A girl's perfect lover

A girl’s perfect lover

If diamonds are a girl’s best friend, pearls must be her perfect lover. They are all she needs a lover to be: gorgeous, layered, someone that makes her look and feel special. Not only do they look good however you style them, but they also elevate what you wear with a touch of elegance and sophisticated simplicity.

The usage and symbology of pearls goes back thousands of years. Before they were used as jewellery, they were considered mystical and believed to have powers to preserve youth, purity, and innocence.

The history of pearls in fashion is probably one of the longest. This gem is one of the most elusive and yet most established icons of power and femininity. Its history is so deep and complex that doing it justice will be a pretty tough job!

Although their history is likely much older, the first pearl necklace ever documented was the one that adorned a Persian princess’s neck dated 420 B.C.; from that moment on, through highs and lows, the desire for pearls never went away.

You can split their story into roughly two parts.

“Queen Elizabeth I” Marcus Gheeraerts the Younger

“Queen Elizabeth I” Marcus Gheeraerts the Younger

The first part is the longest and runs from the first discovery in the years B.C. until early 1900. 

Human’s fascination with them is rooted in mythology. It starts with their association to the moon given their shape but also their origin from the depths of the oceans, governed by the moon; and to Venus, the goddess of love who was believed to shed pearls as tears. Also, Venus, like pearls, was born from the sea. 

Considering this, it is not surprising that they always been popular with royalty and nobility. The Romans for example were obsessed with them and were the first to officially restrict their usage to certain classes. 

In the world as it was known back then (limited to Europe, Asia and Africa), the main “reserves”, where pearls were sourced from, were areas like the Indian Ocean and Persian gulf. Once these were almost entirely exploited, humans went to great lengths to get more; the discovery of America gave a new source of access and reserves were depleted very quickly. Given sourcing constraints, but also the aura and meaning of purity, elegance, and femininity that they had gained, pearls were reserved for royalty. In the 13th century laws came into action again to legally restrict the wearing of pearls to just nobility. Even the burgeois had to go pearl-less. Anyone else couldn’t afford them anyway. Their rarity and their price were outstanding. They became so linked to royalty that (unmarried) Queen Elizabeth I leveraged and over-used them in her hair, clothes, and around her neck, to exude power and opulence. Basically to legitimize herself as sovereign in absence of a man.

Towards the end of the 1800s their usage slowly expanded beyond royalty. There was a moment when a strand of pearls was the only appropriate decoration for an unmarried woman. That changed closer to the 1900s. In the years between the centuries, the royal couple Edward and Alexandra made the usage of strands of pearls very fashionable in the form of chokers covering the whole neck (Alexandra’s signature element) and multiple strands of varying length around the décolleté. This made for a very feminine style, especially through the emphasis given to the pearls themselves with any supporting element (like clasps) made almost invisible.

Up until this point, only natural pearls were available. Their value (and unavailability) kept going up; Louis Cartier was in possession of a double strand pearl necklace, which was valued at $1.2 million, and he traded it to purchase what today is its NYC fifth avenue house. 

The second part of the story has two main protagonists: Kokichi Mikimoto and Coco Chanel.  

“Mikimoto Kōkichi inserts nucleus in a pearl shell”

“Mikimoto Kōkichi inserts nucleus in a pearl shell”

Mikimoto is the one who created a way to cultivate pearls. The process is actually exactly the same as the natural process, with the only difference being that it is artificially triggered. Despite the resulting pearl being exactly the same, it took some time for society to accept this, but ultimately it dramatically increased pearls availability and reduced price.

“Gabrielle Chanel”, https://www.chanel.com/ww/about-chanel/the-founder/

“Gabrielle Chanel”, https://www.chanel.com/ww/about-chanel/the-founder/ 

Coco Chanel had something to do with changing mindsets towards cultured pearls (and fake ones too for that matter). In her quest to drive women independence, she is credited with making costume jewellery a fashion statement and the usage of cheaper materials accepted (including fake pearls made of glass beads, let alone cultured ones): “I only like fake jewellery… because it’s provocative” (Coco Chanel).

What did she love about pearls so much? “Only pearls could highlight dark tanned skin, only pearls could bring out sparkling eyes and white teeth. Only pearls could capture the light, illuminate the face, embellish it like an invisible layer of makeup.” (Chanel – Collections and Creations).

Looks like Coco Chanel thought pearls really are a girl’s perfect lover. 

Pearls were great with a little black dress. What else could you possibly need to radiate pure elegance? In line with her entire philosophy to empower and free women, Gabrielle democratized pearls and gave all women the experience to wear something that was considered royal until then.

The result of the modern part of pearl’s history? More pearls, more variety, for more people, and more fashionable than ever.

Throughout the past century, pearls have gone in and out of fashion but never out of style. Today they are an iconic and indispensable fashion accessory that is able to lift an outfit giving it a magic touch of elegance.

With such a rich, deep and iconic history, what do pearls mean today for the modern woman? 

Modern woman pearl necklace

Chanel pearl necklace styling by Women House & eighty3frames

The symbology we most commonly recognize today is linked to the very initial connection to Venus and the Moon, thus giving them a very feminine energy and meanings of purity, innocence, fragility, classic beauty, love. But also of wealth, considering their economic value and expression of royal power. We appreciate the aesthetic of an almost perfectly rounded gem that has a luster and color tonality that give it a certain depth and almost evokes a feeling of melancholy.

What most of us don’t know though is the pain, the care, the work that it takes in nature for such a beauty to be enjoyed. 

Pearls are the only gem that is organically made in nature. Their beauty and perfection is such that they don’t require any human intervention or process to enhance their appeal and value.

The formation of a pearl is a story of learning, evolution and protection. The event at the origin of the creation of the pearl is probably one of the most shocking moments for an oyster: an external agent, an irritant, comes into the oyster through its shell. This alters the ecosystem of the animal, which start secreting a substance called nacre around the external body with the objective to protect itself from it. From that process, a pearl is born as a defence mechanism, encapsulating the original threat. This doesn’t happen overnight. It takes years, from about 2 to about 5 or 7, for a pearl to fully form. It’s a slow but relentless process: each day the oyster is fighting, creating a new infinitely thin layer of protection which ultimately will become robust enough to ensure safety. Inside each pearl lives a unique story of something or someone who, more or less intentionally, disturbed and threatened someone else’s equilibrium. But through that same threat it helped generate something rare, beautiful and perfect. Personally I don’t use the word “perfect” lightly, but I cannot think of a better word to describe the wonder of this process. 

So for me, the pearl reflects a life truth that as a human and a woman I’ve learned over time: “The biggest and most impactful outcomes come from the hardest moments”.

And every time I wear them I don’t really relate so much to the symbolism of fragility and purity usually associated with pearls. Rather the opposite, and maybe closer to the meaning of wisdom that they also tend to evoke: they make me feel strong, like I’m carrying a reminder that any experience - especially the most hurtful ones - will be part of me and, if embraced, have the potential of making me more confident, beautiful and elegant.

When you think about it this way and consider everything the “Queen of Gems” is considered to represent through its formation, mythology, and history, a pearl encapsulates the perfect balance of both feminine and masculine energy. 

Every woman deserves to access this depth of meaning and the feeling that it can give her. 

Coco Chanel thought that “Pearls are always right”, Jackie Kennedy thought they “are always appropriate”. And I couldn’t agree more.

Whatever your day needs, pearls have it.

All photos below are copyrighted by Women House & eighty3frames

Dress up for a dinner with your besties, enhance a classic slip dress and jacket with a double strand casually worn around your neck and combine with sneakers and your favorite bag. You can purchase this pearl necklace here.

Slip dress and pearl necklace

Going on a first date? Try an oversized shirt and add pearls in a knot or simple strands, finish with a cropped jeans and a sexy pump.

First date

Whether you're going out to buy yourself flowers or for a chilled brunch, wear an unexpected combination of something classic like a tweed jacket and a sporty finish. Pearls will tie it all together.

Coffee moment

Brunch and flowers

Travel in style? Combine your comfy fleece and sneakers with ropes and ropes of pearls.

Travel in style

A special evening out? A day to remember? Let pearls help you celebrate in a way that you won't forget.

Special evening out

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