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Adding to the beauty of pearls is their rich history as a means of jeweled decoration that dates back four centuries. Pearls appeared in jewelry among the earliest societies and were considered by many to be the world’s oldest “gem." Prized for both their sheen and their rarity, pearls were typically reserved for the most elite members of a culture.
It was not until the 18th century that science revealed how a pearl forms: a small grain of sand enters the mollusk and imbeds in the fleshy mantle, the tissue that connects the organism to its shell. The oyster responds to this invader by attacking it, coating it with nacre, a calcious material similar to that which makes up the oyster’s shell.
This layering continues, creating the luminous, rich finish for which the pearl is known. Before this process was revealed, however, cultures around the globe concocted fantastical origin stories for the pearl. These imaginative tales only increased the allure of pearls, ensuring their treasured status for all time.
Ancient Chinese peoples believed that pearls grew in a dragon’s brain; some Renaissance circles, centuries later, actually thought the pearl was the egg of the oyster
“The Gulf Pearl Parure” is a magnificent Harry Winston set of pearl and diamond jewels. The 7.5-inch bracelet contributes to the total 193 natural pearls (and 160 carats of diamonds) that compete the set, which sold for $4.189 million in Geneva in 2006
The current record price at auction for a strand of pearls is held by “La Peregrina,” a pearl encrusted necklace that dates to the 16th century and was last part of the remarkable collection of Elizabeth Taylor. It sold in 2011 for just under $12 million