Category: History

Medicinal Pearls

flowers-pearls

Pearls, surprisingly enough, aren’t just useful for their good looks! In fact, they have been used in medicines for centuries.

The earliest report of this came from two different sources in the 13th Century. A German monk, Albertus Magnus, stated that pearls could heal mental diseases, love sickness, hemorrahage and dysentery. Alfonso the Learned, the King of Castile believed that pearls as medicine cleaned and purified the blood, and recommended it for fighting depression, or any ailment caused by sadness or timidness.

Pearls dissolving in vinegar
Pearls dissolving in vinegar

In the 17th century, an elixir called ‘Aqua Perlata’ was recommended for restoring strength and combatting fevers. It claimed to be almost strong enough for “resuscitating the dead.” This medicine contained pearls disolved in vinegar (or lemon juice). Once the pearls dissolved, fresh lemon juice was added, then the mixture was decanted into a new container where a touch of strawberry, rose water, cinnamon water, and borage flowers were added. It was sweetened with sugar as needed. It was recommended to cover the top of the glass when drinking Aqua Perlata, so as to not let any of the essence escape.

A substance called Gascoigne’s Powder was used well into the 19th century. The chemical make-up of it changed a few times, but it generally required pearls, crab’s eyes, and coral.

One legend states that placing a pearl in your bellybutton could actually cure stomach disorders.

Mikimoto himself, the man accredited with creating the process for culturing pearls, ate two pearls a day for his health.

But is all this “pearls as medicine” stuff really so crazy? In fact, pearls contain a variety of amino acids, proteins,and calcium. Concoctions such as Aqua Perlata likely worked because of the high content of Vitamin C in the juice and calcium in the pearls. And as for Alfonso the Learned’s theory, we can get behind the idea that pearls can fight sadness – our pearls sure make us happy!

Pearl Powder

Even today, pearls are still used in modern medicine. While it is not common in the Western world, countries such as China, India, and Japan have been using pearls medicinally for many years and continue to do so. Pearls that are lower than gem quality are commonly ground up and used as pharmaceutical calcium powder. “Pearl powder” is very common in Chinese medicine. Ground pearls are used as skin treatment to cure acne, reduce signs of aging, and even the complexion. It is also approved by China’s FDA for internal use, where the benefits are said to be that is builds up your immune system by preventing diseases, promotes tissue regeneration, improves vision, stops convulsions, and calms the mind.

You may want to think twice before gnawing on your strand of pearls, however. Oysters are filter feeders and these tiny animals are nature’s vacuums, cleaning toxins like mercury out of the water as they eat plankton and algae. These toxins may be stored up in their shells and in the proteins that make up the nacre of their pearls. While there may be some benefits to ingesting pearls, they might be outweighed by the ill effects. We’d recommend popping a calcium pill instead and saving the pearls for artful adornment.

Read more!

The Secret Metaphysical and Healing Properties of Pearls

Pearly Whirly Pearl Fact: Pearls as Medicine

Sources:

The book of the pearl: the history, art, science, and industry of the queen of gems
By George Frederick Kunz, Charles Hugh Stevenson

http://fsommers.com/pearls-in-medicine-some-anecdotes/

http://www.karipearls.com/medicine.html

http://www.pearl-guide.com/forum/content.php?r=108-Pearls-and-Medicine

Gemstone Spotlight: December’s Ice Blue Sincerity

“If cold December gave you birth,
The month of snow and ice and mirth,
Place on your hand a turquoise blue;
Success will bless whate’er you do.”

-Gregorian Birthstone Poem

Turquoise
Rough and polished turquoise stones.

If you were born in December, you may find yourself a little confused on which stone to call your own. Turquoise has been the longest standing and most traditional birthstone for December, with zircon and tanzanite recently added. Many also consider blue topaz amongst the ranks of December birthstones. (Fun fact: Topaz is one of November’s traditional gemstones.) Whichever stone you prefer, December’s birthstones all bring a sense of calm, peace, and sincerity you gain from gazing at their gorgeous blue surfaces. And they are all amazing stones, so this month’s gemstone spotlight will encompass not one, not two, but four stones. What a good way to end the year.

Turquoise has been on the list of December birthstones since before 1912, along with lapis lazuli (which is not heavily recognized as a birthstone today). It is, in fact, one of the oldest gemstones known to man. The name turquoise comes from the French phrase “Pierre tourques”, meaning “Turkish stone” although it was most likely originally mined in Egypt and Iran, not Turkey. Today, we use the word turquoise to describe anything of the blue-green color commonly associated with the gem, which is interesting because the color is actually named after the stone, and not vice versa. American turquoise is mined in Colorado, New Mexico, Nevada, and Arizona. A rare translucent variety is found only in Virginia. “Persian turquoise” refers to any turquoise which does not have black or brown veining in the stone. These are more commonly found outside of the U.S. in countries such as Tanzania, Afghanistan, Mexico, China, and Israel. The most valuable specimens are said to come from Iran. The value of turquoise stones based on color and patterning depends on region and personal preference. Most Americans prefer the spidery patterns, while clean stones are generally preferred east of here.

Greenish turquoise with veining
Turquoise stones with veining.

Turquoise jewelry requires some care. It is relatively soft, and the color can be affected by harsh lighting, household chemicals, oil (including natural oils and perspiration from your body) and cosmetics. It is a good idea to remove your turquoise jewelry before washing your hands, showering, or applying perfume and makeup. (Similar to how you would care for your pearls!) Most turquoise pieces are set in silver, although it is commonly found set in gold alongside diamonds in the Middle East. It is extremely popular in the southwest, and is associated with a lot of Native American style jewelry.

It is regarded as symbol of good fortune, happiness, and success. Wearing turquoise, especially in a ring, is thought to keep away evil spirits. Turquoise jewelry in general is said to protect the wearer from harm and relax the mind. Apache indians believed that attaching turquoise to an arrow would increase the hunter’s accuracy. Native Americans have associated the color of the stone with the sky and the Earth, and many people today still think of it as being symbolic of nature. Shamans, healers, and medicine men have talked of the healing properties of turquoise stones, contributing it as a healing agent for heart ailments and blisters, amongst other afflictions.

Looking for a turquoise piece as a gift? It is a traditional gift for an 11th wedding anniversary, and its affordability makes it a great birthday choice. Check out these awesome turquoise pieces from Pearls International:

Freshwater pearl and turquoise gemstone pendant
This lovely pendant features a gemstone bead in between two swarovski rondelles and freshwater pearls. It is available in both blue and green turquoise.

 

Pearl and turquoise necklace
This pearl and gemstone necklace is perfect for any occasion.

The name zircon is derived from the Arabic words for “gold colored,” although it is found in a wide variety of colors (with blue being the most popular, and also the color recognized as December’s birthstone). Stones that are medium dark and pure blue all the way through are the most valuable. It is a dense stone, so a small piece of zircon will have a higher weight than most other stones of similar size. Zircon is most heavily mined in Thailand, Cambodia, and southern Vietnam, though it is also found in Australia, Brazil, Sri Lanka, and etc. Colorless zircon is often confused with cubic zirconia and sometimes fraudulently sold as real diamonds. However, zircon is a natural gemstone, while cubic zirconia is laboratory grown.

Faceted Blue Zircon
Faceted blue zircon.

Of all the blue gemstones (and there are a lot!) zircon has the highest refractive index. This makes the stones look very brilliant, but they sometimes see a double refractive effect, which makes the stone look “fuzzy” around the facets. It is a fairly hard stone, but has a tendency to wear along the faceted edges and is sensitive to hard knocks, so should be treated as occasional wear jewelry, especially in rings. It should also be stored carefully.

Zircon is said to aid in spiritual growth, bring wisdom to the wearer, and help find beauty and peace. It is said to relieve pain, protect travelers from injury and illness, and aid in sleep, including preventing nightmares. Many people in the Hindu culture consider trees to be sacred, and one legend tells of the Kalpa Tree, a sacred offering to the gods that was made entirely of gemstones. In this tree, all the mature leaves were made of zircon. It is said that when one wanted to find peace and seek out certain blessings, they would sit under the Kalpa Tree and meditate.

Kalpa Tree
An illustration of the Kalpa Tree.

The next December gemstone is Tanzanite, which was discovered in Tanzania in the late 60’s, making it a relatively new stone on the market. It is interesting because it is not found in any other parts of the world, while many other stones are mined all in several countries. In fact, the entire mineable area of tanzanite at present is only five square miles, surrounding the volcano Mount Kilimanjaro.

Tanzanite gemstone cuts.
Tanzanite gemstones in several different cuts.

Tanzanite comes in a variety of blue-violet blue shades, and can show brown or yellow coloration in certain lightings. It is often heated to remove the brown and yellow hues, leaving you with a blue or blue violet gem. There is little history on this gem, as it is still so new to the market.

Faceted blue topaz
Faceted blue topaz.

The final gem considered in the list of December birthstones is blue topaz. Topaz is discussed in our prior blog on November’s birthstones, as topaz is considered to be a birthstone for November. However, November most primarily recognizes the yellow shades of topaz, while December only considers the blue varieties. Topaz is a very popular stone due to its durability and its affordability. In fact, it is the second most popular colored gemstone on the market, outranked only by sapphire. Blue topaz comes in a variety of shades. All deep, saturated blue stones are treated to enhance color. Most natural blue topaz is a pale blue. Pearls International’s jeweler has a fondness for natural blue topaz, and if you visit our Daytona Beach shores location you can see our chandelier made with natural blue topaz crystals, hand carved by our own Jim Stradley. We also have pearl and topaz pendants and earrings available for sale.

Blue Topaz and Pearl Earring and pendant Set
Pearls International’s natural blue topaz and pearl pendant and earring set.

According to legend, wearing topaz can improve your eyesight. Topaz was also said to change color in the presence of food or drinks that had been poisoned. It is also thought to cure insomnia and asthma.

 

sources: www.almanac.com, www.gemselect.com, www.birthdaygems.org, www.gia.edu/turquoise-history-lore, www.americangemsociety.org

Gemstone Spotlight: November’s Stone of the Sun

“Who first comes to this world below 
In dreary November’s fog and snow, 
Should prize the topaz’s amber hue, 
Emblem of friends and lovers true.”

-Gregorian Birthstone Poem

Topaz
Topaz gemstones with varying colors.

The topaz is the traditional birthstone for November, with citrine having been recently added as a secondary stone. Topaz colors include clear, brown, yellow, orange, pink, and red, as well as the well-known blue topaz. Many examples of topaz seen in jewelry are treated to bring out the color, as topaz is most often found in pale and light colors. This is especially true in blue topaz.

Blue topaz changes in color
The topaz on the right has been treated to bring out the bright blue colors within the stone, while the topaz on the left is a closer representation of its natural color.

This stone is found in many countries around the world, with the most common source being Brazil. It is a symbol of affection, has an interesting history of legends, and holds a few interesting metaphysical properties. Topaz has been said to increase strength, fight against insomnia, cure asthma, and improve eyesight. The ancient Greeks believed that this stone held the power to make the wearer invisible in an emergency. Both the Egyptians and the Romans associated topaz with their sun gods (Ra and Jupiter, respectively). The Egyptians believed that it was colored with the energy of Ra, and regarded it as a very powerful amulet to protect against harm. These legends more than likely refer to yellow varieties of topaz, as well as citrine, which was once confused with similar specimens of topaz, although they are unrelated.

Need a piece of topaz jewelry for a gift? We have a gorgeous topaz pendant and earring set, in natural, untreated, hand faceted blue topaz.

Pendant with blue topaz and freshwater pearl
Pearls International blue topaz and freshwater pearl pendant.

 

Freshwater pearl and blue topaz earrings
Freshwater pearl and natural blue topaz earrings.

Citrine, the second stone for November, is the yellow or orange variety of quartz. The word citrine comes from the French “citron,” meaning “lemon.” Naturally yellow citrine is primarily found in Brazil and Madagascar, although some of the citrine market today is actually heat-treated amethyst.

Natural Citrine Crystal
Natural citrine crystal.

Citrine’s sunshine-like color has earned it a spot regarded as a positive energy stone, and it is thought to cure depression and radiate success, prosperity, and abundance. These qualities have given citrine nicknames such as “merchant’s stone” or “success stone,” and many places of business keep a citrine stone at the cash register.

Citrine and CZ Pendant in Sterling Silver

Amongst other metaphysical properties, citrine banishes negative energy, and will never absorb negative energy from its surroundings, meaning it never needs to be cleared or re-charged. The healing properties behind the stone are endless, both mentally and physically. It can relieve emotional trauma, repel nightmares, aid in digestion, help overcome addictions, and promote self confidence. It is said to carry the power of the sun with it.

Faceted citrine stones
Faceted citrine stones.

sources: www.almanac.com, www.gemselect.com, www.americangemsociety.org

Gemstone Spotlight: A Variegation of Colors for October

“October’s child is born for woe, 
And life’s vicissitudes must know, 
But lay an opal on her breast, 
And hope will lull those woes to rest.”

-Gregorian Birthstone Poem

Opals
Opals, October’s traditional birthstone, often show a flamelike effect in their color variations.

 

Tourmaline Stones
Tourmaline comes in a great variety of colors, including bi- and tri-colored stones.

October is another of those lucky months with two stones to chose from. Opal is the traditional October stone, with tourmaline added as a secondary stone in 1912. The fantastic thing about being born in October is the amazing range of colors these two stones have to offer. Opal is made when silica gel seeps into cracks in sedimentary rock and is naturally heated and molded over time. This gives the wide range of colors seen within the different varieties of opals, and gives the stones a 3D effect – you see different colors at different depths within the stone.

Tourmaline comes in a variety of single color stones, as will as bi- or tri-colored stones. This effect is known as color zoning. A popular variety of multicolored tourmaline is watermelon tourmaline, which has a color gradient of green to pink/red, often with a colorless zone in between.

Watermelon Tourmaline Butterfly
Check out this adorable watermelon tourmaline butterfly!

Tourmaline is found in Brazil, the U.S., Africa, and Afghanistan. An intense green variety called chrome tourmaline is found in Kenya and Tanzania. The word “tourmaline” comes from the Sinhalese word “turmali,” meaning “mixed,” referring to its stunning color varieties. According to Egyptian legend, tourmaline passed under a rainbow on it’s way up from the center of the earth, and therefore absorbed all the colors of the rainbow, giving us the varieties we see today.  Tourmaline is thought to enhance creativity, and is a stone of love and friendship. Another trait that sets tourmaline apart from many other stones is their ability to hold an electrical charge when heated and then allowed to cool.

Shopping for an October birthday present? Pearls International offers this amazing pearl enhancer with chrome tourmaline, which is a perfect addition to any of our pearl necklaces.

Chrome Tourmaline Pearl Enhancer
Our pearl enhancer with chrome tourmaline.

Opal also comes in many varieties, including black opal, fire opal, and milky opal. Australia produces a large percentage of the world’s opal, primarily black and white opal. The greek word “oppallos” means “to see a change of color.” This word is derivative from the Sanskrit word “upala” which means “valuable stone.” The Romans also have a word, “opalus” meaning “a stone from many elements.”

Opal pendant in Sterling silver

African Aborigines have a legend about the creation of opals that also involves a rainbow, interestingly enough. It was believed that the Creator came down from the heavens on a rainbow, bearing a message of peace for all people. When his feet touched the ground, the stones around him began to sparkle with all the colors of the rainbow, and thus opals were created. Metaphysically, it is thought to cure depression and bring real and true love to the wearer.

Fire Opal
A gorgeous fire opal. Look at all those colors!

When buying opals as a gift, remember that they contain 3-30% water, and are a very soft stone, meaning they are best for occasional or light wear.

 

 

sources: www.americangemsociety.org, http://4csblog.gia.edu/2012/october-birthstone-about-tourmaline, http://www.colonialjewelers.com/learn/about-gemstones/opal-tourmaline/, www.almanac.com, www.gemstone.org, www.gemselect.com

Gemstone Spotlight: Sapphire, September’s Protection

“A maiden born when autumn leaves 
Are rustling in September’s breeze, 
A sapphire on her brow should bind 
`Twill cure diseases of the mind.”

-Gregorian Birthstone Poem

Some examples of sapphire color variation.
Some examples of sapphire color variation.

Those born in September call the sapphire their own. Sapphires, the sister stone to the ruby (which is really a red sapphire), are the the second hardest gemstone, rivaled only by the diamond. Corundum (a.k.a. the mineral that makes up rubies and sapphires) comes in every color of the rainbow. Many colors are shown in the photo above. Aside from the traditional blue, popular colors include pink, yellow, and green, like the pendant below.

Green Sapphire and CZ Pendant in Sterling Silver

It is most commonly seen in shades of blue, blue-green, and blue-violet. The most prized varieties are a rich, intense shade of blue that is not too light or too dark. The best sapphires are said to come from Sri Lanka and Madagascar, although sapphires are found in many other places around the world, including Thailand, Australia, the U.S. and China.

A high quality sapphire
A high quality sapphire is deep blue in color.

Wearing a sapphire is said to protect your loved ones from harm. If you are a Taurus, wearing sapphires has been said to cure and protect against mental illnesses, which is implied in the Gregorian Birthstone Poem at the top of this blog. It is also said to help cure rheumatism, work as an anti-depressant, promote clairvoyance, and aid in astral projection, to name a few traits. Since the middle ages, sapphires have been a popular stone amongst priests and royalty. Clergymen from medieval times wore blue sapphires to symbolize Heaven, and commoners thought the stone itself attracted heavenly blessings.  Sapphire stones were regarded as a talisman to ward off evil. Star sapphires were said to be so powerful that they would continue to protect the wearer as it was passed on to someone else, and was used primarily as a protective stone for travelers. Another legend says a venomous snake encased in a container made of sapphire would die. It represents faithfulness and sincerity in relationships, and symbolizes peace, joy, and wisdom. Metaphysically, it is a great stone for healing and protective purposes, and for mental growth.

A star sapphire
A star sapphire.

Thinking of giving a sapphire as a gift? Your September girl will be blown away! Sapphires (along with rubies) are also popular in engagement rings due to their superb hardness (Prince William gave a sapphire to Kate Middleton for their engagement!). Because of the amazing variety of colors they come in, you could even pick a stone in her favorite color. She will love you for being so thoughtful.

Think also of giving them as a 5th, 23rd, or 45th wedding anniversary present. Star sapphires are a traditional gift for a 65th wedding anniversary as well.

sources: almanac.com, gemselect.com, americangemsociety.org, www.bernardine.com/gemstones/sapphire

Gemstone Spotlight: Peridot, August’s Vitality

“Wear a peridot or for thee, 
No conjugal felicity; 
The August-born without this stone, 
`Tis said, must live unloved and lone.”

– Gregorian Birthstone Poem

A faceted peridot and a rough peridot.
A peridot in the rough and a faceted peridot.

For years, August had two birthstones, peridot and sardonyx. The more popular of the two has always been peridot, which is a symbol of vitality, strength and growth and the star of this blog. However, August recently had a third stone added to its’ list of official stones, which you can read about here. (Spoiler alert – it’s Spinel)

Metaphysically, peridot is said to prevent against nightmares (especially when set in gold) and bring the wearer power and influence. Peridot was first found in Hawaii, where the natives explained its existence as being hardened tears from Pele, the Volcano Goddess, which is fitting because it is formed inside the earth and brought to the surface by volcanic activity. Throughout history, peridot has been used to connect with nature, perhaps because of it’s coloration. The ancient Egyptians believed drinking a beverage called Soma from peridot cups would bring them closer to Isis, Goddess of Nature. They also referred to peridot as the “gem of the sun.”

Pele, Goddess of Fire and Volcanos
Peridot was thought to have been formed by the tears of Pele, Goddess of Fire and Volcanos.

Today, peridot is primarily mined in Arizona, but is still found in Hawaii, and mined in other parts of the world, such as China and Pakistan. It is found in a variety of colors from yellow-green to brown, with the most desirable colors being the bright lime green and olive. It is sometimes called the “evening emerald,” probably for it’s similarity in color to emeralds. In addition to being August’s birthstone, peridot is a traditional gift to celebrate a 16th wedding anniversary.

Peridot and CZ Pendant in Sterling Silver
Peridot pendant in Sterling Silver, from Pearls International

sources: birthdaygems.org

almanac.com

americangemsociety.org

www.about-birthstones.com/augustbirthstone

Gemstone Spotlight: Rubies, July’s Passion

“The glowing ruby shall adorn,
Those who in July are born;
Then they’ll be exempt and free
From love’s doubts and anxiety.”

– Gregorian Birthstone Poem

Rubies
Faceted Rubies

July’s birthstone is one of history’s most prized gems. Ancient Hindus called it “Rajnapura,” or “King of Gems.” It has a very mystical history and was once thought to have magical powers. A legend says that a ruby would glow darker when the owner was in danger, and return to its original color once the danger had passed. Royalty wore ruby jewelry to ward off evil. Ancient tribes used rubies as bullets, as they represented power and heat. Some also believed that a pot of water would instantly boil if a ruby was thrown into it. It was also ground up and placed on the tongue as a cure for indigestion. Today, they are regarded as symbols of love and passion, as these emotions are enhance by their deep red color. Metaphysically, they are thought to arouse the senses, stimulate your imagination, and guarantee success in love and wealth.

A rough ruby and faceted rubies.
A rough ruby and faceted rubies.

The Latin word “ruber” means red, and the most prized rubies are medium to deep red, although they do come in a variety of colors. If too much of another color is seen, (i.e. purple or orange) it will be called a fancy sapphire. Sapphires and rubies are nearly chemically identical, but rubies are prized for their color and are more rare in gem quality than Sapphires. The highest quality rubies are said to be found in Burma, but they are also mined in many other countries around the world, including India, Sri Lanka, and here in the U.S. The only gem harder than a ruby is a diamond, so they are perfect for everyday wear.

Shopping for someone born in July? Our pearl and ruby jewelry is a perfect way to show your love! Also consider buying a ruby to celebrate a 40th wedding anniversary.

Ruby and Pearl Pendant
This pearl and ruby pendant by Pearls International is simple and stylish, easy to dress up or down!

sources: www.about-birthstones.com/julybirthstone.html, www.birthdaygems.org, www.almanac.com, www.americangemsociety.org

Theodora

Theodora was the wife of the Byzantine Emperor Justinian who ruled Constantinople in the 6th century. It is said she was the daughter of a bear trainer in Constantinople who was taken to the east by an army captain and abandoned while still very young. She made her way back to Constantinople on her own and soon after her arrival met Justinian, who fell deeply in love with her and married her. Together they ruled over a centre of great art, intellect, power and wealth.

Theodora loved pearls and wore as many as she could. She first took to wearing many of them as long earrings and when the weight became too much for her earlobes she wore a diadem with long strands of pearls hanging from each side to which she could add as many pearls as she liked. The beauty of Theodora can be seen in the mosaics of the church of San Vitale in Ravenna.

Theodora

Source: www.pearls.co.uk

Pearls on Sand

Pearls are Fun, but We Take Oysters VERY SERIOUSLY!!

(This post is part of our blog series that deals with Pearls International’s take on social and environmental responsibility. For more information on how Pearls International gives back, please click here.)

Pearls International is the best place around if you want to play with pearls, get educated on pearls, find out about YOUR pearls, or just have fun!  Everyone knows that pearls are our favorite pastime and that we have a huge selection of creative pearl pieces that you can admire, touch or try on!

But when it comes to oysters, those amazing little animals who actually make the pearls, Pearls International gets deadly serious!  Because we live and breathe pearls, we know the importance of making sure that our friends, the oysters, stay healthy and happy and keep on making their little gems.  Now, it takes an oyster at least one year to come up with a pearl of any size at all, and two years if you want a nice big one.  Some really large pearls take as long as six years to form!  Actually, a healthy oyster can have a life-span of 8-12 years, but pearls that are grown in polluted water are usually pitted with rough spots and the delicate oysters don’t last long there, either.

Oysters need clean water in order to thrive and make lovely pearls.  As it turns out, oysters are quite fragile and they can’t survive in pollution. When oysters are forced to live in polluted water, they become frail.  Their shells weaken and predators come along, invade those soft shells, and destroy the hard-working mollusks!

Pearls are amazing.  The shells they come from are more amazing still, and the animals who live in the shells and make those gorgeous pearls are the most amazing of all.  Not diamonds, not pearls, but OYSTERS are a girl’s best friend!  Nature at its finest never made a more beautiful finished product.  So we need to keep those vulnerable oysters in clean water.

Here’s how Pearls International is helping:

[dropcap2]1.[/dropcap2]Sustainable Practices
Whether it’s making sure to recycle that soda can or turning off the lights when we leave a room, it’s important to reduce our environmental footprint as much as possible. Around here, we are careful not to put harmful chemicals into the water supply, and we re-use as many materials as possible to help reduce waste products and energy use from mining and transport.

[dropcap2]2.[/dropcap2]Ethical Sourcing
We’re a small company, but we still handle millions of pearls every year. Here at Pearls International, we are very aware of how even a small company like ours could have an effect on the environment if we were to use practices that could negatively affect the environment. That’s why we are constantly working with our vendors to seek out better ways to protect the oysters we love through every step of the supply chain.

[dropcap2]3.[/dropcap2]Responsible Stewardship
Perhaps the most important thing we do here at Pearls International is educate! We are always telling people about the amazing things you can find in the ocean, and why they’re worth saving. We think that if everybody did the same, our oceans would be a whole lot healthier. Toward that end, we are always learning, and always spreading the word about our H20-loving friends.

Here’s how you can help:

There are many things you can do to keep the oceans healthy, from cleaning up after yourself at the beach to using fewer plastic products (remember the Great Pacific Garbage Patch? Yuck!).

These are things you can do every day, but if you really want to make a change? Get involved! Contact your local policy-makers to let them know you care about our oceans, and join an organization that is working to protect our most valuable global resource.

With your help, our oceans will be just as beautiful for our children’s children.

Angry Ocean

Winds, Waves, and Wonders: Is There Room for Pearls in a Changing World?

(This post is part of our blog series that deals with Pearls International’s take on social and environmental responsibility. For more information on how Pearls International gives back, please click here.)

While the pearl as a gem is one of the oldest jewels known to man, the pearl industry in its currently recognizable form came about only in the last century with the advent of improved pearl culturing methods that made it possible to produce these lovely trinkets on a scale fit for the masses.

While the sudden glut of inexpensive cultured pearls sent the centuries-old natural pearl market into a tailspin, a new buyer appeared. The solidly middle-class families of post-WWII America, newly solvent and looking to make their mark on the world of fashion by keeping up with the Joneses, were at once fascinated by the exotic provenance and mystery of the pearls they saw adorning the necks of Hollywood’s darlings, and charmed by the clever marketing schemes of sellers determined to convince them of the value of gems previously considered counterfeits. Not only did this glamorous gem catch the eye of Americans, the pearl industry began to boom all over the world. Growing economies made for perfect consumers, and today, pearls make up a significant portion of the jewelry market worldwide. In fact, Australia is the leading country in pearl production. In Western Australia alone, the total allowable annual catch of oysters per licensed pearl production company is 572,000 oysters, equaling over $200 million dollars’ worth of pearls!

50s Style

Post-War, business was booming, but not without repercussions to ancient oyster beds, which were rapidly depleted by the sudden demand. Oyster species that ordinarily took several years to mature were now being forced to produce pearls faster and more frequently, leading oyster farmers to breed stock with shells so weak they were flexible to the touch. Due to pollution, over farming, industrialization, and other factors from man made activities, water quality in many marine oyster environments was slipping. These animals are very sensitive, and productivity dropped drastically. Many pearl farmers in coastal China were forced to take their business to cleaner waters in other countries. From this turmoil, the Chinese freshwater pearl business began to grow and become more prominent.

Initially, cultured pearls from China were created from the irritant being implanted into the animal at one year of age. Eventually, in order to increase quality, they made a few changes, including switching the species of mollusk used and waiting until they were two and a half, rather than one year old. These freshwater mussels are raised in former rice paddies that have been flooded to create lakes for pearl farming. They enrich these lakes with manure to increase algae growth, on which the mussels feed. They also add filter-feeding carp to the environment to filter out phytoplankton and prevent algal blooms. This increases the quality of the food source for the mussels. The aim is to raise healthy animals so that they can continue to produce quality gems. However, sometimes the artificially created ecosystem does not function as well as was intended. A few years ago, mussel farming was banned in one province of China due to concerns from questionable levels of manure content in the paddies. While the mussels do benefit from the steps taken to build their habitat, it must be monitored and the water must be kept clean. Just as the lakes the mussels are raised in are affected by outside sources such as pollution, construction, and waste, the surrounding ecosystems are effected by the pearl farms. One pearl farmer was quoted as saying “We must keep a Confucian balance with nature.”

Pearl Farm in Zhuji

 

Chinese pearl farmers may use as many as 10 irritants per mollusk, where many other countries (particularly when producing saltwater pearls) only use 1-2 irritants. In fact, by 2015, it is predicted that China will surpass Australia as the leader in pearl production worldwide. Because they can turn out so many pearls, they sell them at a much lower cost. This has raised fears among other countries that the pearl industry as a whole may become endangered. Chinese workers in pearl farms make a low wage of $15 – $23 a day. Looking to reduce costs even further, some Chinese companies are developing pearl-sorting machines rather than having them chosen and placed with similar pearls by hand. These machines take pictures of the pearl from every angle as it drops, then catches the gem and evaluates it based on size, luster and imperfections. It automatically assigns the pearl to a bin in which it will be kept with similar pearls. As these machines can run day and night and work quickly, they will be able to replace around 15 human workers per machine. This hurts the job market for individuals working in pearl production, and could have drastic effects on the Chinese economy.

Sorting Pearls in China

You could imagine that with such a constantly growing, worldwide industry, there are a lot of people on our planet who are affected by pearl production. Let’s look at French Polynesia, a small group of islands that makes a good bit of its livelihood from pearl farming. Much of their revenue comes from international exports, and 55% of their exports in 2008 were black Tahitian pearls. An estimated 4,000 persons in French Polynesia live from pearl farming, with much of this industry being made up of family-owned businesses.

This booming industry has led to a decrease in emigration from the Gambier and Tuamotu archipelagos to Tahiti, which is what many young people had to do in order to find work previously. Consequently, both the populations of these small islands and the quality of living have increased sufficiently to allow many people to remain living on the islands of their birth. Social and health benefits have arisen from this as well, as many inhabitants of the region enjoy the kind of outdoor physical work provided from pearl farming, as it provides a way of life close to the traditional activities of the population.

On the flip side, not all family-owned pearl farming operations are successful. Many families who try to get into the business without knowledge of entrepreneurship go bankrupt when they are unable to pay back their small business loans. Socially, this creates inequalities among the population, as on some islands the pearl business is booming and on some it is nearly impossible to produce pearls. Some families who are successfully producing pearls are producing low quality jewels and marketing them poorly, leading to many big producers pushing for more regulations on pearl farming in the islands. Also, many local families of the smaller islands face competition from non-locals who have taken over pearl farming on the main island of Tahiti. In addition to local competition, the value of the Tahitian pearl market is being challenged by pearl production companies worldwide, particularly from Chinese freshwater pearls. As Chinese pearls are more cheaply produced, they sell for a much, much lower wholesale cost than saltwater Tahitian pearls. The majority of the buying market would rather buy freshwater pearls at a third of the cost of a similar Tahitian strand.

Tahitian Pearling

Although the competition may be tough, the pearl industry on the French Polynesian islands is still a major point of production on a global scale. In the words of Laurent Cartier, an environmental science Ph.D. who did some work on a research paper on sustainability of pearls, “In the long run, only those producers who work in ecologically responsible ways will continue to produce top-quality pearls.” Cartier believes that the methods used by Chinese pearl farmers can over crowd the mollusks, and ultimately thinks that saltwater pearl farming tends to use more environmentally conscious methods. Kamoka Pearl, one French Polynesian family-owned pearl farm, tells National Geographic about their efforts to remain environmentally conscious in an article published this year. The oysters are kept loosely packed into nets within the lagoon that they are harvested from, in order to be watched over and kept track of by pearl farmers.

A problem that oyster farmers face by keeping them this way is that they then begin to grow barnacles and other organisms on their shells. In order to keep the oyster growing at a normal and healthy rate, and therefore producing high quality pearls, these growths must be cleaned. There are several ways to effectively clean an oyster. The most common method is bringing the nets out of the water and spraying them with a high pressure hose. This is inexpensive and effective, but creates a large amount of organic matter in the water. This decreases the water quality, because it becomes to much for the fish and other marine animals to break down efficiently. Kamoka Pearl, however, has found an environmentally conscious way around this problem. Rather than hosing the oysters off, they move them to shallow areas of the lagoon where fish life is more abundant and varied. After a few days, the fish clean the oysters naturally. Although this isn’t as quick or cheap in means of labor costs, the company prefers to spend the extra money to do what they feel is best for the environment.

Whether or not pearl farming is beneficial or detrimental to the environment depends on the methods used to farm the mollusks and environmental factors from other industries. Research is still underway. New knowledge, methods of farming, and innovations in technology are being discovered day-to-day. The question of whether there is room for pearls in a changing world can safely be assumed as a yes, as long as we leave enough room for the ocean to continue its natural processes. We have seen since the invention of cultured pearls all the way to today that with changes in society, come changes in the pearl industry, and these changes can have varied and lasting effects. It appears that the pearl industry has set itself up to be as timeless as the gems themselves are.

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