The History of Pearls

Pretty pearls are anything but plain.

Photograph: Photo courtesy of Amazon

In Tears of Mermaids: The Secret Story of Pearls (St. Martin’s Press), Stephen Bloom sets off to nail down the history of the simple, sophisticated accessory. 
The trip, which took two years to plan takes readers from the Japanese port of Kobe, where both high quality beef and pearls are exported; to rural China, where village people make their living shucking oysters; and to Manhattan where jewel dealers do business at Sotheby’s. He also makes stops in Tahiti and Cubagua, a small island near Venezuela where Columbus himself picked up pearls.

“I was determined as ever to connect the entire serpentine string of global workers who, unknown to each other, every day pushed pearls along one giant planetary assembly line,” explains Bloom, revealing that a simple strand belonging to his mother captivated his imagination and set him on his journey.
But Tears of Mermaids is more than just the biography of a milky orb. It’s also an adventurer’s travel log, in which Bloom muses on his favorite experiences like living as a deckhand on an Australian pearling vessel and singing karaoke with Chinese businessmen.

Bloom’s adventure goes a long way in proving the pearl is anything but plain—especially when he’s observing an auction at Christie’s, where a string of 68 gumball-sized pearls belonging to an Indian Maharaja are up for grabs. Final price? $6.3 million.

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