Perfectly Pearls

The classic jewel experiences a rebirth in popularity

Michelle Obama’s pairing of pearls and simple sheath dresses may draw comparisons to past first lady Jacqueline Kennedy, but the combination is also a response to these times of reassessment.

“Michelle Obama is a trendsetter, so what she wears is making an impact. But these days, people are looking for quality and lasting value,” says Laura Mellow, owner of Mellow Antiques in the Davies Pacific Center. “Pearls are timeless. They’re classic, so they’re always right, and everybody looks good in pearls.”

Pearls possess that versatility, able to be dressed up or down.

Sandrine de Laage, vice president of design for Harry Winston, describes pearls as being “iconic and enduringly chic.”

Sales are on an upswing, especially this time of year. Pearls are the birth gems of June, and their white luster, symbolic of purity, make them a perfect choice for brides on their big day.

“Pearls convey a timeless elegance and remain a key part of the modern jewelry wardrobe,” says De Laage, who adds that Harry Winston – perhaps known best for its diamond jewelry and timepieces – also offers pearls that cater to a range of personal styles, from elegant choker strands to opera-length necklaces, to classic pearl earrings and cocktail rings.

Similarly, Tiffany & Co. is renowned today for its precious metal and bridal diamond collections. But for much of the company’s history, pearl necklaces were among its most expensive jewels, associated with royalty and dignitaries around the globe.

At the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago, Tiffany exhibited a strand of 38 natural pearls offered at $200,000.

An American freshwater pearl also became known as the “Queen Pearl” when Charles Tiffany sold it to Emperor Napoleon III and the Empress Eugenie of France in 1860.

Today, Tiffany & Co. incorporates several kinds of pearls in its jewelry designs to suit every taste. These include Akoya pearls from Japan, as well as Keshi, freshwater, mabé, and South Sea pearls in a range of colors from elegant white to gold to black.

As a seller of vintage and antique pieces, Mellow says pearls hold up well over time and should not change color. To protect their luster, they should be gently wiped with a soft cloth after wearing and stored in a soft cloth as well. They must be allowed to breathe and should not be stored in plastic. They should also be restrung every two to three years.

She says most of the vintage pearl pieces in Hawaii arrived from Japan after World War II.

“The luster is incredible,” she says. “It’s almost like a mirror.”

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