Diamonds may be a Girl's Best Friend, but as far as I'm concerned they'll have to share BFF status with pearls. Forget the old saying; the only kinds of tears I would cry because of pearls would be tears of joy (Besides, the dampness would just ruin the pearls' luster, which is kind of weird because pearls come from the sea). Just like diamonds, I love their elegant simplicity, and how they go with anything. Just like the diamond, it amazes me how something so beautiful and precious started out as a humble substance (sand in the case of the pearl, carbon for the diamond) that people wouldn't hesitate to sweep from their porches.
I've always loved pearls, ever since I was a little girl. Their perfect symmetry fascinated me, their luster seemed like a crystal ball with mysterious lights swirling inside. I didn't know about cultured pearls back then, so perfectly round pearls seemed like the rarest things ever. How in the world did the oyster get it so perfect? How difficult it seemed to collect enough pearls for just one necklace! Other little girls dreamed of being able to wear high heels and nail polish when they grew up, but I wanted to wear a pearl necklace. I loved it when my mother would go out to parties and take out her strand of Mikimoto pearls to wear. They looked so elegant draped around her neck. My dad got them for her on their honeymoon in Tokyo; years later, when I got married, my parents gave me a Mikimoto pearl necklace and bracelet as a wedding present.
There are only two things wrong with pearls, and the first is their price. Unless we win the lottery, that set my parents gave me is likely to be the only expensive set of pearls I own. Fortunately, in the last decade a huge South Sea pearl industry has sprung up in the Philippines. Traders from Mindanao sell huge quantities of South Sea Pearls and freshwater pearls at unbelievable prices. They cost less than costume jewelry in the States -- but here, the pearls are real. The cheaper varieties use pearls that aren't symmetrical, but they're beautiful just the same.
Here's a photo of my sister at one of the pearl stalls at a flea market near my parents house in Manila. The vendors will customize any necklace according to your specifications. One of my sister's co-workers sent her a hundred British pounds to buy whatever pearl jewelry she could find; my sister returned to London with a classic single-strand choker, a double-strand necklace, a longer, flapper-style single strand necklace, a couple of double and triple-strand bracelets, and several pairs of earrings. All of them were custom made with large, round South Sea pearls; I don't think anyone other than an expert jeweler would be able to tell that some of the pearls weren't perfectly round. My mother bought cute pearl necklaces for all her granddaughters (The Pea received hers and promptly declared, "I have pearls! I'm rich!". Yes you are, honey, even if that strand cost only $2.50).
(photo courtesy of Fine Living)
The second "problem" with pearls is that they tend to send out a grandmotherly vibe. Personally I think it's hogwash -- Coco Chanel, for instance, would recoil in horror at the thought of being considered grandmotherly! -- but I'll admit the classic pearls-and-twinset look isn't exactly edgy. Single strand pearl necklaces look nice on kids and the elderly, but they're not the kind of jewelry you wear if you want your man to tear your clothes off (Except with Tea Leoni. For some reason any kind of pearls and Tea Leoni just go together, and she still manages to look hot wearing them. I guess it's because she looks hot no matter what she wears).
So I never wear single-strand pearls (okay, I've worn them once or twice, but they were to family events with parents and grand-aunts and grandparents in attendance). Most of my pearl jewelry has other elements or accents, like silver beads or ribbons or other gems. I love the look of a pearl pendant on a black leather string! I also the sumptuous look of pearls piled upon pearls. I think Michelle Obama looks absolutely fabulous in the photo above, and I love how she's revived interest in pearls and other classic fashions by giving them a modern twist and making them her own. Michelle certainly ain't no-one's grandmamma, and with the right attitude and style I think pearls only add to a woman's sex appeal, not take away from it!
This post was inspired by Coco Chanel, her love for pearls and the latest book about her vivid, passionate life: Coco Chanel & Igor Stravinsky by Chris Greenlaugh, the topic of this month's Silicon Valley Mom's Blog Book Club. Disclosure: I received a complimentary copy of the book to read.