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Ode to the Oyster & her Imperfect Pearls

Black Betty continues to affirm her ethos of honouring the “perfectly imperfect” in our latest jewellery range, PEARL.

Pearl Collection by Black Betty

Pearls were once considered one of the world's most precious materials. A perfectly unblemished, natural pearl was considered a gem of incomparable value. Legend has it that Cleopatra, in an attempt to convince Rome that Egypt possessed a heritage and wealth that put it above conquest, bet Marc Antony that she could host the most expensive dinner in history. As Cleopatra sat with an empty plate and a goblet of wine before her, she crushed one of her large pearls, dissolved it in her wine and drank it – impressing a suitably stunned Marc Antony and winning her bet. A necklace crafted from matching spheres of pearls was the most coveted jewellery in the ancient world and the wearing of such an exquisitely adorned strand implied superiority, a mark of wealth, rank and power. 


The Banquet of Cleopatra by Giambattista Tiepolo, 1744
The Banquet of Cleopatra by Giambattista Tiepolo, 1744

The pearl is the world’s oldest gemstone, presented as gifts to royalty as early as 2300 B.C. Roman, Egyptian, Chinese, Indian, Greek and European civilisations all assigned great value, symbolism and meaning to pearls: they were believed to offer protection, attract good fortune and wealth, provide calming effects, strengthen valuable relationships, convey a sense of safety, and symbolise the wearer’s loyalty, integrity and generosity. Recently, pearls have been used to convey messages of hope and solidarity: Queen Elizabeth II wore a triple strand of pearls gifted to her by her father, King George VI, to deliver a reassuring message during the UK’s first lockdown in 2020, and when Kamala Harris was sworn in as America’s first female Vice-President, she wore a custom pearl necklace representing the bonds of friendship and sisterhood conceived during her time at university. 

Royals in pearls - image from Town & Country
The Royals in pearls - Image from Town & Country

Above all else, the pearl has endured as a symbol of unblemished perfection, a notion of purity. Consider Botticelli’s 15th-century masterpiece, “The Birth of Venus” as the goddess of love and beauty emerges from her oyster shell. Purity is traditionally defined as “freedom from contamination”, yet the very creation of a pearl goes against this ideal.  


The Birth of Venus
The Birth of Venus

Difficulty becomes power, and power becomes beauty. This is quintessentially Black Betty.

A pearl is formed as a result of an oyster’s natural defence against intrusion. When an irritant such as a grain of sand contaminates the shell, the oyster will slowly secrete layer upon layer of a soothing substance known as nacre, or mother-of-pearl, encasing the irritant and protecting the mollusc’s fragile body. An iridescent gem is formed through the oyster’s natural resilience in overcoming adversity.  



“When Black Betty speaks of the beauty of a woman – we speak to the beauty of her imperfections, of her struggles, of her history and story.”  

Among the best-known lovers of pearls are Cleopatra, Elizabeth I, Jackie Kennedy, Marilyn Monroe, and Elizabeth Taylor – women celebrated for their grace and beauty, revered for their intelligence and power; yet none were perfect. It is their ‘imperfect’ traits that have made them accessible, admired and adored. 

Jackie Kennedy, Audrey Hepburn, Marilyn Monroe
 Jackie Kennedy, Audrey Hepburn, Marilyn Monroe

“The beauty of our Pearl Collection is that no two pieces are the same.”

The majority of jewellery is created from precious metals and jewels found buried in the earth, but the pearl is the only gemstone to come from a living creature. Not all pearls are formed perfectly symmetrical and unblemished, most pearls are found in different shapes and colours. Our pearls require no cutting or polishing before use: they are simply beautiful the way they are naturally formed.  

Baroque Pearls by Pearls Only
Baroque Pearls by Pearls Only

There is beauty in imperfection and through this collection, we celebrate those nuances of imperfection.  Just as no two pearls are the same, you will find a piece of Black Betty’s Pearl Collection that is uniquely yours.

Black Betty Pearls

Words by Carol Chamberlain