Monday, June 1, 2015

06.01.15 Pearls of wisdom...

Can someone please explain to me just how it got to be June!?  Wasn't I just writing an April post about diamonds?

I'm not sure how it happened, but since it's here, I am happy to write about June birthstones. Three different stones are all considered to be "traditional" for June; pearls, moonstone and alexandrite - depending on the source.   Three different stones is really too much for one post, so today I'm starting with the pearl, the oldest of them.

Photo Credit: Becca Knox
Pearls have been used in jewelry since antiquity.  They were prized by the Romans, and have appeared in works of art for centuries.

Recently, a friend who reads my blog, and lives in Seattle, tagged me in some photos she took when she went to the Pompeii Exhibit at the Pacific Science Center. She commented "What was old is new again?"  She couldn't be more right - and how appropriate, as I was in the midst of writing this post about pearls for June.

Photo Credit: Becca Knox
For these 2,000 year old baubles, the item description reads  "Earrings of this style were very common in the area around Vesuvius.  They were described by the contemporary writer and historian Pliny the Elder, who died when Vesuvius erupted.  Women particularly loved that these earrings made sounds whenever they moved their heads."

I don't know about you - but I love earrings that jingle a little bit when I wear them.  Some things (pearls and jingles among them) are truly timeless. 

Photo Credit: Mauritshuis Museum

Pearls are also frequently featured in works of art other than jewelry. One of the most famous depictions of pearl jewelery is by the 17th Century painter Johannes Vermeer, The Girl with the Pearl Earring.  Author Tracy Chevalier wrote a work of historical fiction by the same name, in which a young woman sits for the portrait wearing pearl earrings belonging to the artist's wife.

Another famous work of art featuring pearl earrings is
Venus in Front of a Mirror, by Peter Paul Rubens which hangs at the Metropolitain Museum of Art.  The pearl you see on Venus is white, the one reflected in the mirror is black.  
Photo Credit: Met Museum

So iconic are the earrings in the painting, the museum shop has carried a costume jewelry quality pair for years - and they continue to be a best seller.
Photo credit: Met Museum Store
Pearls aren't really stones - but concentric layers of calcium carbonate - built up over time in the soft tissue of mollusks (clams or oysters).  Truly natural pearls are rare and incredibly expensive.  Cultured pearls are produced in the same manner as natural pearls (except that a starter is inserted into the oyster).  In both cases, the desire is to have pearls that are round and have a high lustre.

I love pearls - cultured, freshwater, faux - and have lots of them in my jewelry box.  I think everyone should have a simple strand and pair of studs (real or not) for dressing up.

Among my favorites are two pieces I have had the longest.  The first is a graduated strand of Mikimoto pearls.  My father traveled extensively when I was in college - including managing a project in Japan.  He brought these back to me for my twenty first birthday, I still treasure them, and and I love wearing them with a simple tee and cardigan as much as when I dress up.

In the summer of 1985 I moved to Austin to start graduate school.  It didn't take me long to scout out some wonderful local jewelry stores. I spotted this vintage pearl and sapphire pin in one of them - and had my eye on it for months.  When I got my first real paycheck (post graduate school) I decided to splurge.  It was the first (of many) pieces of fine jewelry I bought for myself.

So, if you don't have pearls in your jewelry wardrobe, add some.  They don't have to be real, or expensive - but they are classic -  and dress up any outfit.

Until next time.

Czar Alexander II

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