At the breaking up of the French crown treasury in 1791, a superb spherical pearl of large size sold for forty thousand dollars, and two pear-shaped pearls, weighing two hundred and fourteen grains, were valued at thirty thousand dollars each. The Shah of Persia possesses one of the finest pearls in the world, worth three hundred thousand dollars. The Imam of Muscat has refused one hundred and fifty thousand dollars for one of his famous gems. Perhaps the most extraordinary pearl now known is in Mr. Beresford Hope's collection in South Kensington; it is two inches long, four in circumference, and weighs eighteen hundred grains.
When Rome ruled the world, a wonderful pearl worth four hundred thousand dollars was cut in halves for earrings for the Venus in the Pantheon. The pearl of the Cleopatra legend is said to have been of equal value—though if swallowed it must have been as a pill without sugar coating, since gem experts assert that no acid the human stomach could endure will dissolve a pearl; indeed, the most powerful acids known only discolor and destroy the outer layers of nacre after long immersion. Authorities do not agree upon this point, however.
While the white pearl is really the ideal pearl of all ages, fashion, local in place and time, has favored other colors for the hour. Rose-colored pearls have been the fad in Paris for several seasons, to the enriching of the Scottish fishers. The Chinese prize yellow pearls; and just now black pearls, if of perfect quality, command the highest price. The largest and finest black pearls come from the La Paz pearling grounds off Lower California, which also yield pink pearls.
The color of pearls, as well as the quality and especially the lustre, depends on the peculiar environment of the oyster, the chemical composition of the water. The inky fluid ejected by the great squid is believed to affect the color of pearls. Temperature and the health of the mollusk may modify the nacreous deposits. Be all this as it may, when the oyster ranches already alluded to shall be established on our California coast, we may well expect that, with the co-operation of chemical and biological science, marvelous results will be obtained in both the quality and color of pearls—any color being produced at pleasure. Women of fashion and wealth will then order their pearls a season ahead, to be grown of desired form, lustre, and color, to harmonize with their gowns, as to-day they order in advance the gowns themselves.
Artificial pearls, which only the expert is likely to detect, are made by coating the inside of thin glass spheres with a solution of liquid ammonia and the lustrous coating of the lower scales of the bleak and dace, filling the bulb with melted wax.