Pearls are almost as old as Mankind and the first gems that primitive peoples used to adorn themselves with, because they could be extracted with relative ease and because it wasn't necessary to cut or polish them in order for the piece to look beautiful.
Later, in the world's emerging civilizations, pearls took on a much bigger role, personifying virtue, wisdom, power and wealth. Nowadays, pearls are considered the "Queen of Gems", and people all over the World possess and price these singular jewels.
The Discovery of "Black Pearls"
The commerce of pearls in Mexico is as old as the pre-Columbian era, when Mayan and Aztec dealers went wide and far within the confines of their Empires to fetch magnificent pearls for their grand rulers and gods.
After the Conquest of the New World by the Spaniards, many expeditions were sent to discover the "sea of pearls", later christened as the "Mare Bermejo de Cortés" (loosely translated as the "Vermillion Sea of Cortez"), and now known as the Gulf of California, to obtain the biggest and darkest pearls known at that time.
The first pearls to be known as "black pearls" and also as "South Sea Pearls" where the ones fished out of the Mexican and Central American waters of the Pacific Ocean (christened by explorer Vasco Núñez de Balboa as "Mare del Sur" -"The South Seas").
Later on, merchant and pirate ships from Holland, England and Russia, would appear in these waters, trading -or stealing- whatever valuables they could for the famous Pearls of the Sea of Cortez...
General History of the Mexican Pearl
Pearls were the New World's biggest export until the full development of gold and silver mines in Mexico and Peru. As a matter of fact, the value of the pearls exported to Spain exceeded that of all other exports combined.
In Europe, the Americas became known as "the lands where pearls come hither". One of the most famous pearls found in the Americas was "La Peregrina" ("The Wanderer). Particularly noted for its beauty and dark-gray color, "La Peregrina" has the size and shape of a pigeon's egg.
Former owners have been King Phillip II of Spain (1527-1598); Mary Tudor (1516-1558) of England, Queen Mary I (1553-1558) and Napoleon III (1808-1873). American actress Elizabeth Taylor was the last known owner of "La Peregrina" (a gift from her husband, Richard Burton), but the pearl was auctioned in 2012 after her death and sold for a mere...$11 million US dollars.
By the XVI Century, the "black pearls" of the Gulf of California had earned the title of "Queen of Pearls, Gem of Queens", since so many of them adorned the crowns of European Kings and Queens, as well as their clothing, necks, hands and ears. At that time, the city of La Paz, in Lower California, became the black pearl center of the world...