Pearl Jewelry through the Ages

Looking back it’s easy to see and acknowledge pearls’ grip on human kind. They have been fascinating us from time immemorial. A symbol of wealth and also innocence, pearls never go out of style. While a century ago only rich people could afford strands of natural pearls, nowadays we are privileged and get to enjoy cultured pearls that don’t require breaking the bank. Nonetheless, they are still mysterious and unique. None two pearls in the whole world are identical. Since they are organic, each and every one of them bears a unique trait, like a bump or a fine crack. Also, none of them are perfectly spherical. But how did our ancestors perceive these elegant gemstones? From what we know, they’ve always stood for high status and opulence.

Ancient history

12.1 Pearl Jewelry from Ancient Egypt

In ancient civilizations these jewels symbolized the Moon and were supposed to have magical attributes. They were seen as symbols of purity and perfection in several religions throughout the world. Royalty members were the only ones who could enjoy the luxury of wearing pearls. Egyptians didn’t limit themselves on only wearing the beauties of the ocean as jewels. They adorned their building and clothing with pearls and even made cosmetics from the powder of ground up pearls.

Middle Ages

12.2 Elizabeth I wearing several strands of pearls

A European law prohibited anyone who didn’t belong to the royal or nobility class from wearing pearls. With Henry VIII and Elizabeth I covering themselves in lush pearls, the gemstones have been irremediably associated with the highest ranks. Mary, Queen of Scots incorporates pearls in her daily outfits, while Charles of Wales, who later became Charles I, makes a bold fashion statement by wearing a pearl earring.

Nineteenth Century

12.3 Alexandra of Denmark wearing a pearl choker

Alexandra of Denmark, wife of Edward VII, is a trendsetter and starts wearing collier du chien(chokers) that combine pearls and diamonds. Pearls are no longer only worn by royalty and nobility. They become more and more popular among simple people who are willing to pay an arm and a leg to own a strand of pearls or a set of drop pearl earrings.

The 1920s

12.4 A girl wearing pearls in the 1920s

The roaring twenties bring many changes in terms of jewelry. Long are the days of the Art Nouveau. Trendsetters are embracing clean lines and long ropes of pearls are among their favorite jewelry pieces. This is when pearl makers start experimenting with less expensive materials, in favor of fashion and to the detriment of social status. 1928 marks the birth of the first cultured pearls known as akoya. Coco Chanel makes pearls even more popular by wearing them almost every day. She stack strands of pearls around her neck and pearl bracelets on her wrists.

The 1950s

12.5 Grace Kelly wearing a pearl choker

The 50s promote understated glamor and femininity. One strand pearl chokers are a must in any lady’s wardrobe. They stand for subtle sophistication and make any V line look ten times better. Grace Kelly is seldom seen without a string of pearls around her neck. The same trend is followed by Jackie Kennedy and Audrey Hepburn who look stunning and demure in faux pearl jewelry pieces.

Nowadays

12.6 Contemporary pearl jewelry piece

Pearls remain a symbol for traditional beauty. You can have them in almost any color out there, but the most beautiful ones are still the ivory and champagne tones. Modern designers incorporate them in unconventional creations, making them part of statement jewelry pieces.

 
 
 
 

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