Pearl History Timeline
Pearl History of Egypt
We know that in ancient civilizations, long before recorded history, people adorned themselves with seashells and beads made from seashells. Therefore it is not surprising that the earliest use of mother of pearl in jewelry occurred in Egypt, about 5,200 years ago. Mother of pearl was used to make cartouches and beads. There are rare examples of pearls in the paintings and statuary of these eras in ancient Egypt, but pearls themselves appear to have been uncommon in these ancient dynasties.
Pearl History of India
India has a long and glorious history of appreciating pearls. About 3,000 years ago, pearls were mentioned in the Rigveda, the oldest of the Vedas. Around 2,500 years ago, the Atharaveda mentions an amulet made of pearls and used as a talisman. The ancient epic poem, the Ramayana, describes a necklace made with 27 pearls. Imagine the classic 16-inch necklace of about 9-11mm pearls - these would have been spectacular pearls! The god Krishna is also associated with pearls in important stories.
Pearl History of Persia
Pearls from the Gulf of Persia have been known for at least 2,700 years, not through the written word, but sculptures and coins. The gulf pearl beds were arguably the oldest, and largest, ever known. There was no other place in the world where pearl oysters grew more and better pearls, or where it was possible to dive for pearls in more places, than in the relatively warm, shallow waters of the Persian Gulf, with its many fresh water springs. Possibly the oldest pearl necklace still in existence comes from ancient Persia, from a 2,400 year old Queen's tomb. Known as the Susa necklace, it has 3 rows of 72 pearls each, held with spacer bars. This design is one of the oldest pearl necklace styles. The Susa necklace has been shown in the Louvre’s Persian gallery, for over 100 years. In The Book of the Pearl, you can find a black and white photo of this necklace opposite page 399, item 9.
Pearl History of Ceylon
Ceylon, now known as Sri Lanka, enters into the historical pearl records quite early, about 2,550 years ago. A Ceylon King is recorded as having sent gifts of pearls to his father-in-law in India. There were pearl beds in Ceylon, but Ceylon was also the crossroads of all trade in Asia.
Pearl History of the Philippines
The Filipinos are described in Chinese logs as having sold them pearls from the Philippine island of Palowan, about 1,400 years ago. Palowan is still the best pearling island in the Philippines, and is home of the famed divers of the Badjao tribe.
Pearl History of Greece
The ancient Greeks and Persians were intimately involved in pearls from about 2,500 years ago. Persia was a major source of pearls for Greece. Homer describes Juno's pearl earrings: "In three bright drops, her glittering gems suspended from her ears". A beautiful Greek necklace of pearls and gold, which dates from about 2,300 years ago, was displayed at the Metropolitan Museum of New York 100 years ago. It is one of the oldest known pieces in the world, and may still be owned by the museum. Though it has lost much of its luster, it is still a stunning piece.
Greek Egypt, as ruled by the Ptolemys and Cleopatra, was famous for conspicuous consumption of pearls, literally as well as figuratively. Conspicuous consumption has probably never reached the heights to which Cleopatra took it before or since when she made a meal of a fabulous pearl on a bet with Marc Anthony.