Pearl–A June Birthstone with a Storied History

Pearl: A June Birthstone

If you were born in June, you have the luxury of choosing pearl as your birthstone. You could also choose moonstone or the extremely precious Alexandrite, but here I will feature the pearl, which is not really a stone at all, but nonetheless has represented purity and luxury since ancient times. 

A pearl is formed when a mollusk such as an oyster (saltwater) or mussel (freshwater) reacts to a piece of foreign matter in its shell. To protect itself, the mollusk produces minerals to encircle the potentially harmful particle. If the outer layer of the resulting pearl includes a substance called nacre, it will exhibit the iridescent luster for which pearls are prized. While we may often think of pearls in a limited range of colors from white to ivory, pearls naturally occur in a variety of colors, and one pearl may contain more than one color. The iridescent qualities of the pearl allow for an “overtone” color, which only shows up in reflected light, and a background which defines the pearl color, as white, black or colored. The colored versions include a rainbow of shades.

Earthly Wealth from Heavenly Dewdrops

Pearls were prized by the Romans by both men and women, not only as jewelry but also to show off wealth in entire robes or pieces of furniture adorned by pearls. Pliny the Elder described a popular belief that pearls came from heavenly dew, and this myth crosses many cultures, imbuing the pearls with heavenly powers as well as earthly wealth. During the Rennaissance, a period of European history is sometimes referred to as the Pearl Age as members of the royalty battled to exhibit the most lavish displays of pearls and in some cases to completely monopolize their use for their own families. This use of pearls to mark wealth goes further back to ancient Egypt. According to legend, Cleopatra drank a dissolved pearl to impress her suitor, Mark Antony.

Cultural Beliefs of the Metaphysical Virtues of Pearls

  • The Chinese trace the origins of the pearl to drops of liquid from the mouths of dragons which solidify as they touch the sea. 
  • Buddhism: the pearl is said to symbolize the third eye of Buddha, representing wisdom. In India, red pearls are considered one of Buddhism’s seven precious objects.
  • Hinduism: In ancient Sanskrit texts, pearls were one of the stones created by the slaying of the demon Vala. His teeth fell to the ocean and became seeds for various kinds of pearls found in not only shells, but also various animals. Each type of pearl was believed to have different mysterious powers.
  • Islam: The faithful are said to spend an eternity of bliss inside a pearl.
  • Christianity: Pearls are said to represent soul within the body as well as the purity of Christ and the Virgin Mary. The name Margaret refers to a pearl, and was used to mean “purity, simplicity and beauty.” From Apostle John’s reference to the gate of Jerusalem in the Book of Revelations comes the common phrase “pearly gates.”
  • Birthstone:  Pearls worn as a birthstone are said to help overcome “irritations” and cure fevers.
  • Astrology:  The pearl “governs the sign of Cancer” and is harmful for Aries and Vifgo
  • Dreams: dreams of pearls are said to symbolize “sorrow and disillusionment”

Source: Knuth, Bruce, G. Gems in Myth, Legen, and Lore. Parachute, CO: Jewelers. 2007.

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