The ‘Under the Sea’ jewellery trend is showing no signs of slowing down. Featuring necklaces, earrings and rings adorned with pearls and shells, and statement pieces that take inspiration from the shapes of living organisms, this is a trend that celebrates natural beauty and the romantic mysteries of the deep.
A huge part of this trend is the use of pearls. These lustrous gems have been adored for centuries, and it’s not hard to see why. Pearls come in many shapes and sizes, with a diverse colour spectrum, so there are many different ways you can incorporate a piece of pearl jewellery into your collection.
Pearls have been treasured for centuries. A fragment found in the sarcophagus of a Persian princess from around 420 BC shows that they have been used in jewellery for over 2000 years.
However, the pursuit of pearls before the start of the 20th century was a perilous one. Divers had to descend to depths of over 100ft to retrieve a pearl oyster, with only a few containing precious pearls.
This all changed in 1893, when Kokichi Mikimoto created the first cultured pearls, and revolutionised the process of farming pearls. Read more about the fascinating history of Mikimoto pearls in our post The King of Pearls - the designs and legacy of Mikimoto.
Recently, thanks to contemporary fashion and jewellery designers, the timeless beauty of pearls has been combined with modern styles to bring pearl jewellery up to date.
Natural or wild pearls are incredibly rare, as they happen completely by accident. Natural pearls are created when a tiny irritant, like a grain of sand, becomes trapped inside the shell of a pearl oyster or pearl mussel. A pearl is created from layers of nacre coating the irritant over time, forming a solid, shimmering gemstone. The more layers of nacre the pearl has, the more iridescent its shine will be.
Cultured pearls are created on purpose, by recreating the same process. Many cultured pearls are beaded pearls, as a small bead is placed in the oyster’s shell to become the centre of the pearl.
Due to the ability to achieve a uniform shape and size, cultured pearls are often made into pearl necklaces. Strung on delicate silk thread and knotted to keep the pearls in position, ropes of pearls have been fashionable throughout history, from Tudor queens to Coco Chanel.
There are many different types of pearls available, creating a lot of variation in pearl jewellery options.
Akoya pearls are saltwater pearls that are cultivated in Japan and other Asian countries, and are known for being completely spherical in shape. Cultured Akoya pearls are regarded as some of the finest pearls available, due to their brilliant shine and symmetrical shape. Usually available in a sparkling white, with tones of rose, silver or ivory, these pearls can also be colour treated to create deeper colours like black or midnight blue.
Akoya pearls were some of the very first cultured pearls, and are frequently used in jewellery. You might even find Akoya pearls set with other stones to emphasise their simple beauty.
South Sea pearls are some of the largest pearls available, and are found naturally along the Australian coast, Indonesia and the Philippines. As well as the classic silvery-white colour, South Sea pearls are also available in shades of cream and even gold. Because of their beauty and shimmer, South Sea pearls are cultivated by pearl farmers to create exquisite jewellery pieces.
South Sea pearls are often set in gold to accentuate the warmer tones. Due to their larger than average size they can be used in statement pieces such as pearl rings, either alone or complemented by other gemstones such as diamonds.
Tahitian pearls are some of the most unusual pearls available, and they are famous for their darker body colours and unusual overtones. Ranging from dove grey to near black, Tahitian pearls are known to shimmer with vibrant hues like peacock blue, aquamarine, cherry pink and deep purple.
These dazzling pearls have more of a satin-like glow than the high shine of Akoya pearls, giving them a mysterious, glowing appearance. It’s no surprise that these pearls were once thought to be a gift from the gods by Polynesian natives.
Mabe pearls are cultivated in a different way to traditional round pearls. They are created on the inside of the shell, resulting in their unique half pearl shape. Because they are grown on the shell itself, these flat pearls can take on a variety of shimmering colours; perfect if you’re looking for a more unusual piece of pearl jewellery.
Baroque pearls is the term used for pearls that are asymmetrical in shape. More common in freshwater pearls, Baroque pearls can range from teardrop to completely irregular shapes. Each Baroque pearl is one-of-a-kind, resulting in unique and natural-looking jewellery pieces.
Mother of pearl is the name given to the shell of the pearl oyster or pearl mussel. Often shimmering with a range of hues, mother of pearl is a popular choice for jewellery and watches. Perfect for bringing a vintage feel to more contemporary pieces, mother of pearl is understated and classic.
To keep your pearl jewellery in excellent condition, take care to keep them away from harsh chemicals. Make sure to put them on after applying perfume or hairspray, and wipe them gently with a soft cloth before putting them away to remove any perspiration, dirt and oils that can damage the nacre.
Ensure to always store your pearls away from harder items like diamond jewellery, as these might cause scratches. Also, try and avoid hanging a pearl necklace from a hook, as this could stretch the silk out of shape. Read more on caring for your jewellery in our dos and don’ts guide for storing luxury jewellery.
Taking proper care of your pearls ensure that they stay in perfect condition for many years to come.