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Pearls, power, wealth, and nobility

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Jewelry couture was all about pearls in 16th century Europe. Pearls were about power, especially among monarchs, queens, kings, and aristocrats. They represented wealth, and only the noble were allowed to wear them, according to the laws of the land at that time.

To say that the Queen of England, Elizabeth I, was crazy about pearls might be the understatement of the century. During her reign, which began in 1558, she adorned herself with multiple lengthy necklaces of the lustrous beauties. Her clothes, caps, and skirts were sewn with pearly strands. Picks in her hair were positioned with individual pearls.

Let me mention the rarity of pearls in that era. The Queen’s pearls were not made in pearl production farms in China as many are made today. Then, they were found as natural pearls, one by one, typically by fishermen during a lifetime of access to warm shallow waters and fortuitous encounters with the infrequent accident of a mollusk making a pearl from a grain of sand. To say pearls were scarce back then is another understatement.

Nothing much changed for the nobility of today. The Queen’s Jewels is a personal collection of gemstone jewelry of the current Queen of England, Elizabeth II. Many of the pearl pieces in that collection originated with Elizabeth I in the 16th century. The collection grew from sources including the spoils of war to gifts for the monarch, as if there weren't enough gemstone jewelry to satisfy the high born ladies.

Fortunately for us, the women of today need not be noble, powerful, wealthy, or well known to wear pearls. Pearls, especially the freshwater varieties, fall within the affordability of ordinary folks. And, what's new in pearl jewelry includes larger size and variety of shapes. So, ladies, put on your pearls and feel like the Queen of England!