Most people have heard of Linnaeus as being the founding father of modern botanical names; all Latin binomials and nomenclature begin with his book Species Plantarum published in 1753. Binomials had been used by other botanists before him but he was the first to create a logical system.

But how many know Linnaeus was the first person in the world to produce cultured pearls? 

At that time the only method for finding pearls was to use the time consuming effort of looking for natural ones. He believed that a technique for culturing pearls would be more effective and profitable for Sweden.

He experimented with the Painters Mussel, Unio pictorum, so called because the shells were good for the mixing of paints by artists.  Linnaeus drilled a hole in the mussel’s shell and inserted a small granule of limestone between the mantle and the shell. The idea was this ‘irritant’ would stimulate the growth of pearls. These mussels were then returned to the riverbed for 6 years and they produced the world’s first spherical cultured pearls.

It wasn’t as profitable a business as he had hoped but even so he was ennobled for his efforts by the king of Sweden, taking the title of von Linné.

The pearls, patent, and Linnaeus’ secret were sold to a Swedish merchant but nothing came of it.

You then have to wait 150 years until the Englishman William Saville-Kent formed a syndicate in 1905 called “The Natural Pearl Shell Cultivation Company of London”. This was the first commercial venture and took place in the Torres Straight which runs between the tip of Australia and New Guinea.