Legend has it that Cleopatra, attempting to impress Mark Antony with the wealth of Egypt, dropped a magnificent pearl into a glass of wine. The pearl dissolved, Cleopatra toasted Mark Antony and then drank the wine, surely making it the most expensive cocktail in history!
For centuries, humans have treasured these lustrous little gems for their radiant finish and exquisite colours. As an artist I’ve always been drawn to the organic beauty of pearls, so really wanted to include them in my new collection. But, for all their natural beauty, are pearls really a sustainable choice and if not, is there a sustainable option?
Did you know that less than 1 in every 10,000 wild oysters contains a pearl? This rarity has led to pearl cultivation, a practice which has been developed over centuries. Today, almost all pearls on the market are cultured with human intervention: the shell is opened and an irritant introduced into the oyster (saltwater) or mussel (freshwater). The animal responds by coating the irritant with layers of smooth nacre over a number of years in order to protect itself, slowly forming a pearl.
SALTWATER CULTURED PEARLS
Saltwater pearls are farmed in pristine marine environments in areas like the Pacific Islands, Indonesia, Mexico and Australia. As they are very sensitive to their marine environment, oysters usually only thrive in areas with healthy ecosystems. When sustainable harvesting practices are followed, saltwater pearl farming is considered an environmentally friendly option. A good choice perhaps, but unfortunately the oyster, which typically only produces one gem at a time, often dies while the pearl is being extracted.
FRESHWATER CULTURED PEARLS
Freshwater pearls are farmed in smaller bodies of water like rivers and lakes. Muscles can produce up to 50 gems at one time, making them the most widely available and affordable type of pearl.
Around 95 per cent of these pearls are produced in China, which generates thousands of tonnes every year. Unfortunately, many of their cultivation practices result in oxygen depletion and chemical build up in the water and the muscle is almost always killed when extracting the pearl.
CRYSTAL FAUX PEARLS
The final option, and my preferred choice is faux pearls made from crystal. These are of similar weight and appearance to natural pearls, are resistant to rubbing, scratching, perfume and UV light.
Fabricated by a reputable company in The Czech Republic, the crystal pearls sourced for my latest range are lead free and manufactured in accordance with the highest environmental and sustainable manufacturing processes.
The choice for me was a simple one. Crystal pearls look and feel beautiful, are an earth friendly option and importantly no animals were destroyed in their manufacture.