Last year a friend invited me to a class on knotting and stringing pearls. Now I’m always up for learning a new jewellery technique especially if it involves hammers or torches but pearls? I thought I would probably rather stab myself in the hand with one of many pointy tools available in the studio.
I had visions of tangled string and scattered pearls in my frustration and lack of patience. Instead I actually enjoyed it. I found it wasn’t nearly as complicated as I imagined and the process was quite cathartic. It ignited in me a new found appreciation of the natural beauty and lustre of these aquatic gems
I found myself amassing a number of varieties as I realised they come in an endless diversity of colour, shape and value. Baroque, coin, white, black, grey, pink, gold.
As one of the world’s oldest gems pearls have been admired for their beauty and magic reaching mythical status. They were a symbol of wealth and social standing to the ancient Romans and the Egyptians desired to be buried with them. Knights wore them into battle for protection and the Greeks associated them with love and marriage – a tradition that continues today.
These iridescence beauties are a wonder of nature, born of oysters with their natural shimmering glow and with the arrival of cultured pearls they are accessible to everyone. Unlike natural pearls which are now considered amongst the rarest of gems being found very occasionally in the seas off Bahrain and Australia.
Kokichi Mikimoto is credited with creating the world’s first cultured pearl in 1893 by manually introducing an irritant into an oyster. The son of a noodle maker was accused that his pearls weren’t real but science proved the contrary. Cultured pearls have the same properties as natural just with a helping hand to get the process started. Mikimoto’s Akoya pearls are still used today and are famous for their fabulous lustre and colours.
As it is with the fickle world of fashion and jewellery pearls have fallen in and out of favour. Coco Chanel made them famous in the 1920s mixing real and fake strands and wearing them with casual daywear. Jackie Kennedy and Audrey Hepburn where also fans of the pearls but somewhere in the 1980s they gained an old lady reputation worn with twinsets and their popularity declined.
Today the pearl is back in all its glory. The white and creams continue to be a favourite adornment at weddings in an array of jewellery, gown decoration and hair styles. More excitedly they are mixing it with other gems and incorporated into contemporary jewellery designs and featured in collections.
Their glowing warmth has also found a place in my creative heart and although I rarely find myself sitting, stringing and knotting they are now part of the growing variety of materials that inhabit my studio.