June’s birthstone is pearl, representing purity and devotion and a firm favourite of the Royals from Elizabeth I to Elizabeth II.
In Elizabeth I’s day, the only pearls available were natural, found growing in oysters on the sea bed. Nowadays, most pearls are farmed or ‘cultured’ to keep up with industry demand. The bulk of pearls are freshwater cultured, which means they are farmed in freshwater rivers, in mussel shells.
It is intensive farming with each mussel having a small grain inserted with tweezers, usually with a spot of antiseptic. The mussel naturally grows nacre around the grain to protect itself, until a small pearl is formed. The longer you leave it, the bigger it gets. The pearls are then extracted, sorted by colour, size, shape and lustre and sold on. It’s a far cry from the image of a small boy with a knife in teeth, free diving to the ocean bed to retrieve an elusive scallop shell, but it does allow us all to enjoy the natural beauty of this timeless gem.