My Scottish pearls drop earrings from the River Tay (and other info)


Sep 30, 2019
These are the real deal. I purchased these from Alistair Tait in Edinburgh. They are licensed by Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH) to create new jewellery from Scottish river pearls collected before 27 March 1991. Every time he creates a piece, he says that his collection of pearls diminishes, and when they're gone, that's it. SNH have no plans anytime soon to allow anyone to resume collecting river pearls. The species is currently decimated by illegal poaching and other reasons. The show Outlander has caused a fever for them, and beds have been greatly disturbed in recent years - with no pearls found. It is incredibly harmful to our environment here, and SNH has had to work hard with local communities and the police to try to crack down on the poachers. The freshwater pearl mussel (Margaritifera margaritifera) is endangered.

SNH's report (2015) states (where 'recruitment' means the species is showing signs of growing or increasing):

- Of 125 watercourses for which post-1998 pearl mussel data are available, 71 showed signs of recent successful recruitment and 43 were not successfully recruiting. Since the first national survey, freshwater pearl mussels have apparently become extinct in 11 watercourses.
- All of the extinctions occurred in watercourses where the mussel populations had previously been assessed as “functionally extinct” i.e. without evidence of recruitment. Extinctions occurred in all hydrological regions for which the total sample size exceeded one watercourse.
-All of the extinctions occurred in watercourses where the mussel populations had previously been assessed as “functionally extinct” i.e. without evidence of recruitment. Extinctions occurred in all hydrological regions for which the total sample size exceeded one watercourse.
-Of the 105 watercourses for which both baseline and current data were available, the pearl mussel population status remained unchanged in 79. Evidence of substantial decline (either extinction or failure of recruitment) was evident in 20 watercourses. No strong regional variation in decline was identified.
-Apparent improvements occurred in only six watercourses. The improved classifications of three rivers resulted from finding single juvenile mussels and may be considered tenuous. Evidence of more regular and recent recruitment was identified in one particular watercourse.
-An analysis of threats was carried out based on survey findings, surveyors’ wider knowledge of the rivers, published data and records of pearl fishing incidents.
-Pearl fishing was identified as having occurred since the first national survey (and subsequent ban) on a minimum of 35.2% of rivers. This included a high proportion of designated sites (SACs and/or Sites of Special Scientific Interest).
-Water quality (incl. pollution) and hydrological alterations (inc. river engineering, and abstractions) were identified as threats on 25.4% and 18.0% of watercourses respectively. These figures may be conservative.
-Declines or low numbers of host fish were apparent in 27.0% of watercourses. There was a strong regional trend, with lack of host fish identified as a threat on 43.1% of west Highland watercourses. The figure may be conservative.
-Climate change and associated habitat instability was identified as a direct concern in 21.3% of watercourses. In most regions the figure was close to 25%, but only 15.4% of West Highland rivers were identified as threatened. This may be a substantial underestimate as the natural instability of spate rivers makes change difficult to identify unless it is clear that loss of previously recorded habitat has occurred.

Overall, the data suggest a pattern of continuing decline of M. margaritifera in Scotland. Among the most pressing needs is a better understanding of the factors underlying recruitment failure.

Now that the scientific evidence is complete, I hope it is clear just how rare and precious these oval drops are. Alistair Tait has only been able to create one other pair of earrings like this, and they were created for his son. I am a regular customer at his shop.

I am not going to state how much I paid. Please don't ask. :) I bought these because I believe in preserving heritage. These pieces will never be treated with anything other than the respect they deserve. I will wear them and cherish them all the days of my life. I hope one day to give them to my descendants.

They are handcrafted on 18ct gold. The posts contain a number of tiny hallmarks that cannot be captured except on very good macro lenses, which I do not have. Sorry! I can fit them into my knitting needle gauge, to give you an idea of size. :) If you knit, that will give you an idea of the difference of sizes between them.


These two images are from postcards that Alistair Tait kindly provided for me. They give a good selection of images of what Scottish pearls in his collection have looked like over the years. The earrings have been sold.

These three pieces are currently for sale in his shop. Apologies for the poor photos - they were taken (with permission) on my mobile yesterday.

The two brooches are Scottish Luckenbooth brooches, a specific style attributed to the Edinburgh Luckenbooths (now demolished) that were once situated on the Royal Mile. The design actually dates to the Middle Ages and were originally meant to ward off evil or increase breastmilk supply, but also are given as love tokens. They became extremely popular because reportedly, Mary Queen of Scots became enamoured of them, and wore them. The crown symbolises loyalty forever, the heart symbolises love and fidelity. Mary Stuart and Mary Queen of Scots incorporated an 'M' design that often appears now as a diamond or something similar. If you come to Edinburgh, you'll usually find them being offered in tourist shops in pewter. But if you want something truly special, go to an antique shop and find a silver piece. Or... get this. :) These are on silver, I think. That's the tradition.


Apologies for this poor photo. The shop was closing up for the day and I was in a hurry. This is handcrafted on 18ct white gold. It is a Scottish pearl with a diamond. Alistair Tait does not create more than one piece in any design that contains a Scottish pearl. If you purchase one of his pieces with a Scottish pearl, that design is unique. I love that about his commitment to his work. He'll send it to his workshop to have it created, and whatever comes back is unique. Just like these precious pearls.

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A lovely and unique pair of earrings! Thank so much for sharing all that!

I enjoy Diana Gabaldon's Outlander series of books of books, and the shows, and am saddened that they have led people to disturb the mussel beds.

BTW I don't see the photos in post 2, just attachment numbers. Try resizing the photos smaller and posting again.
Lovely earrings. I also cannot see the other photos. I agree with cropping them slightly and then trying to repost them.
Pretty earrings! Congratulations! I can't see the pics in your second post either.
I think that worked? Please let me know if the editing worked? :)
I just wanted to post these mostly as a giant thank you for the resource, and in the hopes that people searching online for Scottish pearls can understand how they can acquire them legally. It *is* possible to do it without hurting what few mussel beds are left growing in the wild. (I'm not implying anyone here would do that. However, because people might stumble onto this post via the internet, I'm hoping those people will see this post and realise they can purchase these things legally.)

The only other shop that is licensed by Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH) to sell Scottish pearls is Cairncross of Perth, and they may only do so using pearls that were collected before 1998. They have been trading since 1869. I will be going to their shop soon to take a look at what they have. If they allow me to post photos, I'll upload them. You can see what they have on their website here:

There are some auction houses that have licenses by SNH to sell vintage and antique Scottish pearl pieces on behalf of individuals. If you keep an eye out on the auction houses, you can grab a serious bargain.

IF YOU SEE ANYWHERE ELSE (eBay, Etsy, etc) claiming to sell a Scottish pearl in the UK that is NOT licensed by SNH to do so, it is completely illegal. You should phone SNH and let them know what you've found and where so they can take appropriate action. It is completely illegal for anyone in the UK to sell a Scottish pearl if they do not have a license by SNH to do so. If, for example, I wanted to sell my Scottish pearls, I would have to find someone with a license and ask them to sell them on my behalf. If I tried to do it any other way, I would be breaking the law and be liable for a penalty of up to six months' imprisonment and a maximum fine of £5,000 under the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981.
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Thank you for posting all this interesting information about Tay pearls loopysheep. I have heard of Cairncross before. They are a well known Scottish firm who have handled many of the more important freshwater pearls found in Scotland I believe.
Thank you! This is definitely a great addition to Pearl Guide. Those earrings are perfect. Enjoy them in good health.
Hello, I don't want to run afoul of any Scottish pearl regulations- it is hard if one is buying online from UK sellers to know for sure. That said, I really doubt that these are Scottish, but can anyone give their best guess whether this circa 1925 pearl necklace from Wales (which may not even be real pearls) looks like Scottish pearls? Again, I don't want to contribute to any endangered pearl species decimation. Thanks for any clues and unofficial advice. pearl photo1.jpgpearl photo2.jpgpearl photo3.jpgpearl photo4.jpg (disclaimer: these are not my original photos- they belong to the seller)
Those look like imitation pearls. See the extra build-up of coating near the drill holes? That is typical of imitations.
cool, thanks much, yes, I was looking at the build-up myself, doubting it was real at all. Still, I like the colour!