More often than not, gems are appreciated uniquely for their aesthetic value, but in truth their real beauty emanates from deeper, hidden levels; for sealed within every gemstone is a story of epic proportions spanning immeasurable time, forgotten peoples and lost civilizations.
9,000 years before the birth of Christ, humankind took its first tentative steps towards organized society. The cradle of these early Neolithic farming cultures was ‘The Fertile Crescent;’ a name given to a land mass covering an area which stretched from the shores of the eastern Mediterranean to the Persian Gulf. The ‘Fertile Crescent’s’ area includes the countries we now call Egypt, Israel, Lebanon, Jordan, Syria, Iraq, Kuwait, Turkey and Iran; Of all these countries it was Iran, known as Persia up until 1935, who was to have the largest impact on world cultures spanning a timeline from 3200 B.C.E. to 1935 C.E. (Common Era); a total of more than 5000 years.
The Persian Empire reached its zenith with the Achaemenid dynasty. At its height, the Achaemenid dynasty, lasting from 550 to 330 B.C.E., stretched from the Indus Valley in what is now Pakistan to the banks of the Danube River in Europe. Founded by Cyrus The Great, the Achaemenid dynasty included an infamous lineage of royalty including Xerses, infamous for his battle with the 300 Spartan warriors, and Darius who met his fate at the hands of Alexander The Great. At the center of the Achaemenid dynasty were the cities of Babylon and Susa; the latter mentioned in the Bible’s Book Of Esther as ‘Sushan.’
Among the world’s oldest cities, enduring from 5000 B.C.E to 650 C.E., Susa was chosen as the capital of the Achaemenid dynasty because of its location on the trade routes from Persia, Mesopotamia and Asia Minor. Under Cyrus The Great, Susa became the dynasty’s chief treasury; one of the strongest and richest storehouses in the known world surpassing even Babylon in its magnificence. Susa remained the center of the Achaemenid dynasty, operating as an important trading city until the third century before Christ, where it fell to Alexander the Great and the subsequent Parthian and Sassanid Empires. In 638 C.E., the city fell to the Islamic conquests of Persia and its trafficking importance diminished. Susa managed to survive as a city until it was finally destroyed by the Turkic Mongols in 1218 C.E.; after which it was abandoned.
Susa, repossessed by the encroaching desert lay in ruins, lost for more than 600 years. However, in 1897 archeological excavations at Susa were undertaken by the French anthropologist Jacques de Morgan. In February 1901, de Morgan uncovered what appeared to be a tomb of Achaemenid royalty dating from approximately 350 B.C.E. In fact, the royal figure enclosed in the sarcophagus was that of a young woman; an Achaemenid princess. The body had been lain out and decorated with a huge amount of gold and precious gemstone jewelry and ornaments. Among the various jewels, one stood out from the rest; A pearl necklace or to be more precise a pearl collier.
The Susa pearl necklace consists of 3 rows of 72 pearls each. When Jacques de Morgan discovered the necklace the pearls were in an advanced state of deterioration with many of them breaking up on contact when they were moved from the tomb. De Morgan believed that the ‘Dog Collar’ pearl necklace originally consisted of between four and five hundred pearls. Although the pearls had suffered, the setting and stringing of the necklace was relatively intact. The entirety of the surviving 216 pearls were interspersed, and joined together with gold gemstone encrusted findings acting as spacer bars. There were ten gold spacer bars in total, each of these bars comprising of three petite disks approximately five millimeters in diameter. They separate the pearl collier into nine equidistant divisions; at the extremity of each end of the necklace there is a larger ten millimeter disk to which all three pearl strands are secured.
The actual stringing of the pearls, Arabian in origin, was done with bronze wires. The pearl collier design, Syrian in style, is the oldest of its kind in the world today and is on display in the Persian Gallery of the Louvre Museum in Paris.