Jewellery: Pearls before thine

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Jewellery: Pearls before thine

There’s been a lot of fuss recently about the chef Salt Bae and his £315 gold-encrusted steak, available at his new London restaurant, Nusr-Et. To which I say, pah! Or rather, pearls! That was what Cleopatra was said to have crushed into a glass of wine to make Marc Antony’s dinner the most costly in history. Take that, Salt! (May I call you Salt?) What a magical elixir that pearl-laced libation must have been, albeit not one to consume with a tickly throat.

A Luminescent Past

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Pearls have always had lustre—metaphorical and literal. In ancient China, they communicated the supposed purity of the wearer. In the Dark Ages, knights would wear pearls into battle as a protective talisman. The pearl is reputed to be the first precious gem to have been discovered by humans; the earliest example was found in the sarcophagus of a Persian princess dated to 420BC and can be seen in the Louvre in Paris.

It’s not just about the symbolism, of course. There is no better complexion flatterer than the pearl. This was the reason Coco Chanel declared that “a woman needs ropes and ropes of pearls”. Not that—groundbreaker that she was—Chanel was hung up on whether hers were real or faux, merrily mixing both in the array of sautoirs that hung around her neck.

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Jewellery: Pearls before thine
© Provided by India Today Coco Chanel was hung up on pearls, whether real or faux, merrily mixing both in the array of sautoirs that hung around her neck; Getty Images

All of which makes it a tad baffling that there was a period when I was growing up when pearls were what your mother wore, or your grandmother, and what you most certainly didn’t. There was no jewellery I coveted less when I was 19 than pearls. Girls in pearls weren’t cool, and so they weren’t me. Pearls were old hat, or rather old bling. They looked fusty and frumpy.

Behold the Pearl Revolution

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Jewellery: Pearls before thine
© Provided by India Today Big international brands such as Gucci to Jimmy Choo have made the gem that isn’t a stone their thing; Images Courtesy: ASTAGURU

What a change there has been. Some of the best and most envelope-pushing designers, be it big international names such as Alessandro Michele at Gucci or more quietly celebrated British ones such as Amy Powney at Mother of Pearl, have made the gem that isn’t a stone their thing. One strand in Gucci’s diverse aesthetic under Michele has been the kind of jewellery that would have fitted right in at the court of Henry VIII. Its bee necklace with a faux drop pearl would have looked just so at the neck of Anne Boleyn, for as long as the king decreed that she should remain in possession of said neck, of course (£435, gucci.com). When it comes to Michele’s clothing, pearls as buttons are just the beginning these days, including on a pastel jacquard jacket (£1,850, net-a- porter.com), which comes with a gold leather collar studded with, yes, you guessed it.

Powney loves the gem so much she put it in her brand name, and uses outsize faux iterations on many of Mother of Pearl’s bestselling styles. Its Wren coat, for example, has ruffled shoulders adorned with them (available in assorted colours, from £495, motherof- pearl.co.uk). “I always say the theme tune to our brand is the sound of pearls dropping on to the studio floor,” Powney says. “For me it’s about modernising what is a chic, timeless aesthetic.”

Another British brand that has a long-term commitment to nacre is Jimmy Choo. Its white satin Varsha loafers come veritably encrusted, and are some of the most special shoes I have seen this season (£1,425, jimmychoo.com), as area trainer version (£495). Sandra Choi, creative director at the brand, says the pearl “has become part of the Jimmy Choo DNA. It began as a challenge to myself. Pearls were always associated with elegance rather than fashion. How could I use pearls in a new way and portray them in a different light?”

Rise and Shine

Myriad are the jewellery operations that are determinedly bringing pearls into the 21st century. Two favorites of mine are Anissa Kermiche and Completed works, which deliver a modernity that is strongly sculptural yet feminine. Kermiche tells me of a childhood spent “sneaking into my mum’s jewellery box, which was full of broken pearl necklaces. They are now my favourite gems. For a designer, their spherical shape enables all kinds of eccentricity as you sketch.” Suitably eccentric is Kermiche’s single Swirl earring, its curving line of natural pearls sitting both in front of and behind the lobe (£380, anissakermiche.com). And similarly non-conformist is Completed works’s multi-pearl and white-topaz gold-vermeil ringandpendant necklace (£285 and £350 respectively, completedworks.com).

Courtesy The Sunday Times (London)

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