How pearls were mined in the rivers of Russia

According to the encyclopedia, the main centers of pearl mining are the coast of Japan and Sri Lanka, as well as the Red Sea and the Persian Gulf. But a pearl necklace can also be seen on the coat of arms of the Karelian city of Kem. this coat of arms was approved during the reign of Empress Catherine II, in 1788. The description of the coat of arms said: "In a blue field, a wreath made of pearls, as a sign of the fact that many shells are taken out of the flowing rivers from the Lapland Mountains, and from them a fair amount of pearls."

This was indeed the case. A large number of pearls have long been mined in our northern rivers. For example, the annals contain information that Prince Svyatoslav wore in his ear a gold earring decorated with two pearls. And Ivan the Terrible's mantle was strewn with pearls, some of which were the size of a nut.

And this craft existed until the beginning of the twentieth century. For example, in 1892 in the newspaper "Petersburg leaflet" published an article in which it was reported that even in the vicinity of St. Petersburg in the rivers there are shells with small pearls. not small - from 45 to 200 rubles.

This fishery has become especially widespread since the 15th century in the rivers of the Kola Peninsula and the modern Arkhangelsk region. True, the extraction of river pearls was limited to the summer months, since the water in the rivers was cold. They looked for pearls in the shells of the European pearl mussel The lifespan of these molluscs can exceed 200 years.

Seashells were collected in rivers and streams, and, moreover, they were not deep, therefore, it was not necessary to dive like pearl hunters in Japan. And sharks were not found here, therefore, their attacks could not be afraid.

In the summer, as soon as the water warmed up to such a temperature that it was possible to enter it, the pearl divers would go fishing. First, it was necessary to find an area with a large number of shells. The best time to collect them is a warm, windless day, when there are no ripples on the surface of the water and the bottom is clearly visible. The collected shells were placed in a basket.

There was a belief that pearls should be looked for only in those rivers where the "noble" fish - salmon and trout - enter. Varzuga, flowing on the Kola Peninsula, was considered one of the best rivers for pearling. Even before the revolution, researchers estimated that the total number of pearls in this river could be as high as 20 million.

The fished shells were carefully examined. Only those remained that had an uneven, or, as the fishermen said, "humped" surface. It was in them that pearls could be born. All others were released back into the water. But the selected ones began to open, in search of the coveted pearls. But, even in such shells, pearls were not often found, hundreds of pieces had to be broken before it was possible to find one pearl.

The most stubborn catchers were in no hurry to close the mining season with the onset of the first cold weather. They made rafts from which they scooped sand from the bottom together with shells. The extracted pearls were divided into three varieties - large, medium and small. After that, the pearls were sent for sale. In a good year, a catcher could earn up to 200-300 rubles. But, there were also very valuable finds.

For example, in 1871, two peasants of the Lodeynopolsky district of the Olonets province found 11 large pearls, which were sent to St. Petersburg for Empress Maria Alexandrovna, the wife of Alexander II. In gratitude, the empress ordered to give them a prize of 200 rubles and a gold watch as a gift.

Alexandra Feodorovna, the wife of the last Russian emperor Nicholas II, was also not indifferent to pearls. For each anniversary of the engagement, her husband gave her pearl jewelry made by the firm "Karl Eduard Bohlin". In total, the amount of gifts was estimated at half a million rubles.

Pearl divers have repeatedly complained that local officials are doing their best to obstruct their fishing. And under Peter the Great, it was generally forbidden to mine it to private individuals. The ban was lifted only in 1764 by Catherine II. But, with one condition - large pearls were supposed to be handed over to the Commerce Collegium, and not free of charge, but for a set fee.

Demand for pearls has always exceeded supply, but at the beginning of the twentieth century, this once profitable business fell into decay. There were several reasons - pollution of rivers, predatory prey, as a result of which the number of shells sharply decreased. Already after the revolution, the extraction of river pearls in our country was recognized as not profitable. Although, in Soviet times, the microbiologist Gleb Yuryevich Vereshchagin, after studying the rivers of the Kola Peninsula, argued that this region contains a huge amount of pearls. In recent decades, the technology of partial opening of the shell valves has appeared, as a result of which the probability of its death is minimized.