Pearls are now preferred to diamonds – For a long time, then, pearls were thought of as a badge of respectability, almost of authority rather than the exotic and fascinating jewels that they are. Formed when a scrap of grit, a parasite, a bit of broken shell, enters an unwary oyster’s shell, the final, exquisite, gleaming pearl is the result of layer upon layer of a substance known as nacre, secreted by the oyster and wrapped round the foreign body to prevent further damage to the oyster’s soft tissues.
A pearl is a treasure grown inside a living creature that comes from the sea. Literally hundreds of oysters have to be opened before one is found with a pearl – pearls have always been expensive, so much so that the 20th century saw the emergence of the cultured pearl – a pearl into which an irritant was artificially introduced.
The layers of nacre of which a pearl is composed are absorbent, so that external factors can influence their condition and even colour. Thus they improve with wear, picking up faint traces of oil from your skin that gives them an added gleam – so rub them with a soft chamois leather rather than wash them.
Their absorbency also means that make-up can stain them, while chemicals, such as perfume or hairspray, can damage them. In fact, in my eyes, the only downside of these beautiful objects is that you can’t wear scent with them.