Ocean queen gets revamp
Forget the perception of a string of pearls as a timeless piece of jewellery epitomised by Gabrielle Chanel and grandmothers around the world.
The 1930s photograph of Coco Chanel wearing row upon row of pearls over a black sweater might have immortalised this queen of the ocean as the single most elegant piece of jewellery a woman could own, but new techniques and designs mean the classic strand, choker and drop-earrings set is becoming very last century.
Models at Chanel's spring-summer show in Paris wrapped them around their heads as beauty and fashion accessories. Only recently, Lady Gaga appeared at a charity event in New York with hundreds of white pearls glued to her face and legs. Mikimoto wowed audiences at the Basel Jewellery Fair in Switzerland last month with a one-off necklace featuring 1,490 akoya pearls. With eight choker strands and several long strands that draped across the body, the masterpiece demonstrated the desire for new ways to wear pearls.
Joyce Tong, assistant marketing manager at Mikimoto Pearl Jewellery, says pearls are more popular today than 10 or 20 years ago. They are becoming iconic pieces, with jewellery, accessories and fashion designers employing pearls as a trend-setting element in their collections. 'Customers are more demanding about the design of the jewellery and scarcity of valuable pearls,' Tong says.
In response, designers are combining shapes, colours and techniques to create sophisticated pieces that are versatile and multifunctional. Nevertheless, consumers still want elegance, and Mikimoto's Cherishing Love collection highlights the timeless beauty of simplicity in design with single akoya pearls surrounded by tiny diamonds.
Paspaley has been farming its own cultured South Sea pearls for more than a century but, according to regional marketing manager Eliette Rosich, its designers are using them in a more fashion-forward way. 'The fan base is changing and they are being used in jewellery with more movement and with more uses,' Rosich says. 'The way the under-30s wear jewellery is very appealing and very sensual.'
Paspaley's Muse collection, produced by Swiss-German designer Jurgen Kammler, does more than meets the eye. Feminine, free of motifs and incorporating black onyx, the collection is modern and multifunctional. Strands of pearls and a clasp mean they can be worn combined or as separates, and the collection also includes a pair of earrings that can be worn in four combinations - putting to practical use the reputation of fine German engineering.
'Women can create an entire day-to-evening wardrobe from two or three pieces,' Kammler says.
Tayma Page Allies, founder of Tayma Fine Jewellery, says the array of pearls available today, from the classic icy white South Sea variety to peacock blues, grey, green and black from the waters of Tahiti, ensure there is a pearl for every taste. 'Most women love freshwater pearls and the prices suit everyone's pocket, depending on the colour, quality and size,' she says.
The jeweller has collected baroque and keshi pearls for 20 years. Allies says the fashion in Hong Kong was for perfect pearls and the baroque types, misshapen and in colours from peach and pink to lavender and cream, were relatively inexpensive. Now their individuality has made them the pearl of choice, 'No two necklaces can be the same, so prices have risen,' Allies says.
Jan Logan has always combined pearls with modern materials such as leather. The designer uses Australian South Sea pearls to create fun and functional jewellery.
The current collection includes a South Sea Pearl Flapper necklace, right on cue with the summer trend for 1920s glamour that can be worn as a single or double-strand necklace.
Jordan Abram of luxury jeweller Ronald Abram, whose Vintage collection includes a stunning Edwardian era pearl and diamond pendant made from natural pearls formed without human intervention, says there has been a rise in demand for natural pearls by virtue of their rarity.
'For thousands of years, cultures around the world have adorned their women in natural pearls as a symbol of wealth and prestige,' Abram says.
'But the onset of the 20th century saw the decline of natural pearls. Whatever remains on the market today can only come from private estates, making their supply increasingly scarce.'