Pearls have reigned as the "Queen of Gems" since ancient times. The oldest pearl worn as jewelry was found in a Persian princess's grave from 520 B.C. Likewise, many Egyptian pharaohs were buried with their coveted pearl collections. Because the gem emerged from the ocean fully formed, they seemed magical to many cultures and were held sacred. In Ancient China, pearls were thought to protect the wearer from dragons. During the Dark Ages, knights would don them as totemic defenses against harm.
However, the pearl was not solely used for adornment. Because of their rarity, natural pearls also served as a form of currency. One sizable pearl could fund an entire military uprising during the Roman Empire, and because of their value, pearls were only owned by nobility and wealthy citizens. All of this changed at the beginning of the twentieth century, when Mikimoto Kokichi discovered he could create pearls when he injected an irritant into an oyster. This made the oyster produce nacre around the nuclei until a pearl was born. Since cultured pearls could now be manufactured on-demand, this made the gem more affordable and more accessible. Now every woman could dress like a queen.
With the rise of cultured pearls, pearl strands became all the rage throughout the 20th century. Oftentimes costume jewelry would be mixed with gems, and style icons like Coco Chanel and Clara Bow became famous for their long, simple pearl strands. By the 1930s these necklaces were looped and shortened to create a beautiful cascade of pearls for a decadent look only made possible by modern manufacturing processes. Today, the pearl necklace is still considered a must-have accessory, and is essential to any fashionable woman's jewelry box.
While owning a pearl strand necklace is essential, equally important is its quality and upkeep. When buying pearl strands, pay special attention to the cord to make sure it is knotted after every pearl. This minute detail is the ultimate quality check because the cord is knotted to ensure the pearls don't scatter everywhere if it breaks. Perhaps someone should have shared this with Tom Buchanan when he bought Daisy her $350,000 bridal pearl strands. In Baz Lurhmann's The Great Gatsby, Daisy is shown ripping that pearl necklace apart, sending the pearls exploding across the screen. Had that necklace been knotted, the pieces of the necklace (and maybe Daisy's life) would have been easier to pick up.
From ancient Persia to Kansas City today, pearls continue to to be one of the world’s most treasured gem. With great value comes great care, however, and the pearl can actually be quite fragile if not cared for correctly. To extend the life of your pearl strand, always check the cord for fraying and discoloration. After wearing, gently wipe the pearls to remove any perspiration and chemicals because their acids can deteriorate the pearl's finish. For similar reasons, store them in a cool space and wear them only after you've finished perfuming and powdering.