A Craze for Seed Pearls

Part of the Pearls exhibition.

A New Trend in Europe and America

During the 1700s and early 1800s, the growing middle-class in both Europe and the United States developed an interest in pearls--and had the money to buy them. By the mid-1800s, seed pearls had become the pearls of choice. Jewelers typically worked with seed pearls imported from India and China that had been strung on silk or, more commonly, white horsehair. The resulting pieces of jewelry were so delicate that they often resembled lace, and they were considered a symbol of purity and gentility. Indeed, an 1870 newspaper article stated that such pearls were "exquisitely beautiful and constitute an appropriate and elegant present to a young bride."