Playing it cool: pearls are having a moment
We’ve been deep-diving into boutiques around the world to find the very best calcium carbonate in minute crystalline form. It seems jewellers have been busy rethinking pearls, with contemporary (and often affordable) results
Over the last decade, a host of contemporary jewellers 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.
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and bold architectural lines in the past - but by adding surprising elements into the mix her pieces are anything but outdated.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. §