It's one thing to be passionate about gemstones. It is another to actually write a book about them. Marge Dawson did just that. Her full name is Marjorie May Dawson. Marjorie is one of the many variants of Margaret. Derived from Latin Margarita, which was from Greek μαργαριτης (margarites) meaning "pearl", this classic female first name was probably borrowed from the Sanskrit word मञ्जरी mañjarī or perhaps the Persian word, marvârid (مروارید) which means a pearl or daughter of light.

Marge found me on LinkedIn. She was most intrigued with my name and was delighted to learn my birthday is in June, just like hers.The pearl is that month's birthstone. Indeed that is why I was called Pearl. Marge had her book Pearls of Creation sent to me for review.  A remarkable achievement for the now 80 year old!

Her love for pearls began back in the early 1980's when she and her late husband had the franchise for "Pearls in the Oyster." That experience started her on her quest of learning as much as possible about pearls.

Marge and Vernon were able to meet with a number of experts and see first hand, a number of saltwater pearl farms such as the Eyris Blue Pearl company in New Zealand and the Paspaley Pearl Company in Darwin, Australia. The featured farms shared some of the beautiful photos as well as some of the technical information she included in her book. Her descriptions of how pearls are farmed and the sheer hard work, long years and the many challenges facing farmers makes one truly appreciate this gemstone. Not all companies do so but the Jewelmer company is one which actually grow baby oysters after they are spawned.  The staff sing lullabies to these babies!

Cultured saltwater pearls are typically spherical as there is more space in the oysters than the flatter freshwater mussels. She did not cover any of the Chinese cultured pearl farms which supply almost all of today's freshwater pearls but she included the American Pearl Company. The founding family, the Latendresses, still cultivate really uniquely shaped pearls in the river in Camden, Tennessee.

While by no means comprehensive, some of the historical information the author covered was fascinating like the American Pearl Rush of 1908. Plastic buttons later replaced mother of pearl ones and ended the boom.  But today the "Pig Toe" and "Washboard" mussels found only in the Mississippi/Tennessee river valleys are exported because they make ideal bead nuclei to seed the oysters.

The book is divided into 6 chapters. The fifth one, an A to Z of pearls comprises of about half the book. It is a useful section to dip into because it has some fascinating pearl facts and explains various technical terms used in the industry. For instance, natural and other fine pearls are weighed in pearl grains with 565 pearl grains equating to 1 ounce. Any rare natural pearls weighing over 100 grains are called "treasures"!

The author also explains how to properly care for pearl jewelry as well as how to look for good quality, real pearls with a helpful list of pointers. Yes, there is even the right time of day to shop for pearls as lighting is important! In her A to Z section, she lists a whole array of imitation pearls including  "essence d'orient or pearl essence" which is a manmade creamy liquid containing guanine crystals derived from fish scales and used to repeatedly coat glass beads.

She also explains how to tell the difference between real and fake pearls - by rubbing two pearls together. Real pearls will feel grainy.  She pans the teeth test as that would not work with acrylic dentures and besides, "that test would not be polite to try when selecting pearls from any outlet or in any store!"  Also intriguing and tougher for the amateur is the "blinking or winking" test for natural vs cultured pearls where the subjects are examined under a strong fluorescent light.

This book is self published as the author is retired and did not have the resources to go with a publishing house.  So the book is not as polished as it could be in terms of organization, editing and presentation.

There were also a few factual errors which is understandable as the author is not medically or scientifically trained. In the sections about the female Ama divers of Japan and divers who clean the oysters, she called the danger facing them as "deep water blackout or the bends". They are two different things - one is due to cerebral hypoxia, and the other is nitrogen narcosis. The confusion may have arisen because some divers loosely call the final stage of nitrogen narcosis as deep water blackout.

The author also briefly touched on the practice of dynamiting coral reefs. This is not for their calcium content but a terribly destructive way of fishing called blast fishing. The coral is damaged or blown to bits. The coral turns white when they die but this bleaching is due to warming sea temperatures and pollution.

Crushed inferior pearls and shells are indeed sources of calcium carbonate which has many industrial uses as well as medicinal ones as touched on in the book. But alas the sentence which says it has "been proven to help cure the common cold, whooping cough, malaria, headaches, gout, lung and eye diseases, dysentery, insomnia etc" is not correct. There is still no cure for the common cold because the viruses keep changing all the time. We have vaccines and other medicine to prevent or treat the other ailments mentioned.

The errors do not, however, detract from the overall charm and wealth of information of the book and can easily be addressed in future editions.

Marge currently lives in South Africa but visits the US and Canada where she has family. She only makes jewelry to sell when she is giving promotional book talks.  Her website is here.

Mother of Pearl Shell Necklaces by Marge Dawson
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