For nearly 100 years, there have only been two families that have known how to produce the Ohrid pearls: the Talevs and the Filevs. Unlike regular pearls, Ohrid pearls are made from shells, which are ground and made into balls of various sizes by adding at least eight coats of a secret emulsion, giving them their characteristic shine. Each layer has to be dried before the next one is applied, which can take between 45 minutes and an hour each. The emulsion’s ingredients include scales stripped from plasica fish – sometimes called Ohrid trout or bleak – but the rest of the process remains a mystery.
The history of Ohrid pearls in the region dates back to the 1920s, when a Russian immigrant introduced the technique to the two families. Since then, the Talevs and the Filevs have only passed down the secret production process verbally from father to son. Whereas traditional pearls may only last 150 years, the Talev family claims the Ohrid pearls will last forever.
In the last several decades, Ohrid’s gleaming gems have become one of the country’s biggest trademarks and have been worn by such European royalty as Queen Margrethe II of Denmark, Queen Elizabeth II and Princess Diana.