A History of Pearls

As we’ve written before, most people seem to agree on the appeal of pearls. People have different preferences in gemstones, or between gold and silver, etc. But we can pretty much all get together beyond the idea that pearls are beautiful, classy stones that make for beautiful jewellery. Even when there’s universal appeal behind something though, you can learn to love it more by understanding its history. So here we’re going to dive into the sprawling background behind these fascinating, beautiful little stones.

We can’t say where the first pearl was discovered, just as we certainly can’t trace the first bit of gold or the first precious gem. Most likely the earliest humans stumbled on pearls at one point or another, probably while foraging for food. That said however, there are a few areas that at least have loose claims as being the primary historical sources of pearls.

You may associate pearls particularly closely with Japan, and with good reason. A source none other than the Smithsonian called Japan’s Ago Bay the pearl capital of the world. The article noted that this is where Japan’s first real pearl farming operation got started in the early-1900s, by one Kochiki Mikimoto. That of course isn’t so very long ago when we’re talking about the entire history of the stone, but it follows the idea that there are mentions of pearls deep in the history of the Far East, with Japan being known in particular for some of the earlier saltwater pearls.

India, too, is closely linked to the history of pearls, thanks in large part to Hindu texts. Even now there’s a link between the stones and the more adventurous fictionalizations of Indian culture and history. An Irish gaming platform showcasing creations from the developer Play’n Go presents a good example in the form of Rich Wilde and the Pearls Of India. This has become a popular animated slot online and revolves around a pearl-seeking adventurer in remote reaches of India. That may be stretching the narrative somewhat but it speaks to the link between country and stone. The real history is simply that the coasts of India have long been rich with pearls, meaning that the ancients in this area undoubtedly discovered them early.

We mustn’t forget the Romans either when exploring the history of pearls in the ancient world. While no one necessarily calls Rome the pearl capital of the world, and there are no fictional adventurers seeking the stones in the ancient empire, the Romans appreciated luxury like no one before (and possibly no one since). For that matter, the Egyptians had a nice eye for finery as well, from what we know. It is perhaps not surprising then to learn that both ancient societies fed their appetite for saltwater pearls with treasures harvested from the waters of the Red Sea, Persian Gulf, and Indian Ocean. That is to say, Rome itself was never a hotbed of pearl discovery, but it was responsible for much of the stone’s link to fine culture.

As you can begin to see, pearls have history all over the world. But we truly can reach back to some of the most ancient and powerful societies in the world for the strongest links between mankind and these mesmerizing, miraculous stones. From Central Europe through the sub-continent and to the Far East, ancient peoples discovered, harvested, and adored pearls.

Not much has changed, it seems!