Part two of this week’s three-part blog.
Remember when pearls used to conjure up images of pristine preppies, predictable bridal jewelry and the cultured strands you used to play with in your grandmother’s jewelry box? Although Coco Chanel did much in her day to totally revitalize and modernize pearls (mixing real and faux, layering multi-strands and adding large gem encrusted Maltese crosses), throughout the 20th century pearls kept returning to their more tradition roots. Many designers and infamous jewelry houses during this period tried to infuse pearls with an elegance and glamor, succeeding only for short periods of time- mostly when draped around the necks of Jackie O and Grace Kelly.
My own recollections included sitting next to my mom in the mirror and watching her dress up in her Jackie O-style strands. But, just a few year later she was trading them in for love beads, peace sign pendants and woman’s lib. That was the thing about pearls, there was always a movement or a trend or shift in society that took over and kept pearls in their proper place.
The first time I ever really wore pearls was upon receiving my first bridesmaid’s gift in my twenties of a very basic teardrop shaped fresh water earring, dangling from a sterling silver wire. Not long after, I counted approximately ten similar pairs bestowed upon me for my role in wedding parties–many either in natural or, yes, dyed to match hues — to go with the dress. You remember–the dress–flammable fabrics, fashioned in colors and silhouettes that flattered no actual woman–but definitely complemented the decor and table settings of the bride’s venue.
I’m not sure about your friends and relatives, but most of mine who were getting married (and were gracious enough to have me as a bridesmaid), practiced equality: every body type got the exact same dress silhouette and every face shape and skin tone, the same drop pearl earring.
Later in my early thirties I wore Karl Lagerfeld and Moschino’s high fashion versions of big chunky button pearls and curb chain mixtures that evoked a sort of Haute motorcycle chic. This look lasted for about 12 minutes for me. My only long-term relationship with pearls was with the tiniest of natural seed pearls chokers, two antique styles from the Edwardian era.
Needless to say, I had no passion for pearls. And, when I think back, the one piece I could never imagine myself wearing- a pearl ring.
Then, three years ago I met Danish designer Lene Vibe Dahlgren. The minutes I set my gaze upon her magical 3-D fairytale-like garden motif surrounding a creamy baroque pearl (for her collection, Vibes) I had to have it. Immediately. Love at first sight. Passion ignited. Before I even tried it on, I knew that I would wear it on what ever finger it would fit and I purchased it on the spot. I now own three different styles of her rings in lustrous natural shades as well as her enchanting, poetic and sometimes whimsical and one-of-kind baroque South Sea and Keshi pearl pendants with and without rough cut diamonds on both chain and leather cord.
I am also a fan of Nina Basharova’s rough and refined looks of irregularly shaped pearls held by stylized 18K gold versions of barbed wire. Autore’s dazzling sea life and antique motifs elevate pearls to a collectible art form. There are also designers such as Gabrielle Sanchez who mix various natural pearls in inventive shapes, working long Biwa and Keshi pearls into flowers and cross motifs, and, most recently, the return and update of Wendy Brigode’s ‘Tin Cup” necklace (the station pearl strand in the film of the same name that graced Renee Russo’s neck and spawned years of imitations). Both of these designers offer contemporary and often sexy alternatives for all women and a welcome, personalized and unbridled approach to wedding jewelry and gifts for your most treasured friends.
Just recently, after many years of finally vowing to be only a guest rather than a participant in the bridal party, I was asked to be witness for a good friend’s second wedding. I wore my own dress and my own Vibes gray pearl and rough diamond earrings. And, I embraced my new and enduring role as a pearl girl (okay, maybe pearl ‘woman’).