As you look through your jewelry collection or search for your newest fashion accessory, it is easy to forget that people have been adorning themselves with pearls for centuries. The oldest written reference to pearls came from China in 2206 BC, where pearls were thought to offer protection from fire and dragons. This was likely due to the fact that ancient Chinese lore told of pearls falling from the sky when dragons fought.

Pearls have long been associated with love, which may explain why they’re the standard gift for the first, third, twelfth and thirtieth wedding anniversaries. Ancient Greeks believed that wearing pearls would prevent newlywed women from crying and would promote overall marital bliss (most pearl jewelry often does).

In ancient Rome and medieval France, only the aristocracy was allowed to wear pearls – a restriction unlikely to have been met with much of a challenge, given the expense of these gems at the time. Christopher Columbus told of native peoples adorning themselves in pearls during his voyages to the New World. And in Elizabethan England, pearls could only be worn by royalty. The predictable result was that pearls came to be associated with wealth and power, making them all the more desirable.

So as you freely choose to wear a strand of pearls or other piece of pearl jewelry from your collection, or as you shop for something new, remember that as recently as a few hundred years ago your jewelry could have been limited to the neck of a queen. Thankfully, changing times have made pearl jewelry available to us all.


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