A Writers Guide to Pearls

A pearl is a hard mass that’s created inside the soft tissue of living bivalve mollusk. It’s made of concentric layers of calcium carbonate in minute crystalline form. Pearls can be made by any shelled mollusk, but the majority of these pearls are not valued as gemstones.


pearls in oyster clam

Nacreous pearls are the best-known, most-commercially significant pearls. The pearl’s outer coating is made from layers of nacre, an organic-inorganic composite material that also makes the inner shell layer. Pearls made by other types of mollusks typically have no luster or iridescence; they are also less durable. (Nacre is also known as mother of pearl.)

There are two types of nacreous pearl bivalves:

  • the pearl oysters that lives in the sea,
  • and the river mussels that live in fresh water.

Though pearls come in many shapes, the prized pearl is a perfect sphere. Irregular shaped pearls are referred to as baroque pearls. “Natural” or “wild” pearls occur in nature without any human help. Cultured pearls are made in pearls farms with the assistance of humans.

Pearls come in many colors too, such as white, cream, pink, silver, brown, green, blue, yellow, grey, purple, and black.

The English word pearl comes from the French perle, which comes from the Latin perna meaning leg, after the ham- or mutton leg-shaped bivalve.

Why is a pearl considered a gemstone when it’s not a mineral?
It’s because they have been used since ancient times in jewelry, crowns, and thrones.

The pearl is often referred to as the Queen of Gems or Queens Gem.

strands of pearls

strands of pearls

History and Lore

  • Ancient Greeks believed that wearing pearls promoted marital bliss and that wearing pearls on your wedding day prevented tears in the marriage.
  • During the Crusades, knights gave their ladies pearls.
  • A 4,000-year-old pearl necklace, known as the Susa Pearls, found in a Persian Achaemenid queen’s sarcophagus can be seen in the Louvre. (Here is a site with pictures of it.)
  • Pearls were thought to be the tears of gods.
  • The Queen of Sheba wore pearl jewelry.
  • Supposedly, Cleopatra drank wine with ground pearls in it to protect herself from poisoning.
  • Ancient Asian Emperors drank ground pearls for longevity and beauty.
  • An old legend, as told by Pliny, suggested that oysters rose to the surface of the sea beneath the moons rays, opened their shells, and were fertilized by drops of dew creating pearls.
  • “Roman pearls” were hollowed out glass beads. The interior surfaces coated with an iridescent derivative of fish scales. Then, they were filled with wax. (The process was actually credited by a Frenchman.)
  • The Ancient Chinese believed pearls were either created in the brains of dragons or from dragons spit.
  • Eastern dragons often suspended a pearl around their necks. It symbolize the sun and held their power.
  • In addition, almost all religions reference pearls — and always in a positive light.

Famous Pearls

  • Abernathy Pearl: perfect freshwater pearl found in the River Tay, Scotland.
  • Big Pink Pearl: a 470-carat iridescent pink baroque abalone pearl.
  • Hope Pearl: 450-carat drop-shaped saltwater pearl with grading from a dark bronze to white, thought to be a blister pearl, once by Henry Philip Hope (also owned the Hope Diamond); mounted to the smaller end with an arched crown of red enameled gold set with diamonds, rubies, and emeralds.
  • Imperial Hong Kong Pearl | Miracle of the Sea: the largest nacreous, silvery-white, baroque pearls ever discovered; believed to have been owned by Empress Dowager Tz’u-Hsi (Cixi).
  • Jomon Pearl: a 5,500-year-old pearl, one of the oldest pearls.
  • La Peregrina Pearl: the largest perfectly symmetrical pearls with bright white coloration; found by African slaves off The Pearl Islands of Panama 500 years ago; owned by kings, queens, and most recently Elizabeth Taylor

Magical and Mystical Properties include

  • aiding with digestive discomfort
  • aiding with achy muscles
  • aiding in fertility
  • easing childbirth
  • enhancing personal integrity
  • helping to clear one’s mind
  • promoting calmness and emotional stability
  • promoting faith
  • promoting loyalty
  • promoting success
  • amplifying focus and meditation

Always wear pearls against your skin! Don’t let them come in contact with perfume or makeup.

Discharging & Recharging

Discharge pearls overnight in sea water for ocean pearls and fresh water for freshwater pearls. To recharge pearls, place them is an oyster shell. (In stone therapy, when using stones to heal, their energy is used up, requiring the stones to be recharged.)

This is a reference for fiction writers and should not be taken as medical or spiritual advice.gemstone index

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  1. Once a gem, always a gem, huh?

  2. “Ancient Greeks believed that wearing pearls promoted marital bliss” — No wonder my husband always buys me pearls! His first gift to me was a pearl necklace.

    I may use the bit about Chinese mythology in a story. Thanks!

  3. Neat information and who can resist pearls.

    1. When I was little, they fascinated me. I totally didn’t by they came from an oyster. Now, even when I saw one taken out of one!

  4. I love the story about the pearl coming from dragon spit! That is a story.

    Personally, I love the soft luminescence of pearls more than the sparkle of diamonds.

    1. I like both but I’m I really like opals and emeralds and agates. All those rocks that have variegated colors.

  5. Very informative, Holly, and a lot more than I knew about pearls. Also didn’t know they were regarded as having so many uses. Many of those are a first for me. Thanks for the education. I hope you are putting all this information into a book. Now that would be helpful for writers interested in gemstones and their properties.

    1. Thanks. I didn’t know that just about every religion reference pearls. Maybe I will compile it one day. I hadn’t thought about it.

      You and Dez are making me think! LOL!

  6. It’s still so fascinating to me that an animal makes them. And that some pearls come out perfectly round. Never thought of them as having healing properties, but it’s interesting the applications they’ve come up with, like aiding in child birth or enhancing personal integrity. Very cool. 🙂

  7. I would love to see some of the pearls that aren’t considered “gems!” That’s a writer for you, always interested in the outcast and underdog. Like a “snail pearl.”

    1. They have some pics on Wikipedia – I thought they were pretty, but they are really weak, but that might make a good story – easily crushed snail pearl mixed in some mead for a speed. LOL

  8. Achy muscles, eh? I gotta get me a pearl necklace posthaste.

  9. Actually, pearl is my favorite gem. THanks for so much information.

  10. I kinda don’t like them, they always seem a bit kitschy to me… I think I prefer gems and diamonds 🙂 But the process of their production is interesting … What about Mother of Pearls?

    1. How funny I didn’t even mention mother of pearl! I will add it. It’s another name for nacre.

  11. Pearl also happens to be my favorite color. Have I ever mentioned that? (It’s my cheater answer to include the whole rainbow.) But seriously, those were some awesome facts. Makes me glad I wore pearls at my wedding. 😉

    P.S. You’ve been nominated!

  12. Hi Holly .. fascinating information – I found a pearl once in South Africa and was going to get it set, then we moved and my ex was not very clever and I think it must have bounced out of my treasure box! So I no longer have it .. pity because it was a story … go out to dinner and ‘eat’ nearly a pearl!

    I do love them though … and love the facts you give us .. poor Cleopatra … I’d have thought that mix would have poisoned her .. cheers Hilary

  13. Huh, I didn’t realize that the tradition of wearing pearls for your wedding came from the Greeks – but it’s not surprising! They tend to inform a whole lot of Western culture 🙂 Thanks for another informative, helpful, fascinating post!

  14. Loved learning all this about pearls, especially the history of it! So cool!

  15. Very interesting, I love pearls! I was not aware of much of this. Thanks for educating me. 🙂

  16. Pearl is a much better word than mutton-shaped bivalve. I should put on some pearls and clear my mind.

    1. Ha! That’s so true.

  17. Nice. I did not realize all this about pearls. Thank you for sharing such interesting points.

  18. I had no idea about all these things attributed to pearls. But I’ve always liked them. They’re calming.

  19. I didn’t realize they came in shapes other than round. Never been a big fan of pearls, but I’m not a jewelry junkie.

  20. Pearls are beautiful and varied. I didn’t know all these facts about them.

  21. Fascinating! I love pearls, even though they have somewhat lowly beginnings. 🙂

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H.R. Sinclair © 2016
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