I've been enjoying a book called "Jewells, a secret history" by Victoria Finlay. I thought it might be a bit dry but it's full of wonderful snippets of history and information that is new to me.
Julius Ceasar and his invasion of Britain to gain control of the mineral resources and boatloads of flaxen haired slave girls was just a front. He had his eye on the country's pearls. He'd already decreed that only aristrocrats could wear pearls and only Caesar could wear a purple toga to match.
So, pearls in Britain? River pearls, natural fresh water pearls from mussels. Rose pink from Scotland, black pearls from Ennerdale in Cumbria and white pearls from Ireland. They were harvested and exported all over Europe. (The only pearl discovered in Fleetwood is Our Brian).
Unfortunately river pearling was forbidden in 1998 due to men's greed and disregard of the delicate balance of the ecological systems and disruption of the wild mating habits of the mussels
Pearl mussels breed every summer in an orgy of shared sperm and group sex in which the male mussels spray semen over the females as they all stand in the water. Thanks to pollution and overfishing by amateurs there aren't enough mussels for a good swingers party and breeding doesn't take place.
Each Scottish river produced a slightly different pearl colour, the old pearl fishers also known as "Travellers" put it down to the amount of peat in the water.
Rivers that breed mussels also breed salmon and they have a symbiotic relationship. After the breeding orgy when one female mussel can produce about two hundred thousand spat (young'uns) they hitch a ride on a passing salmon, staying on the fish all winter then drop off in the spring. This means they settle in a different part of the river from where they started, Nature's way of stirring up the gene pool.
Now take notes, there'll be an exam.
We've all been told how pearls are formed. A wandering grain of sand slips into the mussel or oyster shell, irritates the hell out of it so it secretes nacre to cover and neutralize the nuisance.
It's usually a small parasite wanting a snack and manages to slip between two deformed shells.
French natural scientist, Raphael Dubois asked if we would love a pearl as much if we knew it was the brilliant sarcophagus of a worm.
The pearl fishers of British and Scottish rivers looked for the 'uglies' hiding under rocks and these were the keepers of the treasure. After the legendary Abernathy Pearl was discovered in the 1960s, the hordes invaded and like all hordes took every shell except the 'uglies' so greed destroyed the river mussels.
From our wormy 'uglies' of the river to the giants of the oceans. Pearl farming waits for no worm or sand grit, the shells are opened slightly, the nuclei for the nacre is inserted.......into the 'nads'.
That certainly gets the soothing nacre moving fast. In the words of Victoria Finlay, "Few outside the trade are aware that almost every pearl on sale today was born of the planned sexual violation of a small creature and considerable suffering hangs on those necklace strings".
Oh gosh darn, hang a guilt trip on a pearl lover. Add to the list, no sexually violated pearls, no blood diamonds, no Burmese rubies controlled by megalomaniacal Generals, no Columbian emeralds funded by drug lords and no 'synthetic as real' gems from thieving eBay dealers.