Over the last decade, a host of contemporary jewellers, both new and established, have been drawn to the possibilities of a pearl, removing it from its traditional home in high jewellery and reinventing it for a new generation. Now, driven by undercurrents of sustainability and a mood for rebellion, these more affordable and playful pieces feel more timely than ever. Drilled or recycled, with every imperfection celebrated, today’s pearl jewellery captures the irreverent mood of a post-pandemic world.
Baroque pearls take centre stage in the hands of Mary MacGill, who suspends freshwater pearls on delicate, hammered gold wire.
Japanese brand The 'Vit sources its pearls in Japan, pairing them with titanium, amethyst and blue topaz in an unexpected, but fabulous, combination.
A La Vieille Russie
We love A La Vieille Russie's clever take on vintage pearls. Whether paired with surprising stones or teased into subversive shapes, pearl jewellery is more modern and chic than ever.
A Sinner in Pearls
Freshwater pearls join Swarovski charms, enamel smiley faces, beads and rainbow stones in A Sinner in Pearls' fresh and fun pearl jewellery.
Jewellery brand Lil Milan infuses pearls with an Italian irreverence. We love this Nineties take on classic pearl jewellery in a very modern choker.
Mizuki Goltz brings a rich focus on craftsmanship to her modern designs. Tahitian or freshwater pearls cradle the wrist or dance from the earlobes - we love the pearl cuff, which plays on graduated sizing for a fun and wearable design.
Tasaki imbue lustrous pearls with a fierce edge when trapping them in spikes of precious metal. Inspired by the beauty and danger of carnivorous plants, the Danger Fang earrings encapsulate the exquisite craftsmanship and offbeat design aesthetic Tasaki is celebrated for.
Forget all the traditional connotations of a pearl earring with this deceptively simple piece. Only Eera would have thought to dangle a single freshwater pearl from a sharply-drawn square of lime green 18k gold - and that's why we love them.
Clear crystal beads make an elegant foil for freshwater pearls in Ragbag Studio's take on a traditional pearl necklace. Cutting an asymmetrical silhouette, this piece will look good layered or worn solo.
British fine jewellery brand By Pariah shifts the focus to raw and sculptural silhouettes in pearl jewellery which celebrates natural forms. The baroque lariat earrings graze the shoulders for an easy elegance.
Anni Lu's boho new collection, 'Echo Beach', brings a playfulness to easy adornments. We love this juxtaposition of freshwater pearls with glass frogs in a multitude of bold hues - layer it up, or add to a working wardrobe for a dose of cheerful chic.
Suzanne Kalan builds on last year's pearl collection with new pieces in a joyous riot of colour. Perfectly round pearls teeter on a slim band , in a bold take on a classic trend.
Sarah Madeleine Bru
Sarah Madeleine Bru brings a background in furniture and ceramic design to her eponymous jewellery brand. Her new collection unites sustainably-sourced pearls with sensual curves of recycled gold in a very modern play on pearl earrings.
The Diamond Snake earrings from Oslo-based jewellery brand Pearl Octopuss.y at Koibird lace oversized acrylic pearls over silver plated squardelle beads for a fun, fashion jewellery take on the trend.
Mara Paris celebrates the irregularity and offbeat beauty of pearls in the new Haven collection. The new pieces, which encompass an ear cuff, earrings and a ring, pair freshwater pearls with gold vermeil in a modern rethink of traditional styles.
Carolina Wong utilises an intricate lace making technique in her Buoyant 20 collection, bringing a surprising fluidity to gold-filled metal wire. The oversized proportions of the blooming design bring a delicious sculptural sensibility to the uneven silhouette of the organic freshwater pearl at the ring's heart.
Mindi Mond New York
Traditional cuts take centre stage in the dazzling Freshwater Diamond Claws from Mindi Mond New York. Freshwater pearls, when embraced by brilliant-cut diamonds and set in silver, are lent an Art Deco edge made modern by an asymmetrical silhouette and offbeat design cues.
Sandra Alexandra crafts her pieces in her London studio, playing on a fascination with natural materials such as cultured pearls or lamp work glass for fun and relaxed forms. In the Froot Loop and Pearl necklace, glass beads made by Barcelona artisans are paired with freshwater pearls in a contemporary take on the trend.
Sustainable jewellery brand Pyrrah combine freshwater pearls with talismans for contemporary pieces inspired by the Victorian period. The symbols, cast using wax seals, add a sentimentality to the warm luniscience of the pearls.
We love the traditional codes embedded in classic pearl earrings, but they take on a whole new meaning when intertwined with contemporary references. Deborah Blyth is adept at bringing a fluid sensuality to textured gold which appears to come to life in her hands - when paired with the gorgeously asymmetric silhouettes of white baroque pearls, tradition is wholly rethought. Pearl studs, worn oversized and cradled in gold, are the new classic for your collection.
Rachel Quinn combines surrealist influences with playful motifs for jewellery joyful to wear. These Petite Stormy Day earrings tease hand-carved mother-of-pearl into clouds which rain white topaz, for adornments which will keep you smiling whatever the weather.
Australia-based Vermeer Studio create simple, sustainable pieces from beautiful materials including smokey quartz, jade, lapis and orange calcite. In this simple pair of earrings, a freshwater pearl absorbs the warmth of a rich orb of tiger-eye - dangling from an elegant golden thread, they bring a seductive earthiness to pearl's natural milky light.
Hannah Martin typically subverts traditional jewellery codes for an alternative take on fine jewellery - when translated to pearls, it brings an edge to their warm luminescence. Here, Tahitian black pearls are spiked with rose gold for earrings both delicate and disruptive.
Mikimoto's M Code collection incorporates a more modern silhouette for pearl jewellery which is fresh and fun. The new additions to it string Akoya cultured pearls on to yellow or white gold chains for chic necklaces, bracelets and earrings which banish pearls' occasionaly stuffy repuation once and for all.
Freya Rose has been incorporating pearls into her shoe designs for the last decade, and has now launched a jewellery collection which utilises the same skilled techniques. The 19 pairs of earrings which make up the new collection include delicate seed pearls, mother-of-pearl and freshwater pearls in warm hues. These hand-carved mother-of-pearl rose gold hoop earrings are our pick for pearl jewellery which is both intricate and contemporary.
Natasha Ghosn was inspired by a family collection of Mexican artefacts for jewellery which cuts playful silhouettes. Boldly coloured gems and imperfect forms may be her calling card, but here it is the pinky hues of dangling pearls which bring a warmth to a mischievious pair of earrings.
Mikimoto Comme des Garçons
Comme des Garçons and Mikimoto have unveiled their second collection of subversive and elegant pearl jewellery. Collection Two is composed of seven styles from Rei Kawakubo, who has toughened up white Akoya Mikimoto pearls with sterling silver fangs, studs and safety pins. It is a reworking of last year's pieces which married tradition, creativity and crafstmanship to breathe new life into a classic piece.
Mariko Tsuchiyama at Objet d'Emotion
Mariko Tsuchiyama crafts her contemporary fine jewellery by the sea in Brighton, England. Inspired by organic textures – shells, seeds, stems – Tsuchiyama celebrates the smooth tacility of pearls by keeping design elements to a minimum. Suspended on an 18 carat gold fine wire stem, the pink hues of this freshwater pearl are the star here.
Wilfredo Rosado is fresh from the excitement of the inauguration, which saw Kamala Harris sport his elegant pearl necklace. She has good taste – Rosado's pearl designs add a chic edge to traditional pieces, such as in this pearl brooch which adds a mischievous touch to a classic. ‘For my Hello brooch, I wanted to design a luxe version of the traditional name tag sticker,' he says. ‘There is an inherent cheekiness to it, considering my approach features exceptional, Australian South Sea Pearls, black and white diamonds and 18K white gold. The curvature of the pin adds an additional playful element.'
State Property weave functionality into their design with the Anaphora choker, with each link acting as a clasp for perfect simplicity when putting it on. Interspersed on links of gold, the pearls bring a softness to a classic chain necklace.
The new collection from Danish jewellery brand, Anni Lu, is just the thing needed to brighten dark January days. In Wave Dancer, golden detailing and clashing silhouettes add a fun irreverence to pearls. Here, mismatching beads make an effortless in to the trend which looks set to stay for 2021.
Nancy Newberg handcrafts her jewellery in Los Angeles, imbuing her pieces with surprising design ticks for a fresh and modern result. Here, the traditional rows of pearls form a perfectly imperfect rainbow of hues, all the warmer when juxtaposed against dark diamond rings.
Pearl earrings, when worn in new ways, leave their traditional fusty reputation far in the past. The Pearl Crescendo earring from Los Angeles-based fine jeweller Katkim is a chic example - designed to curve around the earlobe, a floating pearl studded with a diamond appears to rest on the jawline for a cool play on the trend.
"'Pearls are such a delicate accessory, we wanted to be able to integrate them in a way that could be universal for males and females, dressed up or dressed casually, and made to last,’ say the duo behind LA-based Polite Worldwide, designer Christian Azzinaro and entrepreneur Tavia Azzinaro. The pair combined their fashion experience and drive for socially responsible business to launch their ready-to-wear, accessories and jewellery brand with the circular economy at its core. 'We are inspired by the opulence of nature, the treasures that the natural world represents, the meaning of the pearl offering protection and positivity to its wearer,’ they say, sourcing their pearls in small quantities from ethical, traceable sources to create chokers, wallet chains and charm brackets. 'Our pearls are hand-knotted as traditional pearls are assembled in Japan, preserving this technique to bring in the quality in craftsmanship and styling.'" Tilly Macalister-Smith
London-based jeweller and goldsmith Jessie Thomas brings out the rosy warmth of pearls by marrying them with textured gold and opulent gems. Here, five round pearls nestle in contemporary golden links, for a precious update on the classic chain.
Maviada breathe new life into mother-of-pearl with these diamond drop earrings which can be worn three ways. The diamond hoops can be fully removed for a more understated aesthetic, and the slices of mother-of-pearl flipped – on one side, milky white pearl, and on the other deeper hues of brown and cream.
Sophie Bille Brahe
Sophie Bille Brahe's capsule collection for Net-a-Porter is inspired by modernist Dutch painter Piet Mondarin, the gentle rosy hues and edged silhouettes he favoured reflected here in square freshwater baroque pearls. The collection is composed of five pairs of earrings and one pendant, from long statement pieces to elegant drop-shaped pearl dangles. The irregularities inherent in baroque pearls become a chic statement in their own right, celebrated in hues of white and palest pink.
Anita Berisha's pearl jewellery may use classic symbols as a starting point - she has referenced flowers, simple shapes and bold architectural lines in the past - but by adding surprising elements into the mix her pieces are anything but outdated. Whether paired with glass stones or resembling globular bunches of grapes, jewellery is always firmly playful. The historical inspiration behind these Victorian Pearl Earrings is clear, but their chic mismatch and a pop of colour ensure they are wholly modern.
Thai-Swiss designer Pacharee-Sophie Rogers works mainly with baroque and keshi pearls, framing their raw edges in plated gold for accessible and easy-to-wear results. This pair plays with birch-shaped pearls, celebrating their curved silhouettes and tapping into the hoops trend with sculpted gold.
Motley’s collaboration with jeweller Frances Wadsworth Jones quite literally skewers traditional concepts of fine pearl jewellery by taking a drill to sustainably sourced freshwater pearls. Silver or gold vermeil screws appear to go straight through the pearls, all high quality but with minor irregularities. ‘The screws are a clever optical illusion,’ Motley explains. ‘The pearls are drilled string pearls – each part of the screw is made and cast in bits and then the piece is assembled with the pearl at the centre. Interestingly, the challenge was more the precision of the screw itself – getting the ridges to be sharp, consistent and clean on a bend took our makers a few attempts.’
The rebellious nature of the pieces speaks to the times: ‘Amidst a world pandemic, climate change, leaders we cannot trust and so many ‘givens’ that serve only a few, we need as much rebellion as possible, even from a pair of earrings,’ adds Jones. ‘Taking something classically conservative and feminine like a pearl and combining it with a piece of hardware is a way of playfully challenging those gender stereotypes and reflecting more complexity. I love creating narrative in my designs and to screw through a pearl seemed like a suitably irreverent gesture for right now.’
Olivia & Pearl
By putting an emphasis on using cultivated pearls only – pearls in which man has intervened in the process by implanting the original pearl nucleus in the mollusc, rather than leaving it to chance – British jewellery brand Olivia & Pearl are able to offer pearl jewellery which is both modern and affordable. The new Keshi collection celebrates the irregularity and imperfections of individual pearls, looping asymmetrical silhouettes together into necklaces, or pairing larger uneven pieces as earrings. In subtle undertones of pink and blue, the final results shimmer in an irregular rainbow.
Artist Presley Oldham sources his freshwater pearls from Los Angeles and New York’s flea markets, and in a purposeful move against fast fashion, creates new pieces from the old. ‘I embrace their natural irregularities in the pearl,’ says Oldham. ‘I’ve had to let go of any ideas of perfection, and have learned to work with my materials and not force anything. Each pearl is a little different from the next and these variations heavily influence the design and have their own beauty.’
During the pandemic, Oldham has focused on sourcing all materials more locally: ‘All of the 925 sterling silver wire I use is made and sourced in Albuquerque, and most of the pearls are from small shops in Santa Fe or ones I had leftover from my first collection. I try to work in tandem with my environment, and then let the materials inspire me to create from there.’ The results are charmingly off-kilter, adding a raw edge to the historically filtered beauty of pearls.
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Hannah Silver is the Art, Culture, Watches & Jewellery Editor of Wallpaper*. Since joining in 2019, she has overseen offbeat design trends and in-depth profiles, and written extensively across the worlds of culture and luxury. She enjoys meeting artists and designers, viewing exhibitions and conducting interviews on her frequent travels.
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