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The Queen of Gems

Posted on January 25 2018

 Author : Ashton Palmieri, Jacksonville, FL - 1/25/2018

Pearls were long considered the jewelry of the royal and rich. Considering it could only be created by nature, it was a rare gem and thus the most expensive. Only kings, queens, and extremely wealthy were able to afford these precious beauties. Even Cleopatra was said to be fond of the lovely white bead.


Because of its popularity, and lack of affordability, many craftsmen experimented with look-alike beads. Arguably the most successful during its time was the Roman Pearl; a hollow bead of blown glass, coated with a iridescent mixture derived from fish scales and then filled with wax to mimic the weight of a real pearl. Despite its name, the process was invented during the 18th century by M. Jaquin, a Frenchman with a knack for beauty and business. Still, only the well-off could afford this variation and even so, the pearls were known for melting and dripping wax upon the wearers body.


At the end of the 19th century, Eduard Heusch obtained the first patent to produce man-made imitation pearls. He sailed to the Spanish Island of Majorca and began producing the aptly named Majorica Pearl. His goal was to create a man-made pearl that was indistinguishable from the real, naturally occuring oyster pearl. During WWI, other factories and producers moved to the island to avoid the political and social issues occuring in France, moving the capital of pearl sales from Paris to Barcelona. By 1943, Heusch’s company “Majorica” was the leading producer of imitation pearls, manufacturing more than 2.5 million pearls. During WWII, more than 10 million pearls necklaces were shipped to the United States.


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But it wasn’t until 1953 that the process was truly perfected. A formula was produced that that could be layered many times over a glass bead, replicating the natural creation of a real pearl. The creation was completely innovative and to this day, the formula and process are a well-kept secret of the Majorica company.

However, imitation pearls had a much larger influence on the fashion industry as a whole. The mix of high/low fashion and jewelry was not a common occurence until the invention of the imitation pearl and the creation of the fashion house Chanel. Before Coco Chanel, costume jewelry was only ever worn by the poor. But Chanel believed that it was in poor taste to walk around “with millions of dollars around the neck because one happens to be rich.” Channeling the trend of “more is more”, Chanel began to wear layers upon layers of imitation pearls accented with a few real strands and gems. She began to style her models and clients in the same fashion and single handedly made costume jewelry a staple in any fashionable woman’s closet.

It’s been a long road but today we have these individuals to thank for the beautiful and affordable jewelry available at all price points. Whether your budget is $10 or $10,000, there is truly something for everyone to enjoy. Maggie Richmond prides itself on the quality and affordability for the fine gold jewelry we sell. We recognize that without those who came before us, we wouldn’t have the technologies, processes, and luxuries that we have today.


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