Pearls – the gem world’s enduring style icon – are back. Do those natural wonders ever really drop off the fashionista radar? Girls have been wearing pearls since ancient Rome and beyond. A fragment of the oldest surviving pearl necklace, found in the sarcophagus of a Persian Princess who died in 520 B.C., is displayed in the Louvre in Paris.
Karl Lagerfeld played homage to Coco Chanel’s design signature with a plethora of pearls on the Chanel Pre-Spring/Summer 2014 Cruise Collection catwalk. Classic images of Coco in her ubiquitous little black dress, toying with her multiple strings of pearls, epitomise what style is all about.
Pearls are symbolic of chastity, purity and feminine charm. Those lucky enough to be born in June can enjoy them as their birthstone and if you’re celebrating your third or thirtieth wedding anniversary, your beloved better stick with the program and adorn you with those lustrous gifts from the oyster.
Cleopatra dissolved a pearl in wine and drank it to prove her love to Marc Antony and ever since, the precious gem has adorned famously chic women throughout time.
Fabulous Women Who Made Pearls Their Style Statement
1920s – Coco Chanel, Josephine Baker, Louise Brooks
Flappers kicked up their heels to the Charleston while Louise Brooks and Josephine Baker showed them how to make the moves more alluring with a strand or two of pearls. Coco Chanel gave pearls iconic style status and made them her design signature, famously declaring every woman should wear ‘ropes and ropes’ of pearls.
1950s – Grace Kelly, Audrey Hepburn, Sophia Loren, Marilyn Monroe
Elegance and the single strand went hand in hand. Ice Princess Grace Kelly kept hers tight and teamed with white gloves, Audrey Hepburn wore hers to Breakfast (at Tiffany & Co., of course) and Sophia Loren gave hers the siren treatment with a décolletage worthy neckline.
Blonde bombshell Marilyn Monroe treasured a strand of Mikimoto cultured Akoya pearls given to her by her husband, baseball legend Joe DiMaggio, whilst on their honeymoon in Japan. Marilyn gave the necklace to her friend Paula Strasburg and in 1998, Paula’s daughter Susan gave the pearls back to Mikimoto to be put on display – still in the original oval box they were given to Marilyn in.
1960s – Elizabeth Taylor, Jackie O
Glamorous movie icon and avid jewel and husband collector, Elizabeth Taylor, once owned La Peregrina, one of the most famous pearls in history. Her beloved Richard Burton bought the famous pearl that passed from an African slave to European Kings and Queens, including Mary I of England, at a Sotheby’s auction for $37,000. He gave it to Elizabeth for Valentine’s Day during their first marriage. Liz had Cartier redesign the piece, setting La Peregrina with diamonds, rubies and pearls. In December 2011, the pearl sold for more than $11 million at auction at Christie’s New York.
Jackie O kept her signature Chanel suit and pearl look a little more lady-like and subtle.
1980s – Madonna, Boy George
Pop princess Madonna tarnished the pearl’s purity reputation by taking Coco Chanel’s advice and adorning herself with ropes of pearls, atop tight lace ensembles, fingerless gloves, crucifixes and writhing on a gondola in Venice ‘Like a Virgin’ style.
Boy George teamed his strands of pearls and brooches with billowy satin and proved pearls are definitely not just for girls.
1990s – Princess Diana
Royalty and pearls just works. Tiaras, brooches and chokers, Princess Diana made her pearls work at just about any occasion. A gym visit of a charity gala event, a Princess can somehow make a pearl work in any situation.
2000s – Sarah Jessica Parker, Michelle Obama, Angelina Jolie
Sarah Jessica Parker was never afraid of a bold pearl look on the set of Sex & the City.
Angelina Jolie, who has temporarily moved to Sydney with her brood Shiloh, Maddox, Pax, Zahara Marley, Vivienne and Knox, to work on her latest movie Unbroken, is fond of a simple strand of pearls and matching earrings when addressing G8 Meetings or walking the red carpet.
First Lady Michelle Obama takes the pearl beyond stylish and makes them effortlessly ‘cool’.
2013 – Taylor Swift, Rihanna
Apparently pearls are the secret to songstress Taylor Swift’s day-to-night dressing. A staple pearl necklace and earrings secreted in her change purse is all she needs to make her ‘day’ outfit party-ready.
Rihanna has worked pearls into everything from show-stopper sunglasses to layer upon layer of strands for a more ‘demure’ look.
Do you love pearls or think they are old-fashioned? What’s your favourite way of wearing pearls?
Monique Butterworth is an Australian journalist specialising in news, entertainment, celebrity and lifestyle. With 25 years experience in the media, Monique’s career started at News Limited in Sydney, working on The Australian, The Daily Telegraph, The Sunday Telegraph and The Daily Mirror newspapers before moving into magazines including New Weekly (now NW magazine), New Idea and Woman’s Day. Monique has worked as a freelance journalist for publications such as NW, OK!, TV Week, Wish (The Australian) and Good Living (Sydney Morning Herald). Monique lives in Sydney with her partner James, their 1-year-old daughter Matilda, James’ teen children Monty, 16 & Ella, 14, their dog Rob Roy, cat Oreo and horse Marty.