My future mother-in-law gave me a beautiful string of pearls to wear on my wedding day. I was wondering why pearls are so often associated with weddings; is there any history behind this?
According to the Cultured Pearl Information Center, pearls were most likely discovered thousands of years ago by people searching for food along the seashore. And thanks to their fabulous shimmering iridescence, this organic gem has been prized ever since. In one legend, Cleopatra is said to have dissolved a pearl in a glass of wine before drinking it, simply to win a wager with Marc Antony that she could consume the wealth of an entire country in just one meal. But in a variation of that tale, the dissolved pearl was intended to help her seduce Antony.
In ancient Rome, the pearl was the ultimate symbol of wealth and social standing, while the ancient Greeks associated the pearl with love and marriage, and unrivaled beauty. The Greeks also believed the pearl would promote marital harmony and prevent newlywed brides from crying.
During the Dark Ages, knights wore pearls on the battlefield, believing they had the magic to protect them from harm. During the Renaissance, pearls were so highly regarded that several European countries passed laws forbidding anyone outside the nobility from wearing them. And during European expansion in the New World, discovery of pearls in Central American waters meant that pearls, like gold, added to the wealth of Europe.
In the early 1900s, the advent of culturing pearls brought prices down to mainstream levels. But even today, pearls are still worn by royalty, especially at weddings. Queen Elizabeth II wore them at her wedding in 1947, as did Sarah Ferguson. And here in the United States, Jacqueline Bouvier wore a strand the day she became Mrs. Kennedy.