A favourite of fashion legends such as Coco Chanel, pearls are one of those timeless classics that never go out of style. In the Roman empire, jewels with pearls were a desirable luxury and in the 18th century they held a seductive appeal. These days, pearls are still a status symbol, showing up both on glamorous red carpets and off-duty streetstyle photos. A string of pearls adds extra polish to a structured jacket, but can also dress up a pair of jeans. Pearls are that hint of class and elegance that brings to mind Audrey Hepburn as LBD-clad Holly Golightly, but also Sarah Jessica Parker as eccentrically dressed Carrie Bradshaw, who even wore a pearl necklace to bed in the first Sex and the City movie.
This month, we’re indulging our passion for pearls with the Pearls exhibition at the Victoria & Albert museum (21 September 2013 – 19 January 2014) that focuses on the history of these little wonders of nature that have also become wonders of fashion. Documenting the creation of pearls in nature as well as pearl fishing, trading and pearl jewellery through the years from Renaissance to the Roaring Twenties, this exhibition offers an in-depth look at one of our most loved accessories.
Aside from their style appeal, can pearls also be sustainable? Absolutely. In Savusavu village in Fiji, pearl farming has created numerous new jobs and the local environment is being protected to ensure the best possible conditions for pearl oyster growth. In Micronesia, a sustainable pearl project was born in 2001 as a way of maximising marine conservation as well as creating economic opportunities for the people of the islands. The first Micronesian pearls were produced in 2008. Pearl farming is now an alternative source of income to fishing. In French Polynesia, pearls have been harvested since the 1960s, but these days there’s an eco element to farming: the Kamoka Pearl Farm on Ahe has chosen to reject mechanised technology for oyster cleaning in favour of reef fish cleaning stations. The biofouling offers food to reef fish and reduces the need for high-pressure jet cleaning.
Not sure how to wear pearls? Easy: for everyday sophistication, go for a pair of earrings – they’re not too much of an impact, but do add a luxe touch. Meeting the in-laws or going for a job interview? Wear an elegant pearl pendant as a classy finish. And finally, if you’re getting ready for a big night, opt for a full-on, multi-strand pearl necklace. Nothing says “exquisite” quite so well.