Pearls have a place in every design trend, making them an ideal category to weather every style scenario.
Snowflake pearl and diamond earrings from Mastoloni Pearls
This year marks Eichhorn Jewelry’s 55th year in business, and pearl sales at the Decatur, Ind., store show no signs of stopping. “We’ve changed up designs—from classic akoyas to mixes of South Seas and Tahitians to all the funky freshwaters—a lot since the beginning, but we’ve just had our best year ever for pearls,” says Eileen Eichhorn, owner.
Eichhorn and other fans of the organic gem know there’s not a trend with which the pearl doesn’t work. From linear earrings to seed pearls for studs to mixed bead and pearl strands to the uniform luster of high-end pearl collars worn by political powerhouses, the pearl is adaptable and ideal to suit every look. Pearls may be a timeless gem steeped in history, but there’s an undeniable new wave of enthusiasm bringing them fresh appreciation.
“Pearls can be substituted for any gem,” says Elizabeth Kirby of Elizabeth Blair Fine Pearls in Harbor Springs, Mich. Kirby has them in stretchy bracelets, chandelier earrings, layered and station necklaces, knuckle rings, seed chokers, and headbands. “People walk into my store and say, ‘Boy, I bet you are glad pearls are back in style,’ and I say, ‘For me, they’ve never left.’”
Pearls & Trends
Pearls remain a fixture in fashion shows (think Chanel), and they’re also a familiar sighting in the collections of contemporary jewelry designers. Consider Alexis Mazza of LexiMazz Designs in Islip, N.Y., who won a Luster award in last year’s International Pearl Design Competition for her Diana’s Love heart hoop earrings featuring white freshwater pearls. The earrings took a familiar and trendy concept—hoop earrings—and added a twist.
“It’s Chanel with an edge,” she says of how fans of her work see her pearl-intense line.
Large 60 mm hoops in 14k yellow gold with 6 mm freshwater pearls, $1,520; LexiMazz Designs
Jewelry designer and architect Rosa Van Parys of the eponymous firm based in Westlake Village, Calif., agrees. Van Parys creates pearl hoop earrings for confident women and has built her jewelry business on “elegance with an edge,” she says. Her DNA, however, is one-of-a-kind convertible dagger pendants and earrings with oversize South Sea pearls. In fact, a one-of-a-kind pearl dagger necklace took the Best Use of Color award in the most recent American Gem Trade Association’s Spectrum awards.
Elise + Zaha Petite Dagger Pearl earrings in 18k yellow gold with a pair of 12.2 mm Tahitian pearls, 1.4 cts. t.w. colorless diamonds, 0.82 ct. t.w. pink sapphires, and 0.76 ct. t.w. tsavorite garnets, $15,456; email Sales@rosavanparys.com with purchase inquiries
For sure, pearls work in many current looks. Think enamel, fringe, on men, and even as strings for medical masks, thank you, coronavirus. Pearls are a versatile and neutral tool and are even showing up in some engagement rings.
“Many have preconceived notions about who might want that piece of pearl jewelry, but I’m telling you it’s not the ones who you think might want it,” says Eichhorn.
She’s also been adding gemstones to dated strands for customers eager to get a more modern aesthetic and wear out of family heirlooms. “It’s better than just throwing grandma’s pearls in a drawer,” she says.
And in today’s Zoom, work-from-home culture, pearls can be a wardrobe boon. Pearls have a big presence, unlike diamonds. “Who can afford a 15 mm diamond?” muses designer Lika Behar. “But you can afford a 15 mm baroque pearl.”
Rachel Quinn has also taken part in the pearl’s reimagination. The Los Angeles–based jeweler’s puffed heart creations in silver and gold use freshwater pearls as pincushions, and her cloud-shape pearls are renowned for their clever weather vibe. Another piece on the horizon? A ghost-shape pearl pendant dubbed My Boo. “Pearls add theater to my work,” she says.
Puffed heart necklace in sterling silver with freshwater pincushion pearls, $860; Rachel Quinn
Considering pearls represent just 3 percent of jewelers’ annual sales, there’s infinite possibility for category growth. Thanks to the recent presidential election, pearls are getting a nice boost from female politicians—hello, Kamala Harris—and some high-profile designer collaborations.
In recent years, Mikimoto teamed up with Comme des Garçons to debut a collection of chain and pearl jewelry for men to wear (though it’s unisex in appearance) in Mikimoto X Comme des Garçons, while longtime jeweler and pearl lover Melanie Georgacopoulos has worked with Tasaki on several collections.
East Providence, R.I.–based pearl jewelry maker Imperial Pearl knows what it’s like to be ahead of a trend. The manufacturer debuted a pearl and chain necklace a couple of years ago that didn’t take off right away. “Timing is everything,” says Kathy Grenier, director of business development and marketing director for the Cultured Pearl Association of America (which owns this magazine). Still, she’s smitten with the idea and thinks others should be, too. “You need to have a focal point in your case to excite customers and keep stock interesting, even if they don’t buy it.”
And while some eschew certain looks—like pearls in rings or bracelets—out of fear of damage, daredevils exist. “I bought blue jeans with actual freshwater pearls on them,” says Eichhorn. The cost? “It was stupid money, but we won’t go there.”
Storm cloud pearl jewelry from Rachel Quinn
Pearl devotees suggest keeping an open mind when it comes to the category. Everyone can wear a pearl, and contemporary pearl jewelry designs can nod to trends like stacking pieces, elevate and modernize classic styles (like a strand of carved pearls), or offer a completely new perspective for emerging collectors, like Van Parys’s daggers. Plus, variety of pearl type, prices, colors, and provenance (pearls have an unparalleled sustainability story that money can’t buy) have diverse appeal. From inexpensive and pretty colored freshwater pearls to unusual baroques that can double as literal objects to gemstone bead and South Sea or akoya pearl ensembles in today’s super casual but chic styling, pearls can be as trendy, classic, or unexpected as wearers desire.
“Pearls are timeless but there is a trend happening with them,” says Quinn. “People are doing things with pearls that they’ve never done before.”
Travis Kukovich of William Travis Jewelry in Chapel Hill, N.C., knows this firsthand. His custom pearl parasol pendants don’t sit for long in his cases. Ditto for all the carved and faceted pearls he bought at the gem shows in Tucson last year. A recent sale? A $30,000 pearl parasol necklace with a Tahitian pearl and blue and green diamonds. “The white strand for the sorority girl has gone away,” he observes.
Just don’t relegate the pearl to a staid corner; they can be worn on any occasion. “Don’t keep pearls separate—they can be everything,” says Grenier.