History of Pearl Jewelry
The history of pearls being used as jewelry is far older than most people think. In China, the first pearl used as an offering for the emperor can be traced back to 2000 years ago. In those days pearls were considered the most valuable treasure, and royalty was keen on owning them. Royalty not only wore pearls as accessories, but also used a large amount of them to decorate their crowns, furniture and even their tomb. According to historical record, 20,000 pearls were found in Queen Dowager Cixi's tomb and one pearl on her crown was "as big as an egg"! The pearls in these older times were all natural. The royalty's extravagance and natural pearls' rarity resulted in pearl-hunting workers' having a difficult life. In old days, the only way to seek for pearls was to dive into the water. Many workers were injured or died while in the hunt for pearls. The difficulty in finding pearls made them more special than any other kinds of jewelry.
In Europe, during the middle ages, pearls became a fashion item among royalty and nobles. They believed that pearls symbolized purity, peace and beauty for women, and could protect male soldiers in wars. For emperors, pearls were the symbol of power and majesty. In some countries common people were even banned to wear pearls.
Because of humanity's excessive pearl-hunting, pearls eventually became very rare. In the 19th century the discovery of diamonds in Brazil helped cause pearls to slowly loose popularity. In modern times with the introduction and development of pearl cultivation, cultured pearl production became a new and fast growing industry. Including sea pearls and freshwater pearls, cultured pearls are so much easier to obtain than natural pearls. As a result pearls have gradually been gaining back their popularity again. The difference from the olden times is that pearls are not only for royalty any more, but affordable and accessible for all classes of people. Color, shape, size and the design of pearls are much more various and diverse than ever.
Factors to consider when selecting pearl jewelry
Firstly, you need to decide which type of pearls you want. Freshwater pearls are more varied in color and shape than saltwater pearls. Freshwater pearls are not as shinny as saltwater pearls in luster, although some high quality items are already becoming an alternative to seawater pearls.
Secondly, you need to know the quality factors. No matter whether you prefer freshwater pearls or saltwater pearls, the factors to consider are always luster, shape, size, surface perfection and nacre thickness. The pearls higher in luster, rounder in shape, bigger in size, smoother in surface or thicker in nacre, are always the ones considered higher in quality. When you are checking a piece of jewelry, you can put it under the lights or compare it with another one. In fact extremely high quality pearls are very rare and very expensive, so there is no need to always search for the best quality. Rather it is best to purchase the ones you like and best suit you.
Thirdly, the style you choose should be suitable for your age, look, personality, job, and occasions where you are going to wear it. Young ladies may choose more colorful jewelry, while elder ladies may look at the comparatively more simple items, but that can vary according to the person and the occasion.
Caring for your pearl jewelry
It is better if you clean your jewelry after each time after you wear it. Avoid using high alkaline cleaners or cleaning it in an ultrasonic cleaner. Just wipe them off with a soft cloth or wash them in a mild soap such as Ivory or Lux liquid. When you don't wear them, keep them in jewelry pouches or soft cloth bags, and away from heaters or sunlight. To avoid broken strings, pearl jewelry should be restrung regularly, ideally once a year, but it may depend on how often it is worn.