Scottish Pearls

by Jorge Costa
(London, United Kingdom)

Scottish Pearl Collection

Scottish Pearl Collection

Scottish pearls are very rare freshwater pearls produced by a mussel (Margaritifera Margaritifera), found in the River Tay and other Scottish rivers. The Scottish pearls come in colours from rustic brown, grey, cream, white, lilac and pink with a subtlety in colour and lustre that distinguishes them from their oriental counterparts.

Exploitation of freshwater pearl mussels has taken place since pre-Roman times. The earliest reference in Britain is by Julius Caesar's biographer, Suetonius, who stated that Caesar's admiration of pearls was a reason for the first Roman invasion in 55BC. In Scotland, the earliest reference dates back to the 12th Century when Alexander I, King of Scots, was said to have 'the best pearl collection of any man living'. The medieval poem 'The Parl' which dates from the late 14th Century is another early reference to freshwater pearl mussels in Scotland. The Scottish Crown housed at Edinburgh Castle is set with Scottish pearls.

Further references in later centuries indicate a growing exploitation of Scottish pearl mussels. By the 18th century the first references to a decline in pearl mussel numbers is recorded. This decline accelerated during the 20th century due to over fishing, water pollution, and a deteriorating ecosystem; to such degree that there was evidence that pearl mussels became extinct from an average of two rivers every year in Scotland between 1970 and 1998; when the species gained full protected status, making it an offense to kill, injure, take, intentionally disturb or damage their habitat, or sell without a license from the Scottish government.

Only two jewellery shops, Cairncross in the city of Perth and Alistir Wood Tait in Edinburgh possess a Scottish government license to sell the pearls.

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Feb 18, 2024
where to now get scottish pearls NEW
by: Scottish pearl collector

Sadly both Cairncross and Alistir Wood Tait have now closed down permanently.

T Paterson Jewellers, on Perth's High Street, now hold the only licence to sell Scottish Freshwater Pearls and have a lovely collection of pieces.

May 02, 2016
Thank you for your appreciation
by: Scottish Pearls

I found the poem long ago in a book at the Scotand National Library in Edinburgh but I can't remember the book title. Apart from the pearls in the Perth Museum you cannot see them anywhere else, but at Cairncross they show you the famous 'Little Willie' by special request as the pearl is not being exhibit any longer.

Thank you for your comments about my pearls.

May 02, 2016
I love the variety of styles!
by: Kari


Thank you for sharing your Scottish Pearl Collection. It is an honor for you to own those clever pieces. I love the variety and the little owl eyes are special.

I like how they appreciate even the brown pearls with little or no luster. They are still unique natural pearls. They remind me of several I have from Texas.

I would love to read the medieval poem you mentioned called "The Parl". Can you send me a copy of it or help me find it?

I saw pearls in one small museum in Perth. Do other Scottish museums have natural pearls for viewing?

Thanks again for sharing!

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