Pearls: lustrous, beautiful and coveted. They’ve been an essential part of the finest jewelry longer than most other gemstones. Throughout history, pearls have been exclusive to only the elite and wealthiest in the world. Some designers perfected the design of pearl jewelry, others have innovated the industry, and then others have brought pearls to the masses. Check out these famous pearl designers to learn how they changed the world of pearl jewelry.
In 1893, Kokichi Mikimoto grew the first manmade pearl. Though the pearl was only semi-spherical, this was only the beginning as Mikimoto would spend the next 20 years perfecting his process. It wasn’t until 1905 that he would culture the first perfectly round pearl. By 1913 the Mikimoto company was successful enough to open a store abroad in London.
Pearl farming, or periculture, was controversial when Mikimoto began. Because natural pearls of high quality are extremely rare, they are extremely expensive. Mikimoto had found a way to sell beautiful pearls for a fraction of the price and when he brought his cultured pearls to the world market he was sued by the top jewelers. The result: farmed pearls had to be called cultured pearls.
Cultured pearls were publicly perceived as fake initially, so the pearl farmer worked tirelessly to change the attitude. Mikimoto was dedicated to producing only high-quality pearls and he wanted to make this known to the world. He even went as far as to burn tons of low-quality pearls as a publicity stunt to prove it.
Ultimately, Mikimoto’s company was a success. The brand is synonymous with cultured pearls and cultured pearls have become the standard in pearl jewelry. Today, 95 percent of the pearls used in jewelry are cultured.
Chanel might not exactly be known for real pearls, but her iconic costume jewelry was partly influenced by her love of pearls. Because they were her favorite accessory, Coco Chanel was always spotted with ropes of pearl around her neck.
However, as she found herself in relationships with wealthy and influential men, like the Duke of Westminster, she was criticized for her lavish lifestyle. To combat this, Chanel designed her own costume jewelry instead. Without giving up the pearls, Chanel incorporated imitation pearls into her designs.
Today, the pearl designs have remained a staple of Chanel’s jewelry lines. The costume jewelry lines are reminiscent of Chanel’s original designs. The fine jewelry line is inspired by the costume lines but with more intricate designs, real pearls and precious metals and gemstones.
Cartier may not have made pearls a fashion icon in an obvious way, but they’ve certainly recognized the value and beauty of the perfect pearls. The jewelers have played part in the design of the world’s most expensive pearl jewelry.
Cartier’s flagship store in New York was purchased by Jacques Cartier for a double-strand pearl necklace. The building was owned by New York financier Morton F. Plant. The story goes that Plant’s wife was fond of the pearls on display at the former Cartier store. At the same time Plant was selling his house and Cartier was looking for a new location. Aware of Mrs. Plants affinity for the pearls, Jacques Cartier offered him $100 along with the rare double-strand pearl necklace valued at $1 million. Later Mikimoto would introduce cultured pearls to the market and after the death of Mrs. Plant, the pearl necklace only sold for $150,000.
Another double-strand pearl necklace cost a little bit more. Cartier aided in the design of a rare 120-pearl necklace that sold for $3.7 million. The jeweler also aided in the design of the Baroda Pearl Necklace, valued at $7.1 million. Finally, the late Elizabeth Taylor, when in possession of arguably the most famous pearl in the world, La Peregrina Pearl, commissioned Cartier jewelers to redesign the necklace. It is currently set with more pearls, diamonds and rubies.
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