New Book | Pearl: Nature’s Perfect Gem

Posted in books by Editor on March 11, 2023

Distributed by The University of Chicago Press:

Fiona Lindsay Shen, Pearl: Nature’s Perfect Gem (London: Reaktion Books, 2022), 256 pages, ISBN: ‎978-1789146219, $35.

Book cover, with pearls against a black backgroundFrom their creation in the maw of mollusks to lustrous objects of infatuation and conflict, a revealing look at pearls’ dark history.

This book is a beautifully illustrated account of pearls through millennia, from fossils to contemporary jewelry. Pearls are the most human of gems, both miraculous and familiar. Uniquely organic in origin, they are as intimate as our bodies, created through the same process as we grow bones and teeth. They have long been described as an animal’s sacrifice, but until recently their retrieval often entailed the sacrifices of enslaved and indentured divers and laborers. While the shimmer of the pearl has enticed Roman noblewomen, Mughal princes, Hollywood royalty, mavericks, and renegades, encoded in its surface is a history of human endeavor, abuse, and aspiration—pain locked in the layers of a gleaming gem.

Fiona Lindsay Shen is an art historian and director of the Escalette Permanent Collection of Art at Chapman University in California.


Preface: Sarah Siddons’s Necklace
1  The Oyster’s Autobiography
2  Harvest
3  Culturing Pearls, Capturing Markets, Cultivating Brands
4  The Seven Pearly Sins
5  And the Seven Virtues
6  Embodied

Photo Acknowledgments


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