Many thousands of years ago, long before written history, human beings probably discovered the first pearl while searching the seashore for food. Throughout history, the pearl, with its warm inner glow and shimmering iridescence, has been one of the most highly prized and sought-after gems. Countless references to the pearl can be found in the religions and mythology of cultures from the earliest times. The ancient Egyptians prized pearls so much they were buried with them. Cleopatra reportedly dissolved a single pearl in a glass of wine and drank it, simply to win a wager with Mark Antony that she could consume the wealth of an entire nation in just one meal.
In ancient Rome, pearls were considered the ultimate symbol of wealth and social standing. The Greeks held the pearl in high esteem for both its unrivaled beauty and its association with love and marriage. During the Dark Ages, while fair maidens of nobility cherished delicate pearl necklaces, gallant knights often wore pearls into battle. They believed the magic of these lustrous gems would protect them from harm. The Renaissance saw the royal courts of Europe awash in pearls. Because pearls were so highly regarded, a number of European countries actually passed laws forbidding anyone but the nobility to wear them.
During the European expansion into the New World, the discovery of pearls in Central American waters added to the wealth of Europe. Unfortunately, greed and lust for the sea-grown gems resulted in the depletion of virtually all the American pearl oyster populations by the 17th century. Until the early 1900's, natural pearls were accessible only to the rich and famous. In 1916, famed French jeweler Jacques Cartier bought his landmark store on New York's famous Fifth Avenue -- by trading two pearl necklaces for the valuable property.
But today, with the advent of pearl cultivation, pearls are available and affordable to all.