Since ancient times, pearls have been coveted for their beauty and lustre; so much so that ‘pearl’ is a metaphor for the rare and the valuable across many different languages and cultures. While pearl jewellery has often been associated with classic or traditional styles, the world’s most luxurious jewellery purveyors, from top catwalk brands to renowned pearl specialists, prove that pearls can take pride of place in truly contemporary fine jewellery creations.
On the runway
Iconic French fashion house Chanel has long been associated with pearls. Founder Coco Chanel was famous for her love of these iridescent spheres. ‘A woman needs ropes and ropes of pearls,’ she held. Current creative director Karl Lagerfeld has continued to embrace pearls during his tenure, and for spring/summer 2017 his futuristic womenswear collection features them in multiple ways. From the dainty to the oversized, pearls feature on bracelets, earrings and necklaces, from layered strings to chunky pendants to chokers. Chanel’s amazing array of jewellery shows the versatility of pearls and proves that in Lagerfeld’s vision of the future, they are here to stay.
Chanel is not the only catwalk brand to embrace pearls this season. At Gucci, they were knotted in multiple strands, or added the finishing touch to oversized earrings. At Moschino, Jeremy Scott’s trompe l’oeil collection may not have featured actual pearls – more the illusion of them – but their inclusion in his creative rendering of classic fashion highlights the pearl’s central role in the world of high jewellery.
There could hardly be a better place to seek out pearl jewellery than Japan, a nation long associated with pearls. It was here that the first cultured Akoya pearl was made in 1893, by Kokichi Mikimoto, founder of the company that still bears his name. Farmed from the akoya oysters from which they take their name, these pearls, known for their outstanding lustre, are considered the classic cultured pearl. Over 100 years later, Mikimoto remains committed to innovation and excellence in the field, and is one of the world’s leading pearl experts.
Since its inception, Mikimoto has scoured the world for the best and newest insights into the worlds of jewellery and of pearls, ensuring that the pieces they present are perfect. ‘Only the best pearls in the world are destined to become Mikimoto gems,’ explains Tadaaki Koizumi, the brand’s manager of advertising and public relations. These exceptional pearls are then lovingly crafted into the beautiful, elegant pieces for which Mikimoto is known. Often delicate and feminine in style, Mikimoto jewellery combines high-quality pearls with equally luxurious precious metals and other gems. The Bloom collection of earrings, brooches and pendants, a favourite, sets South Sea and Akoya pearls amid white gold floral motifs picked out in diamonds. Each piece is a beautiful work of art.
At Wako in Tokyo’s Ginza, one of the world’s best-known department stores, similarly high standards are upheld. ‘We only offer carefully selected high-class jewellery,’ explains public relations and advertising manager Miki Kawai. ‘It is important that Wako’s pearls have a deep nacreous layer, that the surface is free of imperfections and that they have a beautiful lustre, reflecting like a mirror.’ At Wako, visitors can discover pearl jewellery that combines traditional styles and forms with a crisp modern edge. The classic Akoya pearl necklace with 18-carat white gold clasp is an absolute must for any jewellery collection.
For something more unusual, look no further than Tasaki, another Japanese brand acknowledged and respected worldwide for its expertise in pearls. Established in 1954, the brand has always been characterised by a sense of innovation, cemented in 2009 by the appointment of cutting-edge fashion designer Thakoon Panichgul as creative director. Under Panichgul, Tasaki has launched a number of collections that challenge perceptions of what pearl jewellery can be, establishing the brand as a leader not just in pearl pieces but also in high-fashion items.
Tasaki’s jewellery embraces a wealth of precious materials – from gold to diamonds, garnets to black spinels – but pearls remain at the heart of the designs. The signature ring from Panichgul’s first collection, Balance, features five pearls set along a gold bar. On the hand, they seem to balance or float above the finger. The Danger series juxtaposes soft, round pearls with sharp thorn-shaped stones, and takes inspiration from the balance of beauty and danger found in carnivorous plants. The Abstract Star necklace, a three-dimensional statement piece, uses graphic lines of yellow gold juxtaposed with the soft iridescence of Akoya pearls to represent the stars in the night sky. These are strikingly modern interpretations of an ancient adornment.
As Tadaaki Koizumi poetically puts it, ‘The pearl’s iridescent luminosity has bewitched men and women alike for thousands of years.’ Pearls will remain just as covetable for years to come, and where better than Japan to find the next piece to add to your collection?