One of the most fascinating fairytales I’ve read is The Ugly Duckling, a tale of transformation. In The Ugly History of Beautiful Things, Katy Kelleher talks about another kind of ugly thing: a pearl whose birth is from a rather unattractive mollusk.
Pearls have been considered an exotic item and weren’t as inexpensive as they have become today.
“Pearls were once mystical objects, believed by some to be the tears of Eve, by others to be the tears of Aphrodite. There are stories of pearls falling out of women’s mouths when they utter sweet words, and pearls appearing from the spray of sea foam as a goddess is born. Now we know better: pearls are made from some of the basic and common building blocks of nature — calcium, carbon, oxygen, arranged into calcium carbonate particles, bund together by organic proteins. They are created out of animal pain, which has been sublimated into something iridescent and smooth, layered and lovely. Born of irritation, these gemstones can be mass-produced and purchased with the click of a button.”
Kelleher dissects nacre, the hard element that creates the layers that give a pearl its structure. Besides the scientific angle, pearls have always been associated with the feminine. In reality, an oyster is forced into creating a pearl by commercial pearl farmers and so it is a product of much pain.
Read The Ugly History of Beautiful Things: Pearls by Katy Kelleher. There are more ugly histories by the same author in case you are wondering.