A mere 2,200 years ago, a particularly savvy Egyptian scientist called Bolos of Mendes recorded a vast catalogue of methods for the betterment and upkeep of gems. Though no longer available on the original papyrus, various versions of his recipes have trickled down through academia for milennia, eventually making their way to the modern-day Gemological Institute of America.
Not one, but three of these ten different recipes involved the act of feeding a pearl to a live chicken in order to improve its appearance (elevating the fowls’ status, by association, with the only other pearl-eating Egyptian– Cleopatra!). Unfortunately, at least two iterations of these recipes call for the death of the poor chickens, while the third more innocently sugguests searching through their droppings the next day. The entire process is not unlike the modern-day practice of feeding coffee bean-bearing cherries to the Asian palm civets of Indonesia, resulting in one the most expensive coffees in the world after having passed through an “organic” refining process. In the name of science, Bolos' recipes were recently recreated by K. Nassau and A. E. Hanson, a couple of curious minds who recorded in depth their study, which can be found here.
First came the chicken-feeding experiments, which yielded varying degrees of success. One method produced an almost entirely-dissolved pearl; the second, a pearl which was identical to its state when it was first snacked upon. The third try, however, was a charm: lucky pearl number three was fed to a chicken who had not eaten since the previous day (a necessary step), and then was retrieved after two hours. As a result, roughly one-tenth of the cultured outer layer of the pearl was dissolved away, leaving a much lighter color and yet equally excellent luster.
Thanks to these modern-day experiments, we can conclude that in spite of some rather less scientific recommendations (such as the use of milk from a dog with white fur) found in the same text, that other methods from the minds of ancient scholars accurately understood the true nature of chemistry and gemology! In spite of this, however, the Eve Alfillé Gallery & Studio recommends bringing your pearls to us for a good cleaning, and to leave the chickens at home.
To read the study itself, click here to read more by K. Nassau and A. E. Hanson.