June is one of only two months that has three birthstones associated with it: Pearl, Moonstone and Alexandrite. We will focus mainly on the Pearl in this post, as it is the most commonly used in jewellery out of the three.
Who comes with summer to this earth And owes to June her hour of birth A pearl should wear against her skin Who's innocence many a heart shall win. – Gregorian birthstone poem ***
The History of the Pearl
Pearls have been used as adornment for centuries. In ancient Greece they believed pearls were tears of the gods. The oldest known pearl jewellery was discovered in the sarcophagus of a Persian Princess who died in 520 B.C. Because natural pearls have been so rare throughout history, it was something only the richest in society could afford. Pearls became more accessible in the early 1900s, when the first commercial culturing of saltwater pearls began in Asia.
He created the world’s first cultured pearl in 1893 by manually introducing an irritant into an oyster to stimulate it to form a pearl.
Where are Pearls found?
Pearls are the only gemstones made by living creatures. Molluscs produce pearls by depositing layers of calcium carbonate around microscopic irritants that get lodged in their shells (usually not a grain of sand, as is commonly believed).
Pearls used to be found in many parts of the world, but natural pearling is now confined to the Persian Gulf waters near Bahrain. Australia owns one of the world’s last remaining pearl diving fleets, and still harvests natural pearls from the Indian Ocean.
Pearls are very soft, ranging between 2.5 and 4.5 on the Mohs scale. This means they could get damaged fairly easily, making them less ideal for rings. In spite of this, pearl rings are still fairly common.
They are sensitive to extreme heat and acidity; in fact, calcium carbonate is so susceptible to acid that pearls will dissolve in vinegar.
The finest pearls have a reflective lustre, making them appear creamy white with an iridescent sheen that casts many colourful hues.
Things you might not have known
- In many cultures, pearls symbolize purity and innocence, which is why it’s tradition for a bride to wear pearls on her wedding day.
Pearl Earrings created by Studio Loubser
Naturally, pearls can range from white to yellow, pink, grey and black, depending on where they come from and what kind of mollusc created them. Cultured freshwater pearls can also be dyed a wide range of colours: yellow, green, blue, brown, pink, purple or black.
Appropriately, the name “pearl” comes from the Old French perle, from the Latin perna meaning “leg,” referencing the leg-of-mutton shape of an open mollusc shell.
Coco Chanel was very fond of pearls and is credited for making them an everyday wearable fashion item. She said, “A woman needs ropes and ropes of pearls.”
Now for a look at the other June birthstones, Moonstone and Alexandrite.
Interesting facts about Moonstone
Moonstone was named by the Roman natural historian Pliny who wrote that their shimmery appearance shifted with the phases of the moon.
Moonstone is composed of microscopic layers of feldspar that scatter light to cause the effect of adularescence (a milky glow, like moonlight floating on water). Thinner layers produce a bluish sheen and thicker layers look white. Moonstone comes in a range of colours spanning yellow, grey, green, blue, peach and pink—sometimes displaying a star or cat’s eye.
This gemstone’s weakness is its relatively low hardness of 6 on the Mohs scale, making it prone to stress cracking and cleaving. Care is required with moonstone jewellery like rings or bracelets; brooches and pendants are preferred.
Interesting facts about Alexandrite
- A relatively modern gem, alexandrite was discovered in Russian emerald mines. It was named for Alexander II because it was discovered on the future czar’s birthday in 1834. Because this unique gemstone changed colours from green to red—the national colours of Russia—alexandrite became Imperial Russia’s official gemstone.
- Often described as “emerald by day, ruby by night,” alexandrite is a rare variety of the mineral chrysoberyl, which changes colour from bluish green in daylight to purplish red under incandescent light.
Under daylight - left, under incandescent light - right.
This chameleon-like behaviour is the result of its uncommon chemical composition, which includes traces of chromium, the same colouring agent found in emerald. The unlikelihood of these elements combining under the right conditions makes alexandrite one of the rarest, most expensive gems.
George Frederick Kunz, the master gemmologist at Tiffany & Co., was very fond of it, and produced a series of alexandrite rings between the late 19th and early 20th century.
- With a hardness of 8.5 on the Mohs scale, alexandrite is softer than sapphire and harder than garnet – the other gemstones that can change colour. However, due to its scarcity, alexandrite is more valuable than most gems, even rubies and diamonds. This rarity means that the majority of stones available are actually synthetic (grown in a laboratory) rather than natural.