PEARL BIRTHSTONE: ITS MEANING & HISTORY
This enchanting June birthstone originates from oceans, lakes and rivers around the world. It is a timeless wardrobe staple, beloved by women of all ages. The origin of pearls fascinated our forebears. Ancients from the Middle East believed that pearls were teardrops fallen from heaven. The Chinese fancied that the June birthstone came from the brain of a dragon. Christopher Columbus and his contemporaries thought that mollusks formed pearls from dew drops.
Pearls are organic gems that grow inside the tissue of a living saltwater or freshwater mollusk (either an oyster or a mussel). Natural pearls form when the mollusk secretes a substance called nacre around an irritant such as a piece of sand or a parasite that has invaded its shell. Cultured pearls are a product of human intervention. Technicians implant a piece of mantle tissue alone (common for freshwater cultured pearls) or with a mother-of-pearl shell bead (all saltwater) into a host mollusk. The mollusk covers the irritant with nacre, just like a natural pearl. Cultured pearls are raised in pearl farms – saltwater or freshwater operations where the mollusks are cleaned, protected from predators and eventually harvested. Thousands of years of pearl fishing have decimated the natural pearl beds, so cultured pearls account for the vast majority of pearl sales today. These cultured pearl birthstones come in a dazzling array of sizes, colors and shapes.
Pearls have long been associated with purity, humility and innocence. So it may be said that the June birthstone meaning is "sweet simplicity." As such, pearls were traditionally given as a wedding gift.
The pearl birthstone was also thought to have beneficial properties. In the ancient Sanskrit text the Atharvaveda, pearls were said to bestow long life and prosperity. In Asia, pearls were believed to help alleviate indigestion and hemorrhages. Some 19th century Arab physicians maintained that pearl powder improved eyesight, quieted nervous tremors and eased depression.