Throughout history, the pearl, with its warm inner glow and shimmering iridescence, has been one of the most highly prized and sought after gems. Countless references to the pearl can be found in religions and mythology of cultures from the earliest times.
According to legend, Cleopatra had a friendly bet with lover Marc Anthony over who could consume the most expensive meal. While Marc Anthony brought in many fine foods of great wealth, Cleopatra arrived with just a goblet of wine. She dissolved a pearl within it, and drank it, thus winning the bet. The ancient Egyptians valued pearls so much that they were often buried with them.
In ancient Rome, pearls were considered the ultimate symbol of wealth and social standing. The Greeks associated the pearl with love and marriage. During the Dark Ages, knights often wore pearls, believing that the magic possessed by the gems would protect them from harm on the battlefield. Several European countries, during the Renaissance, forbade the wearing of pearls by anyone not royalty.
To the Ancient Persians, pearls symbolized moon and its magical powers. The fragment of oldest known pearl jewelry now displayed at the Museum of Louvre in Paris was found in the sarcophagus of a Persian princess who died in 520 BC.
The pearl has also found it’s way into the art world, as The Girl with a Pearl Earring, one of Dutch painter Johannes Vermeer's masterworks. The mysterious painting which, much like Da Vinci’s Mona Lisa features no story or context uses a pearl earring for a focal point. The painting is currently housed at The Mauritshuis in The Hague. A novel by Tracy Chevalier, and a film directed by Peter Webber, and starring Scarlett Johansson and Colin Firth, followed.
The Pearl, by John Steinbeck, is a novella that tells the story of a poor Mexican who finds a magnificent pearl which changes his life on such a basic level, only enhances the sometimes dark majesty of the pearl.