Pearls have been used as adornment for centuries —at least as far back as ancient Greece, where they believed pearls were tears of the gods. The oldest known pearl jewelry was discovered in the sarcophagus of a Persian Princess who died in 520 B.C.
Ancient Japanese folktales told that pearls were created from the tears of mythical creatures like mermaids and nymphs. Early Chinese civilizations believed that dragons carried pearls between their teeth, and the dragon must be slain to claim the pearls—which symbolized wisdom.
Other cultures associated pearls with the moon, calling them “teardrops of the moon.” Hindu folklore explained that dewdrops fell from the moon into the sea, and Krishna picked one for his daughter on her wedding day.
Because natural pearls were so rare throughout history, only the richest echelon could afford them. During the Byzantine Empire, rules dictated that only the emperor was allowed to wear these treasured gemstones. Ancient Egyptians were often buried with their prized pearls.
Tudor England was known as the Pearl Age because of the stone’s popularity with the upper class during the sixteenth century. Portraits showed royals wearing pearl jewelry and clothing adorned with pearls.
Pearls became more accessible in the early 1900s when the first commercial culturing of saltwater pearls began in Asia. Since the 1920s, cultured pearls have almost completely replaced natural pearls in the market—making this classic gemstone affordable for nearly any budget.