The return of girls with pearls

It’s hard to imagine any conversation about pearls without a reference to Johannes Vermeer’s Girl with a Pearl Earring – and the novel and film inspired by the famous painting. But whether or not Scarlett Johansson’s rendition can be held responsible, the fact is that in the last few years, pearls have made a dramatic comeback onto the fashion scene in all their glowing, multi-colored glory.

The current pearl trend often reflects a “more is more” mantra. Hollywood celebrities, runway stars and first ladies alike don waist-length strands (borrowing from a popular 1920s flapper look), or juxtapose multiple pearl strands of all shapes, shades and sizes with gold or silver chains. The more dramatic the overall effect, the more modern the look.

Pearl popularity is, of course, nothing new.  The gemstones have been considered symbols of wealth, status and beauty for ages, from the Persian Gulf region of 6,000 years ago to the ancient Romans, European and Asian royals and nobles – and modern-day brides and ladies of influence.

Coveted by humans, pearls are ironically mere signs of irritation for the shelled mollusks that create them: the result of a bothersome particle trapped within the shell. The animal coats the intruder with layers of natural minerals and proteins called nacre – and a pearl is born.

Naturally occurring pearls are extremely valuable and also extremely rare, found in just one of about 10,000 mollusks. So for thousand of years, people created all sorts of imitations. Then, in the early 20th century, the cultured pearl industry developed new techniques to improve the odds. Cultured pearls arrived on the market in the 1930s. Designers like Coco Chanel embraced them. And by the 1950s, fashionable American and European women considered them essential accessories.

Although people usually think of pearls as round and white, they naturally occur in quite a stunning range of colors, from white to black, gold to purple, and irregularly shaped ones are most common.

Nacreous pearls are known for a beautiful, from-within glow (a result of light rays reflecting off the round surface and the concentric inner layers of nacre). There are several types, each offering a different look and feel. Akoya pearls, the specialty of Japanese pearl farms, are the most popular, with a white color and rosé overtone ideal for fair complexions. Freshwater pearls look like Akoya pearls – but are smaller and less symmetrical, which makes them more affordable. South Sea pearls feature a whitish, almost silver color, and are exceptionally large, smooth, and round. And Tahitian, or black, pearls are large and tend to have blue, purple, or green overtones. Because South Sea and Tahitian pearls come from rare, sensitive oysters, they are harder to cultivate and more valuable.

Create your own timeless, dramatic look today with these styles.

Anastasya Partan, a Boston-based freelance writer, is a guest blogger for She was born in Moscow, raised in the US, and has lived in New York, Washington, DC, London, Paris, and Copenhagen. With both a corporate and creative background, she writes for international brands and explores topics related to lifestyle, culture and the arts.

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