History of pearl

Part I: Before the 90’s

Can you remember a time in fashion when pearls were out of date? Pearls are distinctive among gemstones because unlike precious metals that have to be mined from the earth, they’re grown by live oysters far below the surface of the sea. They don’t require special cutting or polishing to enhance their brilliant beauty, which secure’s the pearls place in fashion. The reputation of pearls have changed over the decades, swaying between modes of accessibility. However, Pearls have always held a standard for designers to contend with.

The earliest archaeological demonstration of pearl  jewelry was found at Susa, the ancient capital of Elam, in Iran. A splendid 216 pearl necklace was recovered from the bronze sarcophagus of an Achaemenid princess. The necklace dates from the fourth century B.C. You can witness it for yourself if you happen to be at the Louvre in Paris.

When the Roman Empire was at its height, the basic Roman Earring was known as Crotalia because the pearl pendants would produce a jingling noise when worn. Some ladies even slept on Pearl inlaid beds.

The discovery of Pearls in Central American waters helped supply wealth to Europe during European expansion into the new world. Unfortunately, by the 17th century, greed and lust for the sea-grown gems depleted the entire American pearl oyster population.

Natural pearls occur spontaneously in the wild but are supremely rare. Before farmed or cultured pearls became available, it wasn’t uncommon for a pearling fleet captain to be murdered for his treasure. It wasn’t until 1893, when Kokichi Mikimoto succeeded in producing the world's first cultured semi-spherical pearl that the jewel became a feasible option for the middle class. So how did Pearls keep their capital, so to speak?

Part II: From the 90’s

Until the early 1900's, natural pearls were accessible only to the rich and famous. In 1916, famed French jeweler Jacques Cartier bought his milestone store on New York's Fifth Avenue by trading two pearl necklaces for the property.

(Jacques Cartier’s store in Fifth Avenue, New York 5th Source: Pinterest)

Natural pearls occur spontaneously in the wild but are supremely rare. Before farmed or cultured pearls became available, it wasn’t uncommon for a pearling fleet captain to be murdered for his treasure. It wasn’t until 1893, when Kokichi Mikimoto succeeded in producing the world's first cultured semi-spherical pearl that the jewel became a feasible option for the middle class. So how did Pearls keep their capital, so to speak?

Enter Coco Chanel and her iconic portrait, featuring multiple strands of pearls wrapping across her shoulders. In 1936 this photograph came to embody what she and her brand represent. Luxury.

The filmic expression of Coco’s intentions appeared in 1961, when Audrey Hepburn played Holly Golightly in Breakfast at Tiffany’s. In a black evening gown, marvelous updo and four strands of pearls, Miss Golightly set the stage for what a life of leisure should look like. 

But all that was about to change with Albert Elbaz. At the French luxury house in Lanvin, he adorned layers of ribbon with plastic imitation pearls. If that’s not kitschy enough, he stacked them with chains and necklaces that spelled out buzz words like “LOVE” and “HOT”. He made pearls accessible in fashion. “Not Your Mother’s Pearls” writers professed. Accessibility tampered with Pearl's reputation this time. Pearls had flown too close to the sun. It was time to take them down a notch. To allow people to wear them.

 From the New Yorker Article 'Ladies Man’, Ariel Levy writes: “Elbaz often describes his work as “classic with a twist”. This is precisely what looks fashionable now: an elegance that reassuringly summons the past but with some funkiness around the edges that acknowledges our weird present.`` When pearls were faked they still survived.

 

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