Pearl is June’s birthstone, lending its ethereal beauty to the traditional month for weddings. Since ancient times, when the month was dedicated to the Roman Goddess of marriage, it has been considered good luck to take marriage vows beneath June’s sunny skies. Even today, one cannot imagine June without conjuring images of brides in lace and, of course, pearls.
Pearls glow with an iridescent luster and represent both purity of heart and mystery of spirit. Purity for its spiritual iridescence, mystery because the ancients didn’t know where pearls came from. The Greeks hypothesized that pearls were the hardened teardrops of Aphrodite, born of the sea. The Chinese suspected that pearls were petrified dragon brains. Arabs believed that pearls were solidified moonlight.
The actual explanation for the formation of pearls is just as fanciful. Unlike gemstones which are embedded in the earth through geological processes, June’s birthstone is the product of biology. To be precise, pearls are created by mollusks when an irritant is trapped inside its shell.
Much like humans develop hard layers of skin called calluses to protect us from irritation, pearl oysters coat the invading particle with a layer of nacre—a hard smooth substance. Over time, layer upon layer of nacre covers the irritant—the more layers, the more lustrous the pearl.
Round pearls are the most famous, but June’s birthstone comes in a variety of shapes. Beyond a simple strand of pearls, pearl beaded jewelry is very popular with brides. So-called ‘coin’ pearl beaded jewelry is made with flattened disk shape pearls. There are also irregularly shaped pearl beads known as ‘nugget pearls’ and even long ‘stick’ shaped pearls that make more natural beaded jewelry.
Though elegant bridal white is the color most frequently associated with June’s birthstone, pearls also come in pink, yellow, grey and black. Natural black pearls are the most valuable because of their rarity. Pearls are also valued by their shape—perfectly round ones being the most expensive.
Though beautiful, genuine pearl birthstone jewelry requires more care than other gemstones. Pearls can lose their iridescent luster if left in a dry environment, so it is recommended that you wear your pearl birthstone jewelry often to keep it moist with your own skin oil. On the other hand, you should avoid showering or otherwise soaking pearl jewelry in water.
Softer than other gemstones, pearls can be chipped and scratched or otherwise ruined if not treated delicately. In fact, one of the most famous stories about pearls centers on its destruction.
They say Cleopatra of Egypt once wagered Marc Antony that she could hold the most expensive banquet in history. To make good on her bet, she took one of her pearl earrings—one of the largest pearls in the known world—and dropped it into a cup of vinegar. When the pearl dissolved, she drank it as wine. He was apparently so impressed that he forsook his wife and took Cleopatra as a lover.
This story about Cleopatra was perhaps propaganda invented by her enemies to destroy her reputation. After all, with June’s birthstone representing purity and marriage, what could it say about Cleopatra that she was willing to destroy such a valuable pearl for Antony? True or not, the story painted Cleopatra as an ancient home wrecker which goes to show you the important symbolism and mysterious power of June’s birthstone—the ethereal pearl.