Girls love their pearls. They always have. In fact, I wrote a book about women and their pearls, called People & Pearls: The Magic Endures (HarperCollins, 2000). And, I concluded that these perfect gems are the very essence of soft femininity, and their natural luminescence may be the ultimate, most effortless, cosmetic. (However, always try pearls on, even the fakes, to make sure that the color highlights your skin tone).

Right now, pearls are undergoing an international Renaissance at every level, and some of the current movies have underscored this rebirth, including the crown pearls worn by the magnificent Helen Mirren as Queen Elizabeth II in The Queen and the more fanciful versions featured on Kirsten Dunst and her coterie in Marie Antoinette. But it is the more flamboyant pearls that are enjoying headlines at every level: gold pearls, blue pearls, gray pearls, pink pearls, even bright orange ones; along with big white South Sea rounds, bigger South Sea specimens and more.

Above left: Gray Tahitian pearls and white freshwater pearls pair with diamonds and white gold in a double-pendant-style necklace; $65,000.00 from the “Himalia Perles” collection at Cartier, 653 Fifth Avenue/53rd Street, 212-753-0111.

Above right: Cartier’s new “Himalia Perles” collection marries the soft roundness of pearls in iridescent pigments from ivory and coral to anthracite, chocolate, aubergine or steely gray with delicate pink, gold or white gold chains and rings of Saturn in platinum or white gold that sparkle with diamonds. Here, a pink gold string of diamonds, Tahiti pearls, freshwater pearls, and South Sea pearls, price available upon request; shown with a dark brown silk cord threaded with pink gold, Tahiti pearls, and freshwater pearls and diamonds that can be worn as a pendant or a Y-shaped necklace; price available upon request, from Cartier, 653 Fifth Avenue/53rd Street, 212-753-0111.

The Arabesque necklace is a customer favorite in 24-karat gold plated pewter with faux pearls; $299.00 at Cecile & Jeanne, 1100 Madison Avenue between 82nd/83rd Streets; 212-535-5700 or 436 West Broadway between Prince and Spring Streets, 212-625-3535.

With a little tech support from producers, these water-born gems are nature’s gifts. And as fast as they can be cultured (as all new pearls are), they are being turned into magnificent jewels from the most sophisticated wreath-pendant necklace at Verdura to a resplendent ring at Harry Winston or a refined statement brooch at Van Cleef and Arpels; blue pearls at Tiffany and Cartier’s rainbow of pearls and diamonds in the new “Himalia” collection. And Mikimoto has created its first limited edition, themed collection based on golden pearls dancing with white Akoya and South Sea varieties. The handmade pieces are for sale in New York, from now through December 26, after which it goes to London and Paris.Kokichi Mikimoto, who ate two pearls every day of his 96-year life, is the man who refined the culturing process and wouldn’t take “No” as an answer to the idea of cultured pearls until they were accepted by the finest jewelers around the world.

Clockwise from top left: Gold pearl pendant bow-tied with platinum and diamonds, by Tiffany & Co., c. 1900, $6500.00, by appointment only at Camilla Dietz Bergeron, 818 Madison Avenue, 212-794-9100.

Vintage David Webb sunburst earrings of South Sea pearls and diamonds set in gold and platinum, c. 1970, $39,000.00, by appointment only at Camilla Dietz Bergeron, 818 Madison Avenue, 212-794-9100.

Platinum, diamonds and pearl grape earrings, c. 1945, $12,500.00, by appointment only at Camilla Dietz Bergeron, 818 Madison Avenue, 212-794-9100 by appointment only at Camilla Dietz Bergeron, 818 Madison Avenue, 212-794-9100.

Acorn dress set by Jean Schlumberger, of 18k yellow gold and pearls, $4800.00, by appointment only at Camilla Dietz Bergeron, 818 Madison Avenue, 212-794-9100.

Art Deco platinum and diamond ring with one big pearl, $8,500.00, by appointment only at Camilla Dietz Bergeron, 818 Madison Avenue, 212-794-9100.

Pearls go back to a more spiritual time when these dewy white spheres were considered physical manifestations of the moon and assigned the same mystical powers by those who lived by the water; much like men and women living inland associated gold with the sun. Pearls represented purity, innocence and divine light – after all, natural luminescence is this gem’s birthright. Hindu legend holds that Krishna the Adorable, the favorite Hindu god, discovered the pearl when he drew it from the depths of the sea as a gift for his daughter on her wedding day. And the Indians also believed that when God created the world, each of the four elements offered a gift: air bestowed a rainbow to serve as God’s halo; fire provided the light of a meteor; earth offered a ruby to adorn his forehead; and water created a pearl to comfort his heart.

Above left: “Mermaids’ Treasure” necklace of platinum and diamond sea beauties lifting their treasure chest and six strands of seed pearls joined by a platinum nautilus shell clasp, $59,000.00, from an edition of 3 by John Landrum Bryant, by appointment at 145 East 57th Street, 212-935-0999.

Above right: The pearl-bodied peacock sits front and center on his crystal pillow in a rock crystal, platinum and diamond necklace, $157,500.00, from an edition of 2 by John Landrum Bryant, by appointment at 145 East 57th Street, 212-935-0999.

The white gold, diamond and South Sea pearl wreath-pendant pearl necklace, $33,875.00, from the one-of-a-kind collection at Verdura, 745 Fifth Avenue, 212-758-3388.

The earliest pearls were not always round. Most, even as they are now, were off-round, uneven and slightly misshapen; known and appreciated as baroque pearls. But one aspect of their appeal has remained consistent -- the bigger the better. Wars were fought to obtain precious jewels. Julius Caesar is said to have invaded Scotland to procure pink pearls from the country’s rushing streams, and some say that Queen Elizabeth I beheaded Mary Queen of Scots for her pearls.

Multicolor 3-strand pearl necklace. Price upon request. Graff, 721 Madison Avenue, 212-355-9292.

And nowhere is the power of pearls as a decorative gemstone, more apparent than through the regal attire of monarchs, dating back at least as far as the seventh century, B.C.

Queen Elizabeth I is perhaps the most extraordinary example. Her white-faced image as the Virgin Queen, in her starched lace ruff, long, pointed bodice with a wide farthingale skirt - both encrusted with pearls - and ropes of pearls reaching down to her knees, is even more powerful than the pearl-laden image of her father who reigned before her; King Henry VIII.
Master costume jewelry, Kenneth Jay Lane, interprets the Breakfast at Tiffany’s necklace -- five strands of 10 mm glass pearls, $500, to order, at Kenneth Jay Lane, 1-877-953-5264. Kenny was the first person offer support and arm me with the knowledge and contacts I needed to start my book about pearls, called People & Pearls: The Magic Endures (HarperCollins, 2000), for which I remain forever grateful.
Above left: Multi-strand, one-of-a-kind necklace from the “Couleur Soleil” collection, featuring ten 9-12mm South Sea Cultured pearls and 30 Akoya cultured pearls with a diamond and sapphire studded bar clasp, $70,000.00, at Mikimoto, 730 Fifth Avenue between 56th/57th Streets, 212-457-4600.

Top right: “Couleur Soleil” collection, one-of-a-kind earrings featuring 2 golden South Sea cultured pearls and 31.62 total weight of diamonds, $27,000.00, at Mikimoto, 730 Fifth Avenue between 56th/57th Streets, 212-457-4600.

Above right: A graceful cluster of golden South Sea cultured pearls and white Akoya cultured pearls, highlighted with diamonds, dances on the ear; from the “Couleur Soleil” collection, $39,000,00, at Mikimoto, 730 Fifth Avenue between 56th/57th Streets, 212-457-4600.

Catherine de Médicis’ legendary ropes were given to her as a wedding present by her uncle, Pope Clement VII, when she married King Henry II of France, but she passed them on to Mary Stuart when this future Queen of Scotland married Catherine’s son, Francis II. Mary Queen of Scots’ son, James VI (who became James I when he later took over the throne as King of England), sold them to Queen Elizabeth I for the absurdly low price of 300 pounds sterling, believing that he would inherit the magnificent rounds and large drop pearls, known as the Hanoverian pearls, when he inherited the throne from Elizabeth I.

While his golden South Sea pearl choker has a charming gold potted tulip closure and a white baroque pearl necklace closes with Ramshorn ring and toggle, it is Mish’s more colorful, multi-strand pearl Mermaid necklaces that tell the new tale.  Here, in shades-of-gray Tahitian keshi and baroque pearls with an 18-karat gold and diamond clasp, $38,000.00; and in white and gold keshi and multi-colored freshwater pearls with an 18-karat gold and diamond clasp, $39,500.00, both from Mish, 131 East 70th Street, 212-734-3500.

These two royals are just two of a list that includes Russian czars; the Mughal rulers who raised the complexity and richness of ornamentation to awe-inspiring heights; and almost all European rulers, among whom pearls changed hands as often as treasuries needed replenishing, including Empress Eugenie who popularized colored pearls.

The Asphodele clip of 5 white pearls, 7 gray pearls and 11 carats of diamonds, price upon request, from Van Cleef  & Arpels, 744 Fifth Avenue at 57th Street, 212-644-9500 or 800-822-5797.

A passionate pearl-wearer, Eugenie bought the historic Tiffany pink pearl, found in a river near Patterson, New Jersey, and she introduced the exotic black pearl to European society.

Eugenie’s long rope of over 500 white pearls was purchased by American railroad magnate William K. Vanderbilt for his wife, Alva, who gave them to her daughter, Consuelo, when she married the 9th Duke of Marlborough. Mr. Vanderbilt also purchased the legendary tasseled rope of pearls that had belonged to Catherine the Great. And the British Crown jewels, enriched with pearls (and diamonds) by Queen Victoria -- who best understood the symbolic power and value of imperial jewelry -- are still in circulation.

Shall anyone forget the independent spirit and elegance of the late Princess Diana in her pearl-and-sapphire choker? Queen Elizabeth II, while she doesn’t rely on the implied purity and divinity that pearls once provided Queen Elizabeth I, she regularly draws on the projected warmth and familiarity of unmistakably grand pearl jewelry, and the potent effect of the royal collection of more glittering adornment, to lend majesty and authority to her civic appearances.

Above left: Golden South Sea pearl necklace with 29.8-carat citrine and diamond clasp, $29,000.00, by appointment at South Sea Treasures, 630 Fifth Avenue, 212-554-2150.

Top right: White baroque South Sea pearl bracelets, $1900.00 each, by appointment at South Sea Treasures, 630 Fifth Avenue, 212-554-2150.

Above right: Platinum and diamond flowers embrace South Sea pearls in these important earrings, price upon request, from David Webb, 789 Madison Avenue between 66th/67th Streets, 212-421-3030.

Gold South Sea pearls highlight this 18k yellow gold chain necklace, $16,910.00; shown with a yellow gold hammered navette link necklace, $9,510.00 and a hammered yellow gold cuff with channel-set diamond rims, $16,200.00, all necklace by Barbara Heinrich at Works Gallery, 1250 Madison Avenue between 88th/89th Streets, 212-996-0300.

Although we have no royal family, some of our own queens of the screen and society have been showered with pearls. From the renowned La Peregrina (once having belonged to Mary Tudor) that Richard Burton purchased in 1969, via a telephone bid, for La Liz as a Valentine’s Day gift to the late Grace Kelly’s bracelets or the late C. Z. Guest’s necklace (which grew larger and bolder over time) and New York’s revered dowager, Brooke Astor, with her big pearl earrings by day or her Verdura bib necklace, twinkling with a few diamonds, for evening, our favorite girls have cherished their pearls.

The image of Audrey Hepburn sipping her coffee in five strands of pearls with a big, diamond clasp, in Breakfast at Tiffany’s is as American as it is timeless, as it is indelible, isn’t it? A still from this classic American film graces the cover of John Loring’s beautiful new book, filled with lots of colorful spheres, called Tiffany Pearls  (Harry N. Abrams, 2006). And our own First Ladies, including Mary Todd Lincoln (a seed pearl parure that the President-elect bought for his bride at Tiffany), Lady Bird Johnson, Barbara Bush, Rosalynn Carter, Nancy Reagan, Hillary Clinton, and the ultimate Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis (in her fabulous fakes by Kenneth Jay Lane), have gravitated to the elegance and soft femininity that pearls supply. While pearls have a history of implied social acceptability, more importantly, every woman understands that pearls, like private moonbeams, bestow that radiant je ne sais quoi upon their wearers. Is it not true that while diamonds sparkle, when a woman wears pearls, it is she who shines!

It’s not your eyesight; these are blue-gray cultured Tahitian pearls in a double-strand necklace with diamond and platinum starfish clasp; $95,000.00 at Tiffany & Co., 737 Fifth Avenue/57th Street; 212-755-8000.


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© 2006 David Patrick Columbia & Jeffrey Hirsch/