The Imperial Hong Kong Pearl - The Miracle of the Sea

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Origin of name

The "Imperial Hong Kong Pearl" also known as the "Miracle of the Sea" is believed to have been owned at one time by Empress Dowager Tz'u-Hsi (Cixi), the widow of Emperor Xianfeng, who became the de facto ruler of the Manchu Qing Dynasty after her husband's death in 1861, and ruled China for 48 years, until her death in 1908. After Empress Dowager Tz'u-Hsi's death, an enormous pearl, the size of a robin's egg, was placed in her mouth, in keeping with Chinese imperial custom, to protect the corpse from decomposition. Her coffin was then filled with pearls, diamonds and other precious jewels, and placed in a tomb, amidst the Eastern Qing Tombs, a lavish grandiose complex of temples, gates and pavilions, covered with gold leaf, and with ornaments made of gold and gilded-bronze, hanging from the beams and eaves. The tomb was constructed by the Empress herself, during her period of rule, in 1895. It is not known whether the "Imperial Hong Kong Pearl" was among the large quantities of precious stones and jewelry placed in her coffin.

However, in July 1928, Empress Dowager  Tz'u-Hsi's tomb was desecrated and all its precious ornaments plundered, including the massive pearl placed in her mouth, by the Kuomintang General Sun Dianying and his army. Most of the plundered jewels eventually found their way to Hong Kong, which became a dependant territory of the United Kingdom in 1842, and subsequently a free port and entrepot of the  the British Empire. The jewels, that were purchased by western companies based in Hong Kong, eventually ended up in the Western countries. It is not known exactly how the "Imperial Hong Kong Pearl" reached the British colony of Hong Kong, but it is known for certain that the enormous pearl was purchased in Hong Kong by the renowned United States based company dealing in pearls, "Imperial Pearl Syndicate" in the 1940s. Thus the name "Imperial Hong Kong Pearl" seems to be a reflection of both the name of the company, "Imperial Pearl Syndicate," as well as the country where the pearl was purchased. Perhaps, the name may also signify the imperial provenance of the renowned pearl, being owned at one time by one of the most powerful empresses in Chinese history, Empress Dowager Tz'u-Hsi.

 

Characteristics of the Pearl

The "Imperial Hong Kong Pearl" aka the "Miracle of the Sea" is an enormous silvery white, baroque pearl with an irregular drop-shape and having dimensions of 26 x 39 mm, and a weight of 25.5 grams, equivalent to 127.5 carats or 510.0 grains. It is one of the largest nacreous pearls discovered in the world, believed to have originated in a saltwater oyster species, known as Pinctada maxima, common in the South Seas between Southern China and Northern Australia.

The Shape of the Pearl

Pearls exist in nature broadly in eight basic shapes. They are round, semi-round, button, drop, pear, oval, baroque and ringed. A baroque pearl is an irregularly or oddly shaped pearl. The "Imperial Hong Kong Pearl" is undoubtedly an irregular baroque pearl, but has an almost elongated drop shape, and hence can be described as an irregular drop-shaped pearl.

In pearls that grow in the soft tissues of the oyster, the expanding pearl sac grows regularly, as it encounters no appreciable resistance. This results in regular shapes such as round (spherical) or semi-round shapes. However, pearl sacs can also be lodged in muscular tissues, where the expanding pearl sac may find it difficult to overcome the resistance of tough muscle fibers, resulting in irregular or unusual shapes.

Jewelers of the Renaissance period from the late 16th to 17th centuries, valued baroque pearls very highly, as they regarded them as flexible pieces of gemstones, with unique shapes and unexpected colors, that could be incorporated easily into versatile jewelry designs, borne out of the fertile imagination of the jewelry designers and craftsmen. One such unique piece of jewelry is the "Canning Jewel," exhibited in the Victoria and Albert Museum, London, a 16th century Renaissance jewel,  in which a large baroque pearl is incorporated as the torso of a sea creature, having the body of a man and the tail of a fish, the whole setting, mounted in enameled gold, set with pearls, rubies and diamonds. Another creation of this period is the "Swan Pendant" exhibited in the State Hermitage Museum, at St. Petersburg, created in Netherlands in the 1590s, incorporating a large baroque pearl as the body of the swan. and set with enameled gold, pearl, diamonds and rubies.

 

The present setting of the "Imperial Hong Kong Pearl"

According to jewelry historians, Empress Dowager Tz'u-Hsi had a special fondness for pearls in life,  and wore the small egg-sized "Imperial Hong Kong Pearl" as a good luck amulet, on a slender chain around her neck. Today, the "Imperial Hong Kong Pearl" is set in a platinum and diamond pendant, in which the irregular drop-shaped pearl is encrusted at its upper end  with a foliage design made of platinum, the composite design giving the appearance of a fruit and foliage setting, reminiscent of the designs of jewelry of the Renaissance period.

imperial-hong-kong-pearl

© Imperial-Deltah Inc.

The body color of the pearl

The body color of the pearl is the hue, intensity and saturation of a pearl's color, caused by pigments and not light interference, as in iridescence and orient of a pearl. The body color of a pearl are determined by several factors. These are, species of mollusk, thickness and number of layers of nacre, conditions of the aquatic environment, including presence of certain trace elements. Certain body colors are associated with a particular species of mollusk. Thick nacre is associated with rich body color, more overtones and iridescence. Certain trace elements impart color to pigments associated with body color.

The body color of pearls like that of external shells of mollusks, may be caused by true pigments or biochromes. Some pigments that cause colors in shells are yellow carotenoids, black melanins, green porphyrins, and blue and red indigoids. Some pigments like beta-carotene and chlorophyll that are ingested by mollusks as part of their diet, may also contribute to the color of shells. Special  glandular cells in the mantle secrete the color pigment with the fluid calcite and aragonite during shell and nacre formation. The pigment bonds with the conchiolin, a protein that helps to glue together layers of calcite and aragonite, like the mortar in a brick wall. It has been estimated that in a segment of shell or nacre about 0.1 cm thick, there exists about 500 to 5,000 alternating layers of calcium carbonate (calcite and aragonite) and conchiolin.

White pearls like the Imperial Hong Kong Pearl, and cream colored pearls, acquire their color, when the conchiolin is free of any bonded pigments, so that being transparent the white or cream color of the aragonite shows through. The silvery white color may be caused by iridescence, a slight play of color over the surface of a pearl, caused by the interference of light, as it passes through the alternating layers of aragonite/calcite and conchiolin.

 

History of the Pearl

Source of the Pearl

The "Imperial Hong Kong Pearl" is believed to have originated in the saltwater pearl Pinctada maxima, a species of  pearl oyster found in the South Sea, off the southern coast of China. The South Sea is the sea between the southern coast of China and the northern coast of Australia, that connects the Indian Ocean to the Pacific Ocean. The Indonesian archipelago, Malaysia, Philippines, and Papua New Guinea are situated within this sea. The waters of the South Sea is the natural habitat of the large pearl oyster known as Pinctada maxima. These oysters can grow up to a maximum  size of 12 inches (30 cm), and today has become one of the pearl oysters around which a major cultured pearl industry has developed, in countries with access to this sea, such as China, Australia, Indonesia, Myanmar, Philippines and Papua New Guinea.

The environmental conditions of the South Sea, such as its clean waters and the abundant availability of plankton (singled celled floating algae), that constitute the favorite food source of Pinctada maxima, are very conducive to the successful growth and multiplication of the Pinctada maxima pearl oyster, as well as the rapid production of nacre in the formation of the pearl. The warm waters of the sea also speeds up the oyster's metabolism, enhancing the speed of nacre production. South Sea pearls are characterized by their large size, ranging from 9-20 mm, unusually thick nacre varying from 2-6 mm, their unique satin-like luster and their subtle array of colors, such as white, cream, pink, silver and gold. There are two varieties of Pinctada maxima that produce pearls - the silver-lipped and gold lipped oyster, distinguished by the distinct coloration of the outer edge of the mantle.

 

The South Sea Pearl, Pinctada maxima

The "Imperial Hong Kong Pearl," in spite of its unusual size with dimensions of 26 x 39 mm, could have been easily accommodated in the mantle or gonad of the Pinctada maxima oyster, as it could have grown to a maximum size of 30 cm (300 mm), in diameter, the size of a dinner plate. The oyster is reputed to be the largest naturally occurring pearl oyster in the world, as well as the largest commercially harvested cultured pearl oyster in the world.

pinctada-maxima-silver-lipped-pearl

Pinctada maxima

© PEARL AQUACULTURE RESEARCH FOUNDATION

Pearls produce by cultured South Sea pearls are also among the largest cultured pearls produced in the world, ranging in size from 9-20 mm, and an average size of around 13 mm. Among the reasons adduced for the growth of such large pearls are :- 1) the large size of the oyster 2) the large size of the implanted bead 3) the conducive environment in which the oyster grows 4) the long growth period of the oyster. The larger size of the oyster enables the growth of a larger pearl, as well the acceptance of a larger bead. Besides the presence of a larger gonad, where the bead is usually implanted, enables a faster deposition of nacre around  the nucleus, in the warm conditions of the sea, that enhances the metabolism of the oyster. South Sea pearls are harvested only after a minimum period of two years, which allows the pearls to grow to a much larger size.

 

The Imperial Hong Kong Pearl enters the court of Empress Dowager Tz'u-Hsi

It is not known exactly when the "Imperial Hong Kong Pearl" aka the "Miracle of the Sea" was discovered from the South Sea off the southern coast of China, but it is well known that the enormous pearl became the valued possession of the Empress Dowager Tz'u-Hsi, who was renowned for her love of pearls. The pearl was probably given to her as a gift by her husband Emperor Xianfeng, who elevated her to the very high status of "Noble Imperial Consort Yi,"  a rank which was only second in status to the  Empress Consort Ci'an, the principal wife of the Emperor; and showered her with gifts, as an act of recognition, for giving him his only male heir, the future Emperor of China, in the year 1856. It might also be possible that the Empress Dowager Tz'u-Hsi acquired the pearl, after she assumed control as the de facto ruler of the Manchu Qing dynasty, after her husband's death in 1861, a position which she held for 48 years until her death in 1908. The Empress Dowager is said to have worn the "Imperial Hong Kong Pearl" as a good luck amulet on a slender chain around her neck. Photographs and paintings of the empress show her wearing beaded pearl chains, not only as necklaces but also as adornments on her royal robes.

 

Empress Dowager Tz'u-Hsi - A short biography

Tz'u-Hsi becomes a concubine to Emperor Xianfeng

Empress Dowager Tz'u-Hsi (Cixi) was the daughter of a low ranking Manchu official named Huizheng of the Manchu Yehenara clan, and was born in the year 1835, and spent most of her early life in the Anhui province of China, before moving to Beijing between her 3rd and 15th birthdays. In the year 1851, at the age of 16 years, she was subjected to a process of screening with other Manchu girls, to be selected as a possible concubine for the new Emperor Xianfeng, and was lucky enough to be chosen for this prestigious position. After entering the emperor's harem, Cixi became pregnant in 1855 and gave birth to her son, Tongzhi, the only male heir of Emperor Xianfeng, an event that delighted the Emperor, and elevated Cixi to the status of a "Noble Imperial Consort Yi" a rank only second to the Empress Consort Ci'an, the principal wife of the Emperor.

 

The death of Emperor Xianfeng and the appointment of a regency council

On August 22, 1861, Emperor Xiangfeng died at Rehe Palace, in the City of Rehe, in Manchuria, where he had sought refuge in September 1860, following the onslaught of British and French troops, who attacked Beijing and burned down the Imperial Summer Palace Complex of the emperors of the Qing dynasty, in retaliation for the arrest of the British Diplomat Harry Parkes,  and the torture and execution of a number of western hostages. Before his death however, Emperor Xianfeng had appointed an eight-member Regency Council, consisting of trusted ministers, to administer the affairs of the state, until his son and heir who was only 5 years old, attained maturity and ascended the throne of China. This arrangement was necessary as Qing imperial tradition totally excluded women from politics.  The two senior most wives of the Emperor, Empress Consort Ci'an, aged 25 and Noble Imperial Consort Yi, aged 27, were then elevated to the status of Empress Dowager Ci'an and Empress Dowager Tz'u-Hsi (Cixi) respectively.

 

Empress Dowager Tz'u-Hsi stages a palace coup

Empress Dowager Tz'u-Hsi who was an ambitious and determined woman, was not happy about the arrangements made for Emperor Xianfeng's succession, and being the future Emperor's mother was very bitter about being excluded from the circles of power. In consultation with the co-Empress Dowager Ci'an, she sought the assistance of princes, ministers and soldiers, who too had been excluded from power, and who were ignored or hated by the eight regent ministers, and staged a palace coup, that ousted the Regency Council, and resulted in the execution of three of the regent ministers, and the two Empress Dowagers being recognized as co-regents to the future Emperor, the real power "behind the curtains" being exercised by Empress Dowager Tz'u-Hsi herself.

 

Empress Dowager Tz'u-Hsi's services to China as co-regent to the young Emperor Tonghzi

After assuming absolute power "behind the curtains" Empress Dowager Tz'u-Hsi appointed her principal ally in the coup, the Prince Gong Yixin as Head of the General Affairs Office and the Internal Affairs Office and the Chief Policy Advisor at court. The first important imperial edict she issued on behalf of the Emperor, stated that the two Empresses Dowager were to be the sole decision makers in the future, without any interference from any quarters. She then took on the important task of overhauling the bureaucratic machinery of the state, to root out rampant corruption and mismanagement that had plagued the Chinese State for a long period. She ordered the execution of two prominent officials on charges of bribery and dereliction of duty, to serve as an example to other government administrators. She also took the courageous step of breaking the Manchu dominance in holding major positions at court, and powerful military and administrative positions in the capital and the provinces. She appointed Han Chinese as governors of all southern Chinese provinces, and also appointed a Han Chinese General, Zeng Guofan as commander of the most powerful military unit, the Xiang Army, to fight against the Taiping rebels who were causing devastation in the south of the country. Zeng Guofan successfully defeated the Taiping rebels and helped to restore the authority of the monarchy. She was also the first Chinese ruler in the history of Imperial China, to realize the importance of acquiring western knowledge and technology in modernizing the economy of China, opening the country to western education, hiring foreign teachers, and introducing science, mathematics, and foreign languages such as English, French and Russian in educational institutions. She also sent young Chinese students abroad for studies, especially in the United States. She is also credited with the construction of the first Chinese railway.

empress-dowager-cixi-of-china

Empress Dowager Tz'u-Hsi's firm grip on power

Empress Dowager always held a firm grip on power, exercising constant vigilance and eliminating any threats to her power. He subdued her popular Chief Policy Adviser, Yixin the Prince Gong, by removing him from his post based on false allegations, but later re-instating him under popular pressure, only as head of he Foreign Ministry, but ridding him of the title of Chief Policy Adviser. He never returned to political prominence again. She was also alarmed by the liberal thinking of people who had studied abroad, and imposed a ban on sending children abroad on scholarships, lest they pose a threat to her hold on power.

 

Marriage of Emperor Tonghzi, his ascension to the throne and his death

In the year 1872, her son and heir to the throne Emperor Tonghzi, who had just turned 17, was married to Lady Jiashun Alute, and subsequently was also given the services of four imperial consorts and concubines. The Empress Dowager also took a keen interest in giving the best education to her son, hiring the best teachers, to prepare him for his future task of ruling the country. However, the pressure and stress placed on the young Emperor, made him hate learning, and he sought relief from the stress of palace life, by sneaking out of the palace incognito and spending the nights in the brothels of Beijing. Eventually when he assumed control as the Emperor of China, in 1873 at the age of 18 years, he proved to be an incompetent ruler. He tried in vain to exert his authority as Emperor, but was thwarted by the Empresses Dowager who did not agree to the removal of some loyal officers of the state. The young Emperor's rule was however short-lived, as he died of small pox in January 1875. Following her son's death Empress Dowager Tz'u-Hsi, took back absolute control of state power again.

 

Empress Dowager Tz'u-Hsi becomes the absolute ruler of China again. Emperor Guangxu is chosen as successor to Emperor Tonghzi

Following Tonghzi's death the four-year old son of the first Prince Chun Yixuan and Tz'u-Hsi's sister, was chosen as successor to the throne of China, and was given the name Emperor Guangxu. In April 1881, the co-Empress Dowager Ci'an died suddenly and Empress Dowager Tz'u-Hsi became the only Empress regent and the absolute ruler of China. After the Sino-French War which resulted in China's defeat, she got rid of Prince Gong and other important decision makers in the Grand Council. She then appointed Prince Chun Yixuan, Emperor Guangxu's father as the commander of the Navy. It was Prince Chun who took the initiative to reconstruct and furnish the Summer Palace destroyed by the Anglo-French forces during the second opium war, as a future place of retirement for the Empress Dowager Tz'u-Hsi.

 

Emperor Guangxu ascends the throne of China and attempts to introduce  a constitutional monarchy on the British and Japanese models

Empress dowager Tzu'Hsi forced the Emperor Guangxu to marry Jingfen her niece, against his will, to become the Empress consort. In 1890, at the age of 19, Emperor Guangxu was finally given the right to rule, but even after he ascended the throne, Emperor Guangxu would seek the advice of Empress Tz'u-Hsi before making important political decisions. In the year 1894, Emperor Guangxu took China to a disastrous war with Japan, that led to an embarrassing defeat, and the crushing of the Chinese naval power. Following this defeat, Emperor Guangxu faced several internal as well as external challenges to his rule, which threatened the very survival of the monarchy, and the Emperor decided that the best option to save the monarchy would be to adopt the Japanese or British model of a constitutional monarchy, and initiated a series of reforms, that came to be known as the "Hundred Days Reform." He introduced several sweeping political, legal as well as social changes, and issued edicts for a number of far-reaching reforms.

 

Emperor Guangxu is ousted by a palace coup engineered by Empress Dowager Tz'u-Hsi

The unprecedented reforms introduced by the Emperor did not meet with the approval of the Empress Dowager Tz'u-Hsi, who was supposed to have gone on retirement. Some government and military officials too did not approve of the reforms and warned the Empress about the consequences. The Empress Dowager Tz'u-Hsi immediately swung into action, and in the year 1898, ordered the arrest and confinement of the Emperor in an isolated palace known as the Ocean Terrace, situated on an island in the Taiye lake adjacent to the Forbidden City. Allegations of treason, suspected Japanese influence on the reforms etc. were given as reasons, by the Empress Dowager for her intervention, which was portrayed as an attempt to save the nation from foreign influence. However due to increased western pressure. and the resentment generated in the nation over the unpopular move, the Empress stopped short of the forceful abdication of the Emperor, and the Guangxu era continued in name for the next ten years, until 1908, with the Empress once again wielding absolute power.

 

Allied forces invade China to crush the anti-Christian and anti-foreign Boxer Rebellion

In 1898, shortly after the deposition of Emperor Guangxu, the so called "Boxer Rebellion," a violent anti-foreign and anti-Christian uprising, broke out, whose main slogan was "support the Qing, destroy the foreign." Empress Dowager supported the uprising wholeheartedly, that resulted in the murder of large numbers of Catholic missionaries and Chinese Christians, and led to the besieging of foreign embassies, and eventually to a declaration of war on foreign powers that had diplomatic missions in Beijing. Diplomats, foreign civilians and Chinese Christians, took refuge in the diplomatic quarters, and held out for 55 days, until rescued by 20,000 allied troops of an eight-nation coalition, that marched on Being and seized the Forbidden City. Suffering a crushing defeat at the hands of the allied forces, Empress Dowager Tz'u-Hsi was forced to sign a humiliating treaty. that allowed the presence of an international military force in China, and the payment of £67 million as war reparations.

 

Death of Empress Dowager Tz'u-Hsi

Empress Dowager Tz'u-hsi who had held absolute power over the Chinese nation for 48 years, one of the longest in the history of Imperial China, suffered a stroke in November 1908. The Empress realized her last days were near and made immediate plans for her succession. She was determined not to allow Emperor Guangxu to succeed her, lest he would restore the reforms that he previously initiated. Thus just before her death she engineered her last and final coup, that eliminated Emperor Guangxu and saw her three-year old nephew Puyi installed as the new Emperor of the Qing dynasty. The new Emperor was installed on November 14, 1908, and surprisingly on the same day Emperor Guangxu also died. The very next day on November 15, 1908, Empress Dowager Tz'u-Hsi also breathed her last, to the astonishment of the greatest and most populated nation on earth. The determined Empress had indeed succeeded in the execution of her last and final coup !!! Empress Tz'u-Hsi's final words as muttered by her in her dying moments are indeed more astounding "Never again allow a woman to hold supreme power in the State !!!"

 

Forensic tests confirm the death of Emperor Guangxu by arsenic poisoning

The whole nation suspected foul play because of the closeness of the deaths of Emperor Guangxu and the Empress Dowager. This suspicion remained a fact of history for one hundred years until the current year 2008, when on November 4th, results of the forensic tests conducted by scientists confirmed that  the death of Emperor Guangxu was caused by acute arsenic poisoning, as reported by the China Daily newspaper. According to the results of the forensic tests as reported by CNN, the level of arsenic in the Emperor's remains was 2,000 times higher than that of a normal human being! Thus it is now firmly established that the Empress Dowager poisoned Emperor Guangxu as part of a master plot to eliminate the Emperor and install her three-year old nephew Puyi as the successor.

 

Empress Dowager Tz'u-Hsi's enormous jewelry collection

The Empress who wielded absolute state power for almost half a century, also used her power to surround herself with all the luxuries of life, that included the lavish summer palace, an expensive wardrobe, an enormous collection of jewels and other adornments; luxuries that were sometimes acquired at the expense of more pressing needs. She was also a lover of pearls and pearl jewelry, and always wore pearl necklaces for formal occasions. The "Imperial Hong Kong Pearl" was also part of her enormous jewel collection. At the time of her death, her jewelry vault held 3,000 ebony boxes full of her everyday jewels. After her death, the Empress was buried in splendor in her own tomb built by her during her lifetime, her coffin filled with diamonds, pearls, and other jewels, including an enormous pearl placed in her mouth in keeping with Imperial Chinese custom, to protect the corpse from decomposition.

Among the other luxuries the Empress was engaged in, was the holding of frequent lavish banquets. It is said that at a single banquet sometimes she was served with 150 different dishes. She also drank from a jade cup and ate with golden chopsticks.

 

Desecration of Empress Dowager's tomb in 1928, and subsequent restoration by the People's Republic of China

In July 1928, Empress Dowager Tz'u-Hsi's tomb was occupied by the war lord and Kuomintang general Sun Dyanying and his army. The revolutionary soldiers stripped the complex of its precious gold ornaments. They then dynamited the entrance to the burial chamber, and opened the Empress Dowager  Tz'u-Hsi's coffin. They threw her well preserved corpse on the floor and kicked it around and stole all the jewels found in the coffin, including the massive pearl placed in her mouth, that was insultingly retrieved from her corpse. The desecration caused to her corpse and the tomb was unprecedented in the history of China. It is also said that  a large pearl mounted on Empress Dowager Tz'u-Hsi's crown, was later gifted to Kuomintang leader Chiang Kai-shek by Sun Dyanying. Unconfirmed stories say that the pearl finally ended up as an ornament on the shoes of Chiang's wife, Soong May-Ling. The desecrated tomb of the Empress Dowager remained in a neglected state until 1949, when the Communist Party of China captured power. The tomb was then restored by the Government of the People's Republic of China, and today remains one of the most impressive imperial tombs of China. The decision to restore the tomb of an Imperial monarch of China, by the Communist Party, was probably inspired by the anti-imperialist and anti-western foreign policy pursued by the Empress Dowager Tz'u-Hsi, which was in line with the policies of the Communist Party of China.

 

The Imperial Hong Kong Pearl is purchased by the Imperial Pearl Syndicate

It is not known whether the "Imperial Hong Kong Pearl" was among the jewels that filled the coffin of the Empress Dowager at the time of her burial, and later plundered from her grave in 1928. Following Empress Tz'u-Hsi's death the Qing Dynasty collapsed just three years after in 1811. Thus even if the "Imperial Hong Kong Pearl" was not buried with the empress, it would perhaps have fallen into unauthorized hands, during the unsettled period of the revolution from 1911 to 1913, inspired by the reformist and revolutionary movements, and the power struggles and civil wars that continued until 1928. Items of jewelry pilfered during this period eventually ended up in neighboring Hong Kong, a British colony administered as a free port and entrepot of the British Empire. The "Imperial Hong Kong Pearl" once owned by the Empress Dowager Tz'u-Hsi also reached Hong Kong in the 1940s and was purchased by the United States based company dealing in pearls, the Imperial Pearl Syndicate, that was founded by Joseph Goldstone in 1932. Today, the enormous natural baroque pearl remains one of the valued possessions of the company.

 

Joseph Goldstone, the founder of the Imperial Pearl Syndicate

Popularized cultured Japanese pearls and pioneered the cultured pearl industry in the U.S.

Mr. Joseph Goldstone who was born in Davenport, Iowa, began his career  in the jewelry trade as a jewelry salesman.  In the year 1932, Mr. Joseph Goldstone together with his brother David Goldstone founded the company known as "Imperial" which began operations by setting up their first store in Chicago. The company initially specialized in the import and sale of Japanese cultured pearls, and was the first to import the much valued Akoya pearls to the United States from Japan. In the year 1941 Joseph Gladstone named the company "Imperial Pearl Syndicate." The company subsequently pioneered the development of the cultured pearl industry in the United States. The popularization of the Japanese cultured pearls by his company in the United States, gave a big boost to the Japanese cultured pearl industry. In the 1940s Joseph Goldstone pioneered a unique marketing strategy to help establish a brand recognition for pearls marketed by Imperial Pearl Syndicate, by featuring some of Hollywood's most popular actresses such as Elizabeth Taylor, Shirley Temple, Loretta Young and others in the advertisements of the company.

 

Donation of a dress embroidered with 80,000 cultured pearls to the USO

In the early 1940s the Imperial Pearl Syndicate turned out a unique adult female dress of size 14, embroidered with 80,000 cultured pearls. The sleeveless floor-length dress had tiny caps over the shoulders, and was worked out with various sizes of pearls, having a total weight of fifty pounds (22.7 kg). The dress was created by the company to demonstrate the versatility and the craftsmanship of the pearl industry. In the year 1942, Imperial Pearl Syndicate donated the unique creation to the United Service Organization (USO), to help raise funds for its activities. The USO is a private non-profit organization that provides morale and recreational services to members of the U.S. military worldwide, and was founded in the year 1941, in response to a request from President Franklin D. Roosevelt. The pearl dress was personally handed over by the vice president of the company David Goldstone, to Mrs. Irving Berlin, a member of the USO's national women's committee. According to Mrs. Berlin, the dress was to be shipped to Hollywood for a series of promotional photographs and then dismantled into eighty packages of 1,000 pearls each. The packages were to be sent then to all department stores in large cities, and sold under the auspices of local USO units, at the rate of one dollar each, netting a total of $80,000 for the benefit of the organization.

 

Assisting in the re-organization of the Japanese cultured pearl industry after the second world war

Joseph Goldstone's expertise in the cultured pearl industry was recognized by the United States government, and in 1947, the U.S. government requested him to assist in the reorganization of the wrecked cultured pearl industry in Japan, following the devastation caused by the second world war. He visited Japan, and working under General Douglas MacArthur's headquarters, he re-organized the cultured pearl industry in Japan, and helped set up quality standards, and got a yen-dollar equivalent to enable Japanese pearl growers to export profitably to the American market. During this period, Joseph Goldstone, also investigated trade possibilities in the Far East, as a representative of the Senate's Small Business Committee. 

 

Purchase of "Lot 88" at a public auction held in 1950

Ever since the cultured pearl industry was established in Japan in the early 20th century, pearl growers began building up collections of matching pearls in terms of size, shape, color and luster. With the onset of World War II, the pearl growers pooled their precious collections and entrusted them to the Bank of Japan for safe keeping. The collection was labeled "lot 88" and was deposited deep in the subterranean vaults of the bank. Lot 88 remained safe in the vaults of the bank, during the period of the war and until 1950, when the Supreme Commander of the Asiatic and Pacific forces ruled that the lot should be sold by public auction to the highest bidder. Accordingly at the auction that followed after this ruling, the Imperial Pearl Syndicate of Chicago, successfully bid for this renowned pearl collection, outbidding all other competitors. In October 1950, Imperial Pearl Syndicate brought the collection to their offices in the United States, and offered them for sale to their US customers.

 

Creation of a second pearl encrusted gown in 1952

Again in 1952, Mr. Joseph Goldstone designed and turned out a second dress encrusted with 10,000 cultured pearls, as a advertising gimmick. The cost of the dress was estimated at $100,000 at that time. The dress was taken on a tour of the United States and was exhibited in twenty cities around the country. Like the 80,000-pearl dress created in 1940 and subsequently donated to the USO, this dress too generated a lot of advertising for the company, not only creating a brand recognition for the company but also popularizing the use of cultured pearls in general. At one of the displays of the gown, an added boost was given by the appearance of the renowned TV and screen star Nina Foch, wearing the $100,000 pearl gown. The  80,000-pearl dress created in 1940 served a dual purpose of not only becoming an advertising sensation projecting the image of the company, but also achieving one of the objectives of the company in promoting charitable and humanitarian causes. Likewise the 10,000 cultured pearl creation of 1952, besides serving as an advertising sensation, was finally donated for a humanitarian purpose, the Damon Runyon Memorial Fund for Cancer Research.

 

Development of an anesthetic for oysters that enabled painless introduction of irritant by injection

In the early 1950s Joseph Goldstone in association with other scientists developed a special anesthetic  solution, that anesthetized oysters, enabling a painless introduction of irritant into the pearl, by injection. This was a significant discovery as there was a drastic reduction in the mortality rate of the bivalves after implantation of irritant. The credit for the development of this solution goes to Imperial pearl Syndicate.

 

Imperial Pearl Syndicate transforms into the Imperial-Deltah Inc. managed by the Bazar Group, a leading pearl company in the world

Under the guidance of Joseph Goldstone and his brother David Goldstone, the Imperil Pearl Syndicate which was founded in 1932, developed into the leading jewelry establishment dealing in pearls in the United States by the early 1950s, with branches in Chicago, Detroit, New York, Los Angeles and Tokyo, with their products being widely retailed in the United States and abroad. Mr. Joseph Goldstone, the president and the founder of the Imperial Pearl Syndicate, died at the age of 64 years on December 14, 1957. Today, the Imperial Pearl Syndicate founded by Joseph Goldstone, still maintains its leading position in the pearl jewelry market of the United States, though the company had changed hands and had merged with another leader in the  pearl jewelry trade, Pearls by Deltah to form the Imperial-Deltah Inc. one of the world's leading pearl companies, owned and  managed by the Bazar Group.

You are welcome to discuss this post/related topics with Dr Shihaan and other experts from around the world in our FORUMS (forums.internetstones.com)

Back to Famous Pearls

Related :-

1) The Hope Pearl

2) Pearl of Allah/ Pearl of Lao Tzu

3) Arco Valley Pearl

4) La Pelegrina Pearl

5) La Peregrina Pearl

External Links :-

www.pearls.com

 

References

1.The Miracle of the Sea - The world's largest pearl - pearls.com website of Imperial-Deltah Inc.  
2.Empress Dowager Cixi - From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia 
3.Empress Dowager Cixi - Discovering China, library.thinkquest.org
4.Empress Dowager Cixi - Answers.com  
5.Corporate Timeline - Imperial-Deltah Inc. www.pearls.com
6.Pearl Grading - Pearl Color Grades -www.khulsey.com
7.CPAA Discussion Forums - www.pearls.com  
8.Pearl - www.geo.utexas.edu  
9.Delve Deep - Pearl Oysters - www.seachestsecret.questacon.edu.au
 

 


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