May 17th, 2013

I taught myself to knot pearls about 7 or 8 years ago, and have indulged from time to time ever since. I’m not good enough, or fast enough, to do it professionally, but it’s a dandy way to make special-occasion gifts. In keeping with my penchant for doing everything the hard way, I’ve so far eschewed all of those “easy-knot” tools and prefer to work with just a pair of tweezers. Blister guards for my fingers might not be a bad idea though…

Illustration of Pearl Oysters
Sarah Cooper, Animal Life: In The Sea and On The Land (New York: Harper & Brothers, 1887)
Borrowed from Clip Art Etc.

My current project involves natural colored freshwater pearls and polished green agate beads strung on green silk. I think they’d hang a little more smoothly if I hadn’t decided to double knot, but I love the way the big knot looks. Ah well.

Knotted Pearls in Progress

Ancient Ideas On the Origin and Virtues of Pearls.

Excerpt & illustration from Pearls and Pearling Life, Edwin William Streeter, 1886

“And precious the tear as the rain from the sky,
Which turns into Pearl as it falls in the sea.”

—Thomas Moore.

. . .
The most wide-spread notion respecting the origin of Pearls, as briefly mentioned in our introductory chapter, is that which regards them as formed by dew and rain received into the gaping shell of the Pearl-oyster. This explanation of their origin is well set forth by Pliny, whose passage on the subject is thus quaintly rendered into English by old Dr. Holland:—

“This shell-fish, which is the mother of Pearle, differeth not much in the manner of breeding and generation from the oysters, for when the season of the yeere requireth that they should engender, seeme to yawne and gape, and so doe open wide; and then (by report) they conceive a certaine moist dew as seed, wherewith they swell and grow bigger and when time commeth, labour to be delivered hereof; and the fruit of these shell-fishes are the Pearls, better or worse, great or small, according to the qualitie and quantitie of the dew which they received. For if the dew were pure and cleare which went into them, then are the Pearles white, faire, and orient; if grosse and troubled, the Pearles likewise are dimme, foule and duskish; pale (I say) they are, if the weather were close, darke, and threatning raine in the time of their conception. . . ”

. . .

We can well imagine that so chaste and charming a gem as the Pearl should be deemed worthy of a more sacred birth than that arising from a drop of common rain or dew, and hence arose the highly poetical idea that Pearls were formed from tears wept by angels, or shed by mortals under circumstances of peculiar trial. Thus, in “The Bridal of Triermain,” Sir Walter Scott writes :—

“See the Pearls that long have slept,
These were tears by Naiades wept.”

So Shakespeare finds a similar idea in the

following lines:—

“The liquid drops of tears that you have shed,
Shall come again transformed to Orient Pearl,
Advantaging their loan with interest,
Of ten times double gain of happiness.”

Opening oyster shells on a pearling ship
Opening oyster shells on a pearling ship.

Coincidentally (if you believe in coincidence), I’ve been obsessing on the duet from Bizet’s Pearl Fishers. I’m learning to play the baritone part on my cello since no one will sing it with me. I guess it’s just as well, until I learn to hit that high B flat without breaking glass…