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“Pearls were accidents, and the finding of one was luck, a little pat on the back by God or the gods or both.”
~ John Steinbeck, The Pearl, 1947
In the early 2000s a fisherman in the Philippines discovered a priceless 75-pound natural pearl from a giant clam! This pearl is reportedly a foot wide and more than 2 feet long! Typical natural pearls come in all shades and colors and shapes. Scotland's freshwater pearls which come from a species of mussel have a particular rounded irregular shape (also known as Baroque pearls) and have been prized since ancient times. Roman historian Suetonius refers to Julius Caesar's preference for British pearls as one of his main reasons for invading the country in the hopes of controlling the pearl trade!
The birthstone of June is the pearl (along with the moonstone and alexandrite).
All shelled mollusks can, by natural processes, produce some kind of "pearl" when an irritating microscopic object becomes trapped within its mantle folds, but the great majority of these "pearls" are not valued as gemstones. The prized "nacreous" pearls, are primarily produced by two groups of molluskan bivalves or clam and are made from nacre, the same living process used in the secretion of the mother of pearl which lines the shell.
The ideal pearl is perfectly round and smooth, but many other shapes, known as baroque or freshwater pearls, can occur.
The most valuable pearls occur spontaneously in the wild, but are extremely rare. These wild pearls are referred to as natural pearls.
The unique luster of pearls depends upon the reflection, refraction, and diffraction of light from the translucent layers. Pearls, both natural cultured, occur in a wide variety of colors. The most familiar colors are white and cream, but black, grey, and silver are also fairly common. The palette of pearl colors extends to every hue with the rarer pinks and lavenders occurring predominately in freshwater pearls.
Pearls were one of the attractions which drew Julius Caesar to Britain. The pearls sought were, for the most part, freshwater pearls from mussels. Pearling was banned in the U.K. in 1998 due to the endangered status of river mussels. Discovery and publicity about the sale for a substantial sum of the found Abernathy pearl from the River Tay (which has its own tartan) resulted in heavy exploitation of mussel colonies during the 1970s and 80s by amateur pearl hunters. When pearling was permitted it was carried on mainly by Scottish Travellers who found that the pearls varied from river to river, with the River Oykel in the Highlands being noted for the finest rose-pink pearls. Currently, there are only two firms in Scotland that are licensed to sell pre-1998 freshwater pearls.
By designer Carol A.L. Martin, this tartan uses shades of naturally occurring pearls.
For more fascinating facts about pearls, click the coloured strands!