The pearl is the world’s oldest jewel. Countless myths entwine themselves around its genesis. Some ancient cultures even believed that pearls were the tears of the gods. One reason for its perpetual fascination is surely the fact that a pearl is a jewel that nature gives us readymade, consummately beautiful. Once a pearl has matured inside its mollusc, it already possesses all the attributes to make it the perfect ornament for its feminine wearer. This nacreous treasure has always been particularly appealing to women. Prosperous ladies in ancient Rome also wore their pearls at night in the belief that doing so would bring them lovely dreams.
The ocean packages its jewels in pretty containers, too.
For many years, pearls were so rare that they were reserved exclusively for the wealthy and privileged. Not until the turn of the nineteenth century was the mystery of their genesis solved in the Far East, where the first successful attempts were made to cultivate pearls. The Japanese found a way to artificially initiate the natural process of mother-of-pearl formation. Both natural and cultured pearls result from a process inside the mollusc as it defends its soft tissue against a trespassing parasite or a deliberately implanted kernel by coating the intruder with layer upon layer of motherof- pearl crystal platelets (aragonite). For both kinds of pearls, this process takes several years and is vulnerable to many disruptive factors. The success of individual cultivators can be seen at Japanese pearl auctions, which are held twelve times each year in either Tokyo or Kobe.
Wempe is one of the few European jewellers permitted to bid biannually for the sea’s most beautiful jewels. Merchants stake their reputations on the fact that nothing but authentic cultured pearls are traded at these auctions. A simple “tooth test” can be applied to confirm the authenticity of pearl jewellery: real pearls feel rough and sandy against the teeth, butartificial pearls slide smoothly off them.