Friday, 31 May 2013

The Floral Furtiveness of the Perplexing Posies

There's rosemary, that's for remembrance;
Pray, love, remember: and there is pansies. That's for thoughts.
There's fennel for you, and columbines:
There's rue for you; and here's some for me:
We may call it herb-grace o' Sundays:
O you must wear your rue with a difference.
There's a daisy: I would give you some violets, but they withered all when my father died.
Shakespeare, Hamlet, Act IV Scene V

             Ophelia knew of what she spoke, even in her madness. Symbolic meanings have long been attached to flowers, but it was not until Lady Mary Wortley Montagu and Aubry de La Mottraye introduced floriography into England and Sweden respectively, in the early eighteenth century from Ottoman Turkey, that the practice took hold in the popular European imagination, as part of the new craze for all things Orientalist. 

Robert Tyas - The Language of Flowers

Before long, the scant descriptions of Montagu and La Mottraye were added to by a long series of writers, from Louise Cortambert’s Le Language des Fleurs (1819), through Henry Phillips’ Floral Emblems (1825), Frederic Shoberl’s Language of Flowers (1834) and Robert Tyas’ Sentiment of Flowers (1836), with an immensely popular edition published by Routledge and illustrated by Kate Greenaway in 1884. 

Language of Flowers - illustrated by Kate Greenaway

A popular method of describing the meanings of individual flowers was the weekly or monthly columns published in magazines and newspapers, which could run over several years without repeating themselves. With such an immense field, there were bound to be conflicting interpretations of the plants and flowers, although in time a general consensus of opinion emerged. 

Frederic Shoberl - The Language of Flowers - 1835

The strength of the medium lay in the ability to use the various individual blooms and plants in combination, thereby producing a ‘phrase’ derived from the meanings of the separate flowers, with the whole being greater than the individual parts. 

Page from Greenaway's Language of Flowers

Thus it was possible to send very subtle and precise messages within a single bouquet, declaring nuances of love and devotion, friendship and sympathy, joy, piety, hope, despair, through to outright animosity and hatred. Fresh flowers betrayed the immediacy of the message, and news and thoughts could be conveyed without inking one’s fingers. 

Crown Imperial, Turk's cap Lily and Lily of the Valley

This illustration, from Flora’s Lexicon by Catharine H Waterman (1855), show a combination of a Crown Imperial, Turk’s Cap Lily and Lily of the Valley, which carries the meaning, ‘You have the power to restore me to happiness’. 

Forget-me-not, Hawthorn and Lily of the Valley

Another example, from Robert Tyas’s The Language of Flowers or Floral Emblems (1869), has Hawthorn, Forget-me-not and Lily of the Valley combined to give the sentiment to a departing loved one, ‘Forget-me-not! in that rests my hope for the return of happiness.’ 

Lilacs, Marvel of Peru and Spiderwort

From the same work, a plate showing Lilacs (Purple and White), Marvel of Peru and Spiderwort illustrates fear and hope alternating in the mind of a youthful aspirant to beauty's favour, ‘Youthful love is timid, and yields but transient pleasure'. 

Even the presentation of the flowers within the bouquet carried meaning; a rosebud or other thorny stem presented bearing both leaves and thorns meant ‘I fear but I hope’, if both leaves and thorns were removed, it became a warning, ‘neither to fear nor hope’, whereas taking away the thorns meant, ‘there is nothing to fear’, but removing the leaves and keeping only the thorns said, ‘there is everything to fear’. 

Rose, Ivy, Myrtle - To Beauty, Friendship and Love

And within the bouquet itself, there was meaning. A flower presented with its leaves intact meant a positive affirmation of its meaning, but taking off the leaves meant that the negative sentiment was intended; in flowerless plants, cutting off the tops of the leaves carried the same intent. When a flower is inclined to the left, the pronoun ‘I’ is intended, when it inclines to the right, ‘thou’ is meant; when tying a ribbon or silk band to a stem, a knot to left as you look at it means ‘I’ or ‘me’, a knot to the front means ‘thou’ or ‘thee’. If an answer to a question is being sent, a flower placed on the right replies in the affirmative, on the left means a negative answer. 

Henry Phillips - Floral Emblems - 1825

When worn on the body, a flower placed on the head means ‘caution’, on the breast it means ‘remembrance’ or ‘friendship’, and over the heart means ‘love’. To modern tastes, some of the meanings seem reasonable enough – beauty by the full-blown rose, oblivion by a poppy, glory by the laurel and peace by the olive, but others seem odd, to say the least. How about sending your love a cabbage (profit), a potato (benevolence) or a pineapple (you are perfect)? 

Page from Greenaway's Language of Flowers

Of course, if the messages were as well known now as they were then, it would not seem in the least bit strange and everything would be tickety-boo and, let’s face, it is a all little bit more inventive and romantic than a dozen red roses on St Valentine’s Day or a mixed bunch of scrawny dahlias, leggy carnations and an unidentifiable stalk of greenery snatched at the last minute from a late-night filling station when you’ve forgotten her birthday. Again.

Thursday, 30 May 2013

The Cryptic Communications of the Fluttering Fans

                Using jewels as a means of conveying covert messages was but one way of sending secret signals employed by our forbears. In the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, a secret language developed that made use of a ubiquitous fashion accessory – the fan. 

An Autograph Fan

Fans were used for far more than simply keeping cool or swatting away the odd flying insect; there were mourning fans, fortune telling fans, autograph fans, riddle fans, political fans, programme fans and many, many more. 

French Fan c.1750

Opera and theatre fans may have been decorated with bars of music, lyrics or scenes from a play. Game fans bore the rules of a game, with a coloured border of playing cards. Fans were produced to celebrate royal births or marriages. Fans featuring portraits of favourite preachers, and verses and illustrations from the Bible enlivened Church services. 

Heavenly Fans

There were fans of starched lace, feathered fans, silk and taffeta fans, jewelled fans, kid leather fans, painted fans and printed fans, gold and silver fans, plain fans, fancy fans, paper fans, folding fans, fluttering fans; in short, fans of every sort, for every occasion, were everywhere. 

Cherubs and Fan

The fan could be used simply as a means of showing support for a cause, faction or party, just through the colours or an illustration, rather like those used today to display one’s support for a sports team or popular band, but there was another way that depended on how the fan was held and used. 

Frank Brangwyn - The Blue Fan - Silk

At its simplest, this could be something as obvious as holding a closed fan to the right cheek, conveying assent or ‘Yes’, and the reverse message, ‘No’ was sent by holding the closed fan to the left cheek. 

This Lady says Yes

Joseph Addison, writing in The Spectator of June 27th 1711, says, 
Women are armed with Fans as men with Swords—and sometimes do more execution with them . . . There is an infinite variety of motions to be made use of in the flutter of a Fan. There is the angry Flutter, the modest Flutter, the timorous Flutter, the confused Flutter, the merry Flutter, and the amorous Flutter … I need not add that a Fan is either a Prude or Coquette according to the nature of the person who bears it!” 

Joseph Addison

As may be expected, this language quickly grew, with specific gestures used to send specific messages. A closed fan placed near the heart meant, ‘You have won my love’, a closed fan resting on the right eye meant, ‘When may I see you?’, the number of sticks folded out from the fan indicated the hour. Drawing a fan across the cheek said, ‘I love you’, drawing a closed fan through the hand said, ‘I hate you’. Clasping the hands beneath an open fan, ‘Please forgive me’; covering the left ear with an open fan, ‘Do not betray our secret.’ 

The Ubiquitous Fan

Closing the fan whilst fanning oneself slowly meant, ‘I am married’, doing the same whilst fanning oneself quickly meant, ‘I am engaged’, closing the fan quickly and impetuously meant, ‘I am impatient’, slowly and deliberately closing a fully opened fan meant, ‘I promise to marry you’. Dropping the fan, ‘I belong to you’, pressing a half-opened fan to the lips, ‘You may kiss me’, pressing a fully-opened fan to the lips, ‘I don’t trust you’, twirling the fan in the right hand, ‘I love another’, twirling the fan in the left hand, ‘We are being watched’. 

Fan Flirtation

The famous Parisian fan-maker, Maison Duvelleroy, even went so far as to present the purchasers of their new fans with a little printed card that gave a brief outline of the code. Which, of course, meant that everyone who bought a fan was in on the secret, and as Duvelleroy’s sold hundreds of thousands of fans, so hundreds of thousands of people made the secret code something less than secret. It was a gimmick, a selling point, and buyers love to believe that they are members of a small group of cognoscenti, belonging to an elite, select minority. 

Dutch Theatre Fan c.1730

Now if the whole of Europe is busy fluttering its fans, flapping and twirling and dropping the things across the continent, there will be occasions when a message got through, under the radar, so to speak, of an inattentive chaperon, but all in all, it was a bit of fun and not really meant to be taken seriously. It was not unlike modern B1ff or 1337-speak (again, LEET derives from ‘elite’, also a manifestation of a secret coding in-crowd), which can be impenetrable to teh n00bs, but is plain when U R pwnage & AYB. 


There were other fan-messaging languages that were used, the simplest of which had the letters of the alphabet printed onto the folds of the fan and all that needed to be done was to spell out words by displaying the individual letters, something which is, again, hardly secret when flashed across a crowded salon. It also implies a remarkably high level of eyesight in the gentlemen of old. 

The Parts of a Fan

A more contrived method is more akin to semaphore signalling, as the alphabet is split into five groups of five letters (‘J’ was omitted), with five movements within each of the five subdivisions – ABCDE FGHIK LMNOP QRSTU VWXYZ. These five movements were: 1 with the left hand to the right arm, 2 with the right hand to the left arm, 3 to the bosom, 4 to the lips and 5 to the forehead. Let’s say you wanted to send the word DEAR, so to begin, the fan is moved onto the right arm, signifying the first group of five letters (ABCDE), and then to the lips, signifying the fourth letter within that group. 

Try doing this with a fan ...

To make ‘E’, the fan is move back to the right arm, then to the forehead, signifying the fifth letter in the first group. ‘A’ is next, again in the first group, so it’s onto the right arm again, and the gesture is repeated to indicate the first letter of the group. Finally, ‘R’ is made by signalling the fourth group of letters, so the lips are touched with the fan, and then moving the fan onto the left arm indicates the second letter of that group. When the whole word has been spelled out, the fan is opened fully, to signal that the word has been completed. 

Ancient Greek Fan

Personally, I’d say a little written note, passed surreptitiously from hand to hand, would be far less bother than all this rigmarole, and far less open to misinterpretation, but then again, that lacks the underlying frisson of the forbidden.


Wednesday, 29 May 2013

The Surreptitious Signifiers of the Covert Communiques

                 It is a tale they narrate, saying the Titan Prometheus stole fire from the Gods and gave it to men, bringing them warmth and light, and Zeus punished him for his presumption, chaining him to Mount Caucasus and sending each day an eagle to peck out Prometheus’s liver, only for it to grow back overnight, ready to be eaten again the following day. In time, Zeus relented and freed Prometheus, but in order to fulfil his vow that the Titan would forever be tied to the mountain, he forced Prometheus to wear an iron ring, into which was set a fragment of stone taken from Caucasus, on his finger forevermore. Thus, decorated rings came into the world. 

Prometheus Pecked

Out of the realm of myth, the earliest rings were simple ornaments amongst ancient peoples, often just simple bands of metal, but sometimes decorated, either directly into the metal or with inlaid stones. In Ancient Egypt, it was common practice to seal personal possessions with an inscribed seal-stone, and a convenient method of keeping the seal readily available was to drill a hole through it, pass a wire through the hole and twist it around a finger. Over time, these developed into the familiar signet ring; the modern ‘wedding ring’ was originally a seal-ring, given by a husband to his new wife, so that she might seal her stores of provisions and food with his mark. 

Ancient Egyptian sealing a pot

In Egypt, doors were secured with a cord, and a seal attached, so that it was immediately apparent if the door had been opened by any unauthorised person; over time, as locks were developed, a key served a similar purpose, and although key-rings were once used, these were unwieldy and separate keys for separate locks became the norm. 

Egyptian seals and rings

Alongside signet rings, rings inscribed with a variety of messages were made. The French antiquarian, the Comte de Caylus, in his masterwork, Recueil d'antiquités Égyptiennes, Étrusques, Greques, Romaines et Gauloises (1752-5), includes an illustration of a Greek ring bearing the inscription KIPIA KAΛH, ‘Beautiful Ciria’, and another of a triple ring inscribed ZHCAIC, ‘Mayest thou live.’ 

 Caylus - Greek KIPIA KAΛH ring

Caylus writes that this type of ring was extremely popular with the Greeks and Romans, and all manner of messages were included on them. Later, in early nineteenth century France, a different kind of message ring emerged, it is said from the workshop of Jean-Baptiste Mellerio, jeweller to Marie Antoinette and the Empress Josephine. Mellerio set his rings with precious and semi-precious stones, the initial letters of their names spelling out an acrostic word or message. 

Jean-Baptiste Mellerio

Thus, if he set a ring with a jacinth, an amethyst, a diamond, an opal, a ruby and an emerald, the first letters of these stones spell out J’ADORE – ‘I love you’. Although the name of your sweetheart might be picked out in this manner, by far the most popular messages were Souvenir and Amitié (Remembrance and Friendship); let’s face it, some amours do not last as long as a precious stone and having to have a ring reset can be pricey. 

Elle Vous Va - It Fits You (think Cinderella - if it fits, you're the one!)

Although England was then at war with France, the fashion spread over the Channel, and acrostic jewellery became very popular, sometimes retaining words or messages in French, sometimes in English. The most popular words were REGARD (Ruby, Emerald, Garnet, Amethyst, Ruby and Diamond) and DEAREST (Diamond, Emerald, Amethyst, Ruby, Emerald, Sapphire and Topaz). 


This fashion grew throughout the Regency period, reached a peak during Victoria’s reign and continued well into the twentieth century; in 1863, the Prince of Wales (later Edward VII), presented his bride to be, Princess Alexandria, with a ring set with a beryl, an emerald, a ruby, a turquoise, a jacinth and another emerald, thus spelling the name by which he was most commonly known – Bertie – (the jacinth was used for the ‘i’, as i’s and j’s are classically interchangeable). This devotional sort of jewellery was fine if you had fallen for an Anne, a Beth or a Colin, but if your beloved was a Catherine, a Bartholomew or an Alexandrina, you would have to use a little imagination. Bracelet, brooches, necklaces were obvious solutions, but lockets or snuff boxes could also be set with the correct stones to spell out a longer name. 

Caylus - Greek ZHCAIC ring

In addition to messages of love and devotion, political acrostics were also employed, to surreptitiously indicate one’s espousal to a cause or faction. Wearing a ring set with a ruby, an emerald, a pearl, an emerald, an amethyst and a lapis lazuli, showed that a person was a supporter of the repeal of the Corn Laws.

If you’d like to try it out for yourself, here is a list of possible stones that you could use  - there is no definitive list, and in keeping with the origin of the practice, names are given in French.

A. Amethiste. Aigue-marine.
B. Brilliant cut Diamond.
C. Chrisolithe. Carnaline. Chrisophrase.
D. Diamant.
E. Emeraude.
F. No Stone
G. Grenat.
H. Hiacinthe.
I. Iris.
J. Jasper.
K. No Stone.
L. Lapis lazuli.
M. Malachite.
N. Natralithe.
O. Onix. Opale.
P. Perle. Peridot. Purpurine.
Q. No Stone
R. Rubis. Rose diamant.
S. Saphir. Sardoine.
T. Turquoise. Topaze.
U. Uraine.
V. Vermeille (especially yellow garnet)
X. Xepherine.
Y. Z. No Stones.

Anne of Cleves - with a thumb and two finger rings

As ‘k’ and ‘w’ are not used in French (apart from in loan and regional words), and because some letters have no stones, English jewellers might substitute a coloured stone for a missing gem, with the initial letter of the colour standing in for the name of a precious stone. This makes for difficulties in interpreting the meaning on some pieces of jewellery, the meaning of which may only have been known to the jeweller and the owner of a piece. Bear in mind too that stones have different names in different languages – Emerald/Emeraude is fine for the letter ‘e’ in English and French, but it is called Smaragd in German, so would stand instead for an ‘s’.

Tuesday, 28 May 2013

The Pearly Profusion of the Multitudinous Margarites

The liquid drops of tears that you have shed
Shall come again, transformed to orient pearl.
Shakespeare: Richard III, Act IV, Scene IV
The notion that pearls are tears rendered into gems is found in many ancient stories and is a theme beloved by poets throughout the ages. In the twentieth century, T S Eliot alluded to a similar thought in The Waste Land,
Here, said she,    
Is your card, the drowned Phoenician Sailor,           
(Those are pearls that were his eyes. Look!)

Ladies and their Pearls

The beauty and chaste purity of pearls have led to them being viewed as the perfect gift for brides to wear, although a parallel tradition held that each pearl worn by a bride on her wedding day presaged a tear she would later shed during her marriage, (as it would be an extremely unworldly bride to expect an entirely tear-less marriage, many feel it’s well worth the risk).
As pure as a pearl,
And as perfect: a noble and innocent girl.
Owen Meredith (Lord Lytton), Lucile, Pt II, Canto VI
The ladies-in-waiting of Empress Eugénie tried in vain to dissuade from wearing long strings of pearls when she married Napoleon III, in 1853, and many said, after the event, that her subsequent tragic life was due to wearing so many pearls to her wedding. 

The Empress Eugenie

Similarly, Queen Margaret Tudor, wife of King James VI of Scotland, prior to the Battle of Flodden in 1513, dreamt for three consecutive nights that all her jewellery had turned into pearls, which was interpreted as an ill-omen of forthcoming widowhood and disaster. Pierre de Rosnel, writing in the seventeenth century, allies the pearl to Venus, born of heaven and the sea,
“… so in like manner the pearl — the loveliest of all gems — is formed in the sea and is the offspring of the dew of heaven.”
 Rosnel, Le Mercure Indien, ou le Trésor des Indes, 1672 

Botticelli - The Birth of Venus

This is another reason why brides, pearls and the Goddess of Love are so closely associated. An added level of purity surrounds the pearl as it is taken from nature in a perfect state, without the need for the hand of man to improve it in any manner, and this purity is reflected in the name of Margaret, which derives from the Persian Murwari, (pearl, child of light), through the Greek μαργάρίτης, and is found in variations throughout Europe, from the French Marguerite and Margot, German Gretchen and Grethel, Italian Margherita and Rita, to the English Marjorie, Peggy and Madge. 

The Dowager Queen Margherita of Italy

There are several St Margarets, all of whom symbolise innocence and purity, including St Margaret of Antioch, ‘the mild maid of God’, who is the embodiment of feminine innocence and whose attribute is a string of pearls, St Margaret Ætheling, canonized in 1215 and adopted as the patron saint of Scotland in 1673, or Margaret, ‘the Pearl of Bohemia’, held in especial reverence by the Danes. 

St Margaret of Scotland

In literature, Margarets abound as heroines of innocence, from Goethe’s Gretchen, in Faust, Tennyson’s ‘Sweet pale Margaret’, and Scott’s ‘Ladye Margaret, the Flower of Teviot’. William Drummond of Hawthornden plays with the name and the association with pearls in his An Epitaph of One Named Margaret
In shells and gold pearls are not kept alone,
A Margaret here lies beneath a stone.”

Charles VI of France

As may be expected for something so associated with purity, pearls were once a valuable, if mildly ineffectual, medicine. Crushed pearls, dissolved in distilled water, were given to Charles VI of France, (called Charles the Mad), in an attempt to cure his bouts of insanity. Lorenzo de Medici, ‘The Magnificent’, lay dying of fever at Careggi and was also given pulverized pearls as a cure; when asked how it tasted, Lorenzo is said to have replied, 
As pleasant as anything can be to a dying man.” 

Lorenzo de Medici

Draughts of powdered, pulverized or dissolved pearls were also used as a symbol of sacrifice, as in Shakespeare’s Hamlet, when Claudius speaks of a ‘union’, a common term for a pearl, in the lines,
The king shall drink to Hamlet's better breath;
And in the cup an union shall he throw.
Richer than that which four successive kings
In Denmark's crown have worn.”

Sir Thomas Gresham

A Spanish ambassador to the court of Queen Elizabeth boasted of the wealth and magnificence of his sovereign’s court. Sir Thomas Gresham, irked by this Iberian arrogance, countered that there were men in England who spent more on one meal than the Spanish King and all his grandees, and laid a wager that he could prove his claim. Some time later, this same ambassador happened to call on Sir Thomas at meal-time and found him dining on a very dinner, so declared to have won the bet. 

A Necklace made from 126,000 seed pearls

Not so, said Sir Thomas, and took a box from his pocket, drew forth an exquisite oriental pearl, crushed it into a powder which he stirred into a glass of wine, and drank a health to his Mistress, the Queen. I have, Gresham told the Spaniard, refused £15,000 for that pearl, have I won the wager? The ambassador was forced to concede defeat.

Monday, 27 May 2013

The Pearlescent Peculiarities of the Nacreous Nodules

               Submerged beneath a southern sea, inside a shell something stirs. It itches, it irritates and a shellfish flinches. It flexes, undulating its body and tries to rid itself of the intruder, but to no avail. The thing will not be moved. So the shellfish begins the long process of covering the irritating interloper with nacre, in layer after layer, until, instead of an unwanted incursion, there is a smooth sphere that now longer scratches the mollusc’s delicate body. And this sphere is now very much wanted indeed, as it is now a pearl. 

The internal structure of a bi-valve

It’s a common misconception that pearls are formed when a grain of sand makes its way into an oyster shell, but the intruder is more likely to be a tiny parasite, the larva of another sea-creature or one of the oyster’s own eggs that gets covered in mother-of-pearl. It’s not just oysters either, as many bi-valve molluscs form pearls around invading irritants, including mussels and clams. The shells of many molluscs and brachiopods are made up of three layers; an outer layer, called the periostracum, a middle prismatic layer and an inner nacreous layer. 

The Pearl Fishers

Inside the shell, the mantle, a flap or fold of flesh, covers all of either the right or left side of the nacreous layer, and forms a ridge or margin at the outermost edge, from which the two outermost layers are produced, whilst the rest of the mantle secretes the pearly inner layer. Should a irritating particle or parasite become lodged between the mantle and the upper layers, nacre is secreted over it and it is incorporated into the body of the shell, whereas something that enters the interior of the creature becomes covered in layers of nacre and a pearl is produced. 

Clara Eugenia of Spain in her Pearls

At first, the layers conform to the contours of the foreign body, but over time the increasing numbers of layers tend to produce a spheroidal or spherical shape, unless the intrusion is so pronounced that an irregular – or baroque – pearl is made, and these command a lower price, purely on aesthetic grounds. It is reasonable to assume that pearls were the earliest of valued gems, as fish-eating ancient peoples would have inevitably have come across them, and their immediate natural beauty, free from the need of further art to enhance it, must have ensured their desirability. 

The Rana of Dholpur in his Pearls

Pearls appear in the ancient Indian religious texts, the Ramayana and the Mahabharata, and in Hindu mythology the pearl is associated with Krishna, the eighth avatar of Vishnu, who drew one from the sea to adorn his daughter, Pandaia, on her wedding day. 

The Dowager Empress of China in her Pearls

In the ancient Cingalese chronicles, the Mahavansa and the Dipavansa, pearls are mentioned as being sent as gifts from Ceylon; the Chinese Shu King notes that, in the twenty-third century BCE, Yü received river pearls in tribute, and the ancient Chinese dictionary the Ny’ha (c.1000 BCE) mentions pearls as precious jewels that come from Shen-si province. 

The Maharajah of Patiala in his Pearls

Authorities vary in their opinion on the translations of various words for precious jewels in the Old Testament, but there are numerous mentions of pearls in the New Testament, as there are in the Talmud, where they signify something either very costly or very beautiful. 

The Ashburnham Gospel decorated with Pearls

The Quran has pearls aplenty too, particularly in Paradise, where the trees bear pearls and emeralds. Ancient Greek writers mention pearls as early at the fifth century BCE, and later Roman writers like Pliny write about them, including a description of Pompey’s victory parade where thirty-three crowns of pearls were displayed. The Emperor Caligula had pearls sewn into the harness of Incitatus, his favourite horse that legend says he raised to the rank of Senator, and he wore slippers embroidered with pearls. 

Elizabeth I in her Pearls

By the Middle Ages, every Emperor, King or Pope worth his salt would have his regalia made from gold and studded with diamonds, jewels and pearls. At the meeting of Henry VIII and Francis I at the Field of the Cloth of Gold, in 1520, the banqueting chamber was decorated with embroidered gold and pearl hangings, when Henry was introduced to Anne of Cleves, he wore a coat of purple velvet with clasps made from gold, diamonds, rubies and oriental pearls, and Anne’s wedding gown was made from cloth of gold embroidered with large flowers made from pearls. 

Elizabeth of France in her Pearls

When the New World was discovered, a new source of pearls emerged; Montezuma gave precious gifts to Cortez, who returned these golden presents, with emeralds, rubies and pearls, to Europe. The high walls and the roof of the temple of Tolomecco were made from mother of pearl, with strings of pearls and plumes of feathers hanging from the walls, the graves of its kings had shields adorned with pearls placed over them, and in the centre of the temple were vases filled with costly pearls. 

Grand Pearl Diadem of the French Crown Jewels

Pearls flooded back to the courts of Europe; Marie de Medici wore a gown to the christening of her son that was decorated with 3,000 diamonds and 32,000 pearls, and the Elector Maximilian of Bavaria sent his future bride a present of a necklace of 300 selected pearls, each worth 1,000 guldens.

The Czarina of Russia in her Pearls

Tomorrow – Myth and Magic of Pearls