A Stone That Was Worshipped by Ancient Romans but Is Worth Nothing Today
This stone is a symbol of aristocracy and impeccable taste. A hundred years ago or so, people were risking their lives to get their hands on it. As a result, mineral-bearing marine animals were almost driven into extinction.
Pearls were considered the most precious stone of ancient times. In the days of the Roman Empire, a pair of pearls could be bought for 53 tons of silver, which corresponds to approximately US $9 million at the current rate. Neither did the situation differ in the Renaissance: back then only royals or court nobles could afford a jewel with pearls. The fact that the stone did not need to be pre-processed - cut, polished or refined - much likely had favoured its popularity at the time, for pearls look amazing the way they are.
A change occurred after Christopher Columbus had discovered America. Then pearls were started to be shipped to Europe in large quantities, and pretty soon a previously luxury stone turned into an easily accessible mineral. However, at one point, pearls became an object of interest once again. It was caused by a drastic decrease in oysters when some species even ceased to exist altogether because of the massive extermination. An outcome was not that surprising if taking into account that up to 10,000 oysters could have been opened, yet a single ideally-shaped pearl would have been fetched.
A revolution in the pearl market took place at the beginning of the XX century when a Japanese entrepreneur, Kōkichi Mikimoto, invented a solution allowing culturing pearls inside oysters. According to the legend, a young man from a poor family once visited a jewellery store since he wanted to buy a jewel for his wife. A pearl rope’s price was to Mikimoto’s surprise so high, he got shocked. Hence he came up with an idea of cultivating pearls.
The method was as follows: an oyster was seeded with a small amount of nacre that acted as an irritant, thus provoking the mollusc to produce the material. It took as long as five years for Mikimoto to culture his first pearl and twenty years more to gain success. Nowadays, the Japanese’s name is closely linked to the mineral in question, but what is more important the problem of preserving natural resources - yet without stopping the production of pearls - was solved. Natural pearls were banned from extracting, with cultured pearls completely taking over the jewellery market.
Artificial pearls are mainly used in jewellery, despite that they are causing a lot of troubles to jewellers. The challenge arises from the uniqueness of pearls. Every single one differs from the others, and finding two alike is nearly an impossible task.
Jewel items made of natural pearls are, in turn, impossible to be found in shops. They are kept in private collections and, if auctioned, they are insanely expensive.