Crafty Manolo » Bead Week: Pearls of Not So Great Price

Bead Week: Pearls of Not So Great Price

By Twistie

Welcome to day four of Bead Week on Crafty Manolo! Enjoy your stay.

Pearls have always been greatly prized jewels. Whether set as cabochons or drilled to make beads that can then be strung together or sewn on clothing, there is no natural jewel considered so elegant, so subtle, or so timeless.

Because of that beauty, elegance, luster, and association with Very Rich People, the pearl was also one of the first jewels that people tried very hard to reproduce out of lesser materials.

In ancient Rome, the method tried was to take glass beads coated in silver and then coat them in another layer of glass.  Not a bad idea, actually. By 1300, ‘pearls’ were being produced using a combination  of white powdered glass mixed with egg whites and snail slime. I shudder to contemplate how that last ingredient was gathered in sufficient quantities!

The real breakthrough came in the 17th century when one Jaquin of Paris came up with a process using hollow blown glass balls coated in varnish mixed with fish scales. The balls were then filled in with wax to make them sturdier. Jaquin got a patent on the process, and people of both sexes began wearing a lot more pearls. Those who could not afford the real thing, used the Jaquin jewels. Those who could afford the real thing did so… but also sometimes used the Jaquin ones for everyday clothes with a massive profusion of pearls. Many rich folk used the fake pearls and paste jewels for daytime wear and saved up the real diamonds and pearls for evenings and special occasions.  Some imitation pearls are still made using Jaquin’s method of varnish and fish scales.

I love it when an old method stands the test of time so very well.

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