The Chronicles of Pearls

Shradha Ramesh shares a note on “Pearls” an exhibition jointly organized by the Victoria and Albert Museum and Qatar Museums Authority

New York: From time immemorial the smooth, luminous and iridescent gem – the pearl, has been one of the most sought after the world over. Its significance can be gauged by the multiple historical accounts that celebrate its aura, which captivated different personalities spanning time periods and cultures. It is believed that Cleopatra dissolved a single pearl in a glass of wine and drank it, simply to win a wager with Mark Antony that she could consume the wealth of an entire nation in just one meal – such was its lure.

Pearls are likened to the cornucopia of beauty, wealth and social status. Men and Women across history have been enchanted by this gem of the sea.  A natural pearl is created, as a protective biological reflex to foreign particles that irritates the oyster. Nowadays oysters are cultivated in different corners of the world to produce pearls of different colors and shapes.

The Victoria and Albert Museum and Qatar Museums Authority will jointly showcase “Pearls”, an exhibit which narrates the timeline of pearls as jewelry through history, starting from Ancient Rome in the 1st century AD, up until Elizabeth Taylor’s pearl-drop pendant earrings, which were crafted by Bulgari in 1972. The exhibition throws light on the use of pearls in the art of jewelry making over the centuries, while highlighting their social, cultural and economic symbolism across cultures, both Western and Eastern. It enumerates the journey and evolution of designs of pearls and the invention of cultured pearls and industrial production of the gem.

Pearls in Oyster Shell Image Credit:

Pearls in an oyster shell
Image Credit:

The exhibition includes pieces from the collections of Bulgari, Cartier, Tiffany, Chaumet, Lalique and Mikimoto among other illustrious jewelry houses and designers.

Qatar and London have collaborated to establish 2013 as the Qatar UK Year of Culture, and the present exhibition is a result of this continued partnership. The organizations share a two-pronged relationship of promoting cultural exchange through education. ‘Pearls’ will be exhibited at the V&A galleries as part of the Qatar UK 2013 Year of Culture, from 21 September 2013 – 19 January 2014.

Saffronart’s recent “Treasures from the Past” exhibition featured a number of jewelry pieces highlighting the use of pearls in Indian Classical art and jewelry. To learn more about pearls, refer to Saffronart’s jewelry guide.

To read more about the exhibition, click here

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