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"A woman needs ropes and ropes of pearls", Coco Chanel

Updated: Mar 6, 2021

Now, for as much as I love this quote, I also appreciate that pearls are not for everyone.... but... almost everyone! And the beauty of pearls, is that, in the right shape and design, actually, almost everyone can wear them.

Officially the worlds oldest gem, the “Queen of Gems” has been coveted since ancient times. Chinese royalty received pearls as gifts as early as 2300 BC, a fragment of pearl jewellery was discovered in the sarcophagus of a Persian princess in 420 BC and in ancient Rome, pearl jewellery was considered such a precious status symbol, that Julius Caesar made it illegal to wear pearls unless you were in the ruling classes! They were the most expensive jewellery in the world, and so rare, that they were reserved for nobles and the very rich.

By the 16th century the prestige of wearing pearls in the UK resulted in the era being named the 'Pearl Age', and in 1893 Kokichi Mikimoto, the son of a Japanese noodle maker, created the world's first cultured pearl by manually introducing an irritant into an oyster to stimulate it to form a pearl. This would be the beginning of major change for the use of pearls in fashion.

Ancient civilisations such, as the Chinese, believed that pearls shielded you from dragons and fire, and others believed that they symbolised the moon and had magical properties. Other cultures have associated them with chastity and modesty, and the Victorians often used small seed pearls in mourning jewellery to represent tears. A historic trend of women in power wearing pearls moved into the realms of social media more recently with the Twitter tag " wear pearls on inauguration day" in honour of Kamala Harris, the first female Vice President of the United States. Kamala Harris was a member of the Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority Inc. (AKA), a historically black institution based in Washington DC founded in 1908, and they refer to their founders as the “Twenty Pearls”. Every member initiated into the sorority is given a badge covered with twenty pearls. Kamala is frequently seen wearing pearls, and so now it is widely believed that wearing pearls is a token of female solidarity.

It was in the early 1920s that French fashion designer Paul Poiret first used pearls in his collections, and he was soon followed by Coco Chanel, who we can thank for breaking the mould for good, by introducing fake pearls and gemstones into her collections. This was the beginning of launching fashion jewellery as the popular accessory that we all so enjoy and so fully embrace.

Coco Chanel’s style was the epitome of simple and yet sophisticated. She had a panache for wearing bold accessories, and was seldom seen without reams of pearl necklaces around her neck. She would wear multiple strands at once and famously said “I only like fake jewellery….because it’s provocative”. Time would tell how right she was!

Everyone can wear pearls, be they real, cultured or faux! It is the design and how you wear that them that will dictate what they look like on you. From the extreme drama of adorning your neck with many multiple strands or the tiny addition of a pearl pendant on a simple chain, the world is your oyster! (Pardon the pun!)

We are lucky these days to have a world of choice in colours, shapes and sizes so there is something for everyone! The Chinese have mastered the art of dying freshwater and Keshi pearls in a vast array of colours; the infamous Swarovski brand is the peak in the market of high quality pearl coated crystals that are used by high end brands, and, at the lower end, we have an endless selection of glass and plastic pearls. This huge variety provides us with choices in style, quality and colour, and means that we can incorporate pearls into our accessories as little or as much as we feel comfortable with.

I can wear very large scale jewellery, and, like Coco Chanel (not that I am in the LEAST like her!) I need loads! The largest pearl multi-strand necklace on the BJewelled site so far would need a few extra strands for me to wear it, so, yes, I go large! My daughter, like my mother, on the other hand, would be over-faced with the same scale. They are both very Classic (Dramatic Classics) in style, and look amazing in simple, pearl necklaces. I, on the other hand, would look like I am wearing my grandmother's jewellery!

Be it a bracelet, earrings, broach or shoe clips, simply on their own, or mixed in with crystals or gemstones, delicate or dramatic in design, be you Dramatic, Classic, Gamine or Ingenue, the accessory world would be far less exciting without pearls! You can wear them any time of the day, be it for work, lunch or a formal dinner. Then it is all about the design, and we will cover this in another blog :)

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