One strand of pearls, a birthday present, was given with love the year I turned 16. One strand, a gift from my husband on our wedding night, belonged to his paternal grandmother. And one strand, documented in a 1953 photograph, belonged to my mother.

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Pearls need to breathe. Their luster improves with wear. I place the strands around my neck and fasten their clasps, listening for that quiet sound that means closure. The pearls are cool to the touch. Their iridescent colors — moonlight on water — glow from within.

Most gems are products of the earth, their finished surface hard and reflective. Pearls are products of the sea, formed inside the shells of oysters. A foreign material enters the shell. The oyster responds, creating layer after layer of nacre to coat the irritation. A pearl is formed.

Cut the pearl in half. Examine it under a microscope. Nature's pattern of concentric circles is made up of tiny crystals that break light into rainbows of color — light from within. I am drawn to this the same way the sea is pulled by the gravitation of the moon.

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Jewelry as adornment has flowed back and forth from simple light designs and colors to complicated heavy settings and dark stones. At times, jewelry has been architectural, geometric and bold, only to be replaced by pieces that were fluid and graceful.

If one lives long enough, their jewelry box reflects these changes. However, underlying all these fads and phases is the pearl. Its history goes beyond personal.

Pearls have been harvested from the Persian Gulf, the Red Sea and the Indian Ocean for thousands of years. Credited with talismanic and medicinal properties, it was believed pearls guarded against danger and disease.

Pearls are referenced in the Bible, the Koran and the sacred books and epic tales of India. Their importance is recorded in the earliest histories of China, Egypt and Rome.

Pearls have been worn as jewelry, sewn onto clothing and made into decorative objects. Considered the "queen of gems," pearls have adorned Indian and Middle Eastern rulers, the imperial family in China, Renaissance royalty and Russian royalty from Peter the Great through the Romanovs.

Gibson girls wore pearls. So did flappers. Josephine Baker, Theda Bara and Coco Chanel made bold statements with pearls.

The arrival of cultured pearls on the market led to widespread distribution and popularity. It was in the 1950s, as a 6-year old playing dress-up, that I first wore my mother's pearls ...

I study my reflection in the mirror and take a deep breath. It is said that pearls bring peace. Let's hope so. I much prefer small, quiet get-togethers. Nevertheless, I am on my way to a large social event.

Later this evening, when I remove the necklaces, the pearls will be warm to the touch. I will wipe the strands with a soft cotton handkerchief, place them in their jewelry box and carefully close the lid.

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Published: The Daily Sentinel (Nacogdoches, Texas)

© Judy Morgan 2022 —