An ode to the natural pearl
It’s no secret that I love vintage treasures and antique finds, there’s something about the quality of older collectible pieces that can put some of our more modern valuables to shame. Living in Nice has been amazing in so many ways but one of my definite highlights is the access I have to the beautiful vintage markets and brocantes. I can, and often do, spend hours going through these items, falling in love with the pre-loved and absolutely charming pieces. One treasure that always brings a smile to my face is the sight of a real, natural pearl.
Pearls are one of nature’s more charming treasures, formed under accidental circumstances when a microscopic intruder like a grain of sand enters an oyster or mollusc and settles in the shell. If the mollusc can’t displace it, it secretes layers and layers of nacre, an organic composite material which becomes the nucleus of the natural pearl. It is a slow and unique process that can sometimes take years to complete. Unfortunately, to produce a fine pearl, oysters have to grow in pristine, unpolluted waters. Today, due to over harvesting and environmental impact on the oceans, finding natural pearls in the ocean is incredibly rare.
Sadly, the rarity and significance of this special process seems to have been lost over time, and today modern fashion has deemed the natural pearl to be a stuffy or perhaps outdated jewel, often dismissed by young people for being associated with their grandmothers. They’re not entirely wrong either, when I spot natural pearls in Nice it is usually on the neck of an older woman out and about on her business, but always impeccably dressed. It’s a familiar sight here and a reminder of how lucky we are to have our lives so influenced by the surrounding waters of the Mediterranean.
That doesn’t mean that we should forget about the pearl and pack it away with all our other antique treasures in a box in the attic. Who is to say that coal turning to diamond in the Earth’s crust is more valuable today than a pearl produced in the salt water of our most precious resource, the ocean? In fact, dubbed the world’s oldest gem, pearls were considered among the most valuable of gems for millennia. According to legend, Roman general Vitellius sold just one of his mother’s pearl earrings to finance an entire military campaign during the height of the Roman Empire, Cleopatra once dissolved a priceless pearl in a glass of wine and drank it to show off to her beau Marc Anthony, and Medieval Knights often wore pearls on the battlefield as a sign of status.
Thankfully, recent months have seen the return of the pearl to high-end fashion runways, appearing in shows by top designers like Chanel, Valentino and Tom Ford, and celebrities like Harry Styles at the Met Gala have proven that wearing pearls is certainly not only limited to women.
I hope this forgotten treasure gets to enjoy its moment in the sun again soon, and that we remember that natural pearls are a beautiful reminder of how the ocean can thrive and provide if treated with the respect it deserves.