The notion that pearls are old world has been well and truly debunked by shrewd designers taking a modern angle. Tap their contemporary cool by playing with shape and colour.
My first piece of proper jewellery was a pair of pearl studs my mother gave me for my 15th birthday,” model Hannah Motler confides as I clip Chanel Tahitian pearls on to her lobes for a Vogue shoot. “I’ll always treasure them.” Pearls have that effect. Wearing them for the first time has been a rite of passage for generations. The Queen is often seen in a three-strand pearl necklace, which was her first serious piece of jewellery, given to her by her grandfather. As Hannah will discover, pearls act as a touchstone, linking you to your family and youth.
The other unique characteristic of a pearl is its opalescent sheen, which has the effect of lifting a face, arguably even more than make-up. However, that assumes you have the right colour pearl for your skin tone. They come in myriad shades – shell pinks, metallic coppers, peacock greens, blues and buttery yellows, one of which might suit you better. “First, I look at the skin under a client’s wrist,” explains pearl expert Chrissie Coleman Douglas. It’s intuitive; she credits her artist parents with giving her a heightened sense of colour. “I might twin a pearl with eye colour, or be influenced by a lip undertone or skin pigmentation,” she continues, “but never hair colour, because that can change.” Darker skin, she says, looks a million dollars against strong gold, whereas dark grey or warm pink is phenomenal with pale complexions, “but only if she has brown eyes”. She promises that when you place the right pearl next to your face, it’s the equivalent of turning on the light in a room. Pearls, though, are not for show-offs.
“The point isn’t for the jewellery to stand out,” Coleman Douglas tells me, “but to attract attention to the wearer’s face.” They may remain a coming-of-age jewel, but the young designers and established innovators who have made them current – like Australian authorities on the material, Paspaley and Kailis – bring a new dynamism to pearls, burying any twinset connotations. Fretting over the sizes of South Seas versus Akoya or Chinese freshwater pearls is also a thing of the past. Now dimensions don’t matter so much as finding the colour that works for you. Carol Woolton