Pearls of wisdom
When it comes to classic jewellery, no piece says more about the wearer than the understated pearl choker. A strand of pearls states exactly what the well-coiffed woman wants you to know, but nothing else. Unlike a multi-carat diamond, it neither speaks loudly nor delves into the wearer's personal life.
A classic strand of pearls conjures strong images of Jackie Onassis and Grace Kelly, who wore them so easily with their satin pillbox hats. Just thinking about them makes a modern bored housewife ache for their seemingly glamorous 1960s lives.
But times, they are a changing. People are more open and even the most classic and sophisticated want their jewellery to reflect a more carefree and friendly attitude. These days, customers are increasingly asking for their pearls to be paired with colourful gemstones and diamonds - a little razzmatazz to express themselves in a new era.
In addition, jewellers have observed a sort of levelling up for women who already own the classic pearl choker. The next natural purchase has traditionally been a longer strand, or a strand with larger pearls. Today, as women climb economic and social ladders, they are also adding pearl and gemstone combinations to their collections. The look and feel of the classic is being transformed and the lucky wearers with it.
Mikimoto, a name synonymous with high-quality pearl jewellery, has seen this phenomenon, particularly in Asia, and has answered the call by producing a dazzling assortment of pearls paired with gemstones.
'There is a trend in the greater China market for the use of new colours in both the gemstones and metals that are paired with the pearls,' says Joyce Tong, assistant marketing manager at Mikimoto.
Fortunately, design-wise, almost all gemstones are a good fit with pearls.
'If we really have to pick one colour that does not go very well with pearl, perhaps black diamonds are relatively rarely used in our collections,' Tong says.
Good colour pairings for pearls include pink, blue and yellow sapphires, red rubies, green emeralds, fancy-coloured diamonds, purple amethyst, light blue aquamarine and the fantastic alexandrite, which changes colour from bluish green to reddish purple, depending on the ambient lighting. These pairings can be found in the Mikimoto 2012 collection, Flowers of Hope.
The inspiration behind Flowers of Hope is a message of hope and renewal in the light of the devastating effects of this year's earthquake and tsunami in Japan.
Embodying sentiments of faith, hope and love, creative flower forms are complemented by the mellow lustre of Akoya pearls.
Admiring the pieces should evoke feelings of harmony, and thoughts that these blooms will yield the seeds of everlasting happiness.
Pearl-specialist brand Paspaley also has standout collections with many styles of necklaces, earrings and rings from which to choose.
Its newest Muse collection pairs pearls with onyx, rose quartz and moonstone, creating modern, youthful and feminine jewellery.
Nonetheless, there are those for whom moving with the times seems like exercise and prefer to stay nested in tradition.
They, too, have options for livening up their pearl wardrobes. For them, there are white diamonds.
These, when coupled with pearls, are an enduring and tasteful choice, Tong says.
However, when it comes to technical considerations, the hardness of the stone is definitely a concern. The harder the stone, the easier it is to scratch the surface of the pearls.
Considering that diamond is a 10 on the Mohs hardness scale (the hardest of all stones) and pearl is an extremely soft 2.5 to 4.5, it requires demanding skill and craftsmanship to produce flawless pearl jewellery with stone settings.
From a designer's point of view, as long as this concern is technically solved, white diamonds with their pure and elegant character, are a popular choice for pairing with pearls.
The bottom line when producing any high-end pearlwear, is to first source the best quality Akoya pearls, employ the most deft craftsmen, and have imaginative designers.
'After choosing the best quality pearls ... design always comes first to meet the customers' needs,' Tong says.
She compares the work designers do in translating images from their imaginations into wearable art, to performing magic. 'However, eventually we also have to consider the price to a certain extent, depending on the assigned budget.'
For the wearer, it is exciting to think about how pairing pearls with gemstones changes not only the look and feel of an outfit, but the image she projects. For example, a strand of perfectly symmetrical pearls are classically elegant on a woman's neck and convey a sense of trustworthiness, yet are not overly formal and are suitable for everyday wear. Bearing in mind the woman's personality, the same strand decked out with a few white diamonds also works for upscale day wear. But when dazzling coloured gemstones are added, the piece is suddenly elevated to evening wear. Tong sees gemstones as a way to brighten up your outfit and perhaps even yourself, 'Pairing pearls with gemstones could give life to the jewellery piece and even light up the character of the wearers.'
While pearls and gemstones may be modern day BFFs [best friends forever], top jewellery brands can never forget that there are still many 'purists' who appreciate the romantic lustre of a single pearl.
As Tong puts it: 'They are the classical, elegant women. Like Grace Kelly.'