Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Pearls Take A Turn Toward Baroque

Although the single strand of round pearls has become iconic, cultured baroque pearls have come into their own again because of their unique and interesting shapes. When set with semi-precious and precious stones, they create a free-spirited and rugged sense of style as compared to their spherical counterparts.

The luster and luminescence is still apparent, but the shapes are contemporary. These aren't the pearls that women wore to represent the unspoken uniformity of the 1950s, but something freeform and wildly organic. Very few baroque pearls look the same.

Baroque pearls unlock the creative free spirit, giving designers more setting options.

Naturally, all pearls are organic because unlike gemstones, they are made by living creatures. They only receive the semi-precious stone moniker for the purchase of jewelry. They aren't stones at all.

They have been prized, however, for centuries. In ancient times, they were considered the most valuable as a symbol of the moon and frequently thought of having magic powers. In ancient Rome and medieval France, only people who had achieved a certain social status were allowed to wear them. But the allure wasn't limited to Europe. China, India, and Native Americans all prized pearls.

Most baroque pearls are freshwater, much like Native Americans farmed from rivers and lakes. The irregular shapes occur because the pearl is nucleated in a mantle without a round pearl sac. More recently, cultured pearls (objects are placed inside the mussel to become coated) have been used to create even more interesting effects. 

The pearl melange necklace from Sundance is a great example. The pearls that make up the double strand include keishi, coin, rice, and potato. It creates a rugged style, as if the necklace was made with found pearls as opposed to those collected for their roundness. It still takes years for these pearls to be made.

To another striking element to the design, the designers added a cluster of garnets, labradorites, and pink opals around the silver clasp. What makes this especially interesting is that it doesn't matter how it lands across the neck. The look makes it wearable for formal, casual, and even concerts.

Other examples from designers who are making baroque pearls work. 

The Whitney necklace, which is part of a limited chunky series of jewelry from a pearl specialty store, arranges the freshwater baroque pearls into an unusual cluster of pearls, shells and wire. It's an eye- catching piece, with the pearls measuring between 5 and 10 mm each.

This piece is one of several baroque designs recently added to the pearl wholesaler, which specializes in round, colored and regional pearls. As a wholesale retailer, the specialty store has several collections that are offered at a fraction of the price. The new collection takes advantage of the urban edge created by baroque pearls.

They aren't the only ones experimenting with freshwater pearls. Among designers, Wendy Mink has added a few pieces that are dramatically minimal, lacing only a few baroque pearls on a longer gold chain. The first was called freshwater pearl station. The other, framing four pearls with five drop-down pale green agates, is a delicate pearl and agate necklace.

What's interesting about Wendy Mink's inclusion in the renewed fascination with freshwater pearls is that she generally works with gemstones that tend to have their own lustrous depths. Her work frequently fuses Victorian and East Asian design, an inspiration that began while traveling throughout India, Nepal and Tibet.

A few tips about pearls, keeping in mind freshwater pearls are different.

Pearls are generally graded along four qualities: luster, surface, shape, and nacre. Luster is best described as the mirror-like reflective qualities of the pearl and nacre considers the beauty of the crystalline material. Shape and surface consider the roundness of the pearl as well as the number of divots, blemishes or imperfections.

The irony is that baroque pearls tend to be graded very low because of their irregular shapes or atypical growths. But since many of them have visible imperfections, luster and nacre are the only to factors to increase their value aside from being set with other stones. I call that ironic because it is the imperfections that make them more interesting and offset any other pearls someone might have.

Baroque Pearl Necklaces Reflect 6.8 On The Liquid Hip Richter Scale. 

Although Sundance is the hero, the alternative freshwater pearl designs will appeal to either urban extreme. The chunky design typically wears better with solid tops and simple necklines. The simplistic design by Wendy Mink is more forgiving, but could get lost in the shuffle of loud outfits.

The pearl melange necklace was originally released by Sundance, the Whitney necklace at Pearls Only, and the Wendy Mink necklace at Charm & Chain. Prices range from about $60 to $220, with the range reflective of the accompanying stones.

A special thanks to Kokichi Mikimoto, Tatsuhei Mise and Tokichi Nishikawa too. All three contributed to the cultured pearl process (enticing mussels to make them on demand), opening up the possibility for everyone to afford them. At the turn of the century, the innovation must have been like finding the infamous philosopher’s stone.
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