The pearl is the birthstone most commonly associated with June, although alexandrite and moonstone are also considered birthstones for this month, too. What is a moonstone? Here are fascinating facts and folklore about all three gemstones!
Iridescent pearls come in soft colors that complement and flatter most complexions, and they are a popular wardrobe accessory for this reason. You’ll find pearls in a spectrum of neutrals ranging from creamy white to black, and to an assortment of beautiful hues including pink, yellow, brown, green, purple, blue, and silver.
High-quality pearls have a reflective luster, making them appear creamy white with an iridescent sheen that casts many colorful hues.
Pearl Meanings, Symbolism, and Folklore
- Pearls have long been thought to symbolize modesty and purity.
- Many cultures have long associated pearls with the Moon. Hindu folklore described pearls as dewdrops from the moon.
- In ancient China, some believed that pearls guaranteed protection from fire and fire-breathing dragons. Others believed golden pearls brought prosperity and luck.
- According to Vedic texts, the pearl was born from the Earth’s waters and heaven’s powers, fertilized by lightning. In ancient Greece, pearls were believed to be the tears of the gods.
- Ancient Japanese folktales said pearls were created from the tears of mythical creatures like mermaids and nymphs.
- The phrase “pearl of wisdom” is often used to describe a wise word or statement that can often be found humorous.
- In some cultures, pearls were thought to be bad luck as the gems were stolen from living creatures. One way to counteract the bad luck was to give pearls with a meaning of love behind them.
- Pearls were once used in burials. They were placed in the mouths of the deceased to assist them on their journey beyond and would also be used to decorate burial gifts and clothes.
- The pearl is the gem given to celebrate the 3rd and 13th wedding anniversaries.
Where do Pearls Come From?
Pearls are the only gem found within a living creature. Naturally occurring pearls are created by saltwater and freshwater mollusks, e.g. oysters, clams, mussels, and abalone.
A pearl will form when an irritant gets deep inside the shell of a mollusk. In response, the mollusk will begin to coat the irritant with nacre, the shiny substance found on the interior side of its shell. Nacre is created with the mineral aragonite and an organic binder called conchiolin. That is what gives a pearl its surface luster. Natural pearls, found in the wild, can be various shapes; it is rare to find a perfectly smooth, round specimen.
As natural pearl production declined in the early 1900s, commercially cultivated gems became more important to meet the growing demand. Pearl farms will insert mantle tissue, mother-of-pearl seeds, or shell beads into mollusks to begin the process. The length of time it takes for cultivation depends on a number of factors—farm conditions, mollusk species, and the desired pearl size.
Pearls were once found in many parts of the world, but now, natural pearls are mostly confined to the Persian Gulf. Cultured pearls come from locations like China, Australia, Indonesia, and the Philippines.
Pearls in History
- Pearls have long been associated with wealth and status. For generations, royal families, as well as the wealthy, have coveted pearls and passed them down to the next generation.
- The oldest record of pearls dates back to 2206 B.C., found in the writing of a Chinese historian.
- During the Byzantine Empire, rules stated that only the emperor was allowed to wear pearls.
- In the 1890s, Japanese entrepreneur Kokichi Mikimoto successfully created the first cultured pearls.
- In 1917, Pierre Cartier traded a double strand pearl necklace for a Fifth Avenue mansion in New York City, the eventual home to Cartier’s flagship jewelry store location.
- For thousands of years, pearls have been associated with brides and weddings. It has been thought that pearls could keep a new bride from crying on her big day.
- One of the largest natural pearls in the world, Pearl Maxima, weighs just over 4 ounces.
- The Hope Pearl, once part of the Henry Philip Hope collection that included the Hope Diamond, is one of the most well-known pearls.
Pearls in Jewelry
- Pearls are a versatile gem that can be show-stopping or simple, yet elegant. The gem is used in necklaces, rings, earrings, and bracelets.
- Pearls should be kept away from sharp or rough objects to avoid scratching. It is best to wipe clean with a damp cloth after wearing and store in a soft pouch or case.
- Pearl jewelry should be put on last to avoid alcohols and acids in products like perfume and hairspray.
June’s Alternative Birthstones
The alexandrite, a rare variety of the mineral chrysoberyl, is often described as “emerald by day, ruby by night.” The stone changes color depending on the light source. In daylight, it appears as a lovely green or blue-green; under incandescent light, it appears as red or purplish-red. It is often referred to as “the alexandrite effect.” Alexandrite can also show different colors when it is viewed from different directions.
It was originally discovered in Russia’s Ural Mountains in the 1830s and named in honor of Alexander II, who would go on to become Russia’s tsar. For alexandrite to form, it requires both beryllium and chromium, which rarely occur in the same rocks. Today, alexandrite is found in Sri Lanka, East Africa, and Brazil, and because of its scarce availability, it is relatively expensive.
The moonstone, a variety of the orthoclase feldspar mineral, is associated with love, passion, and fertility, and is thought to bring good luck. Pliny the Elder, a Roman natural historian, gave the stone its name and wrote that its shimmery appearance shifted the Moon’s phases. The moonstone has also been considered an alternate birthstone for those born on a Monday, given the day’s name, which stems from Middle English Monenday (“day of the Moon”).
During formation, orthoclase and albite separate into alternating layers. When light goes between the layers, it produces a phenomenon called adularescence, which puts off a white reflection on its surface. The stone is found in parts of the United States—New Mexico, North Carolina, and Virginia—and India, Sri Lanka, Myanmar, and elsewhere.
The moonstone plays a role in many traditional beliefs:
- According to Hindu mythology, it was believed that moonstones were made of solidified moonbeams. Other cultures also associated the moonstone with moonlight, given that the stone’s internal structure scatters light when it hits it.
- One legend said that you could see the future if you placed a moonstone in your mouth during a full Moon.
- Given the Moon’s effect on the Earth’s waters, moonstone was considered a perfect talisman for sea voyages.
- Some believed that planting a moonstone in the garden during a full Moon would increase the garden’s yield and fertility.