The Beauty of Pearls

Pearls have been desired since ancient times for their lustre and radiance, rarity and natural beauty. The process of producing cultured pearls was not developed until the early 1900s. Natural pearls were extremely rare and sought after and still achieve exceptionally high prices today. Found in seas around Ceylon India and the Persian Gulf, they were a sumptuous and exotic luxury of the wealthy upper classes.

Antique jewellery. Victorian pearl jewellery

Due to new trade routes to the East established in the 1500s, pearls became widely available in Renaissance Europe and were the symbol of wealth, status and taste. Large baroque, or irregularly shaped, pearls were especially admired and were lavishly incorporated into jewels of the highest quality, the particular form of each pearl used to its advantage in the design of the piece.

Antique pearl ring enamel

In the 18th century pearls came into fashion in a different manner in the form of seed pearls. These tiny natural pearls were threaded into intricate designs or set to encircle a gemstone. Larger half pearls were popular in rings throughout the Georgian period and into the Victorian era. The pearl hoop or half hoop ring became the most popular betrothal ring of the 1850s.

Antique Victorian pearl ring

The Victorians thought of pearls as the jewels of Venus, since both arise from the sea, and they were symbolic of beauty, purity and love. Pearls were also an accepted gemstone in Georgian and Victorian mourning jewellery. The colour white was permitted in addition to black in mourning jewellery, and pearls were thought to symbolise the tears of the mourner.