need protecting. It is said to have the power to heal, to calm, and to bring harmony.

In Japan, with strict protocols for life occasions, such as weddings and funerals, the pearl is the jewellery of choice. For attending funerals, it is in principle not allowed to wear accessories, to make sure attire is fitting for the sombre occasion. The only exception is a single string of pearl in a choker, with western style dress. It cannot be double layers, as that would imply the unfortunate event may repeat.

For weddings, the symbolism of pearl’s gem language is perfect.  Japanese people care a lot about the meanings of objects, and symbolism and gestures are very important.

Its neutrality, modesty, and close connection with Nature makes the pearl very attractive for the Japanese jewel market. It could be contrary to designers’ and stylists’ instinct to decorate, but simplicity is favoured over elaborate designs – to bring out the beauty of the wearer and the pearls themselves.

The pearl is a product of Mother Nature. For a market that lends importance to protocol and to subtle gestures, it is the perfect gifts for daughters, at birth or at adolescence, to symbolises purity and long-term commitment.

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