One of the hottest street styles going on right now is men wearing a single choker length strand of granny pearls — which probably really did come from their grandma. We can thank Harry Styles for kicking off the trend and we can thank Billy Porter, Jaden Smith, Pharrell Williams, Nick and Joe Jonas, and others for joining in on the fun and wearing a simple pearl strand.
NATURAL TO CULTURED
Up until the early 20th century, all pearls were natural. Divers swam into dangerously deep waters to retrieve these luminous treasures. To find a pearl was indeed a moment to be celebrated.
In 1893 after five years of trying, Kokichi Mikimoto successfully cultured a round pearl. Pearls form in mollusks when a grain of sand, or another irritant, gets inside its shell. To soothe the annoyance caused by the intruder, the mollusk produces “nacre” a substance that continues to build until it becomes a pearl. Mikimoto mimicked the process found in nature by placing a particle in the mollusk to stimulate it into producing nacre and creating a pearl. It worked and today cultured pearls are readily available and at the pinnacle of popularity with… well everyone from politicians to rock stars.
While pearls have found a broader following in recent years, their luster and luminosity have made them a perennial favorite of fashionistas and gem lovers alike. Ever since she was a young child, jewelry artist Naomi Sarna has been intrigued by pearls. “I find pearls very interesting. There’s some mystery to them,” comments Sarna. “How do they get their luminosity and iridescence?”
Sarna likes to use unusual pearls and rarely uses those that are round, oval, or pear-shaped. Perhaps one of the most unusual pearls that Sarna has used in her Art Jewels is the very rare natural pearl that is the centerpiece of her Queen of the Sea brooch. The pearl, which comes with a Gemological Institute of America (GIA) report stating that it is natural, has a luminous glow that immediately draws you in.
“When I first saw the pearl in Queen of the Sea, it spoke to me,” recounts Sarna. “The pearl was a queen and she needed a crown. I was attracted to the shape, which is very rare. It also has a very special iridescence that is very beautiful.”
A study in the curving line, it took two years to fabricate the Queen of the Sea brooch. To create dimensionality in the brooch Sarna had to build the piece with layers. She embellished the pearl with a variety of gemstones as well. “I wanted opals and moonstones to create a feeling of water. The moonstones were recut to face forward. The opals are faceted. It’s very unusual to find faceted opals. The back of the brooch is beautifully finished with engraving that echoes the fluidity and movement of water.”
Another unusual pearl shape that captures Sarna’s imagination is the feather pearl. Rare and unusual feather pearls have a unique shape and texture. Feather pearls grow naturally by the hinge of the host mollusk and are a delightful surprise when they appear. “Feather pearls are so unusual,” notes Sarna. “People always think that pearls are round and smooth. Feather pearls have a wonderful iridescence and shape. They are always oblong and have a furrow on them where I like to put gemstones.”
Sarna is currently working on a medieval-inspired necklace that showcases an exceptionally large feather pearl, that has the feeling of a magical talisman.
Keshi Pearls are formed when a mollusk produces pearls that have no nuclei. These Pearls are pure nacre, have a very high luster, and are found in a variety of shapes, often flat, but never perfectly round. These are natural pearls that form during pearl cultivation. Because they are pure nacre, these pearls are particularly iridescent, making them especially covetable. Keshi means poppy seed in Japanese, so Keshi pearls are sometimes nicknamed poppy seed pearls.
“I love keshi pearls. They come in extraordinary colors that are so fabulous and the shapes are wonderful,” comments Sarna who frequently uses Keshi pearls in her necklaces.
Rosebud pearl is a term used for a particular type of Chinese freshwater pearl or American freshwater pearl. These pearls are very textured with speckles of nacre that formed on the pearl as it was growing inside the mollusk. Often found in unusual shapes rosebud pearls tend to be one-of-a-kind. “Rosebud pearls are highly collectible and whenever I see one, I think ‘how unusual,’” says Sarna.
Always on the lookout for unusual pearls, Sarna sometimes finds a pearl that has no match. She found a 2-inch long stick pearl that had no mate, so Sarna created one for it. She replicated the shape of the pearl in 18-karat white gold and adorned the precious metal with various colors of diamonds and sapphires to create her one-of-a-kind Miss Match earrings.
Freshwater pearls are among the most available types of pearls and they come in a variety of shapes and natural colors. Freshwater pearls are found in China and the United States. Sarna uses both. She notes that when Chinese freshwater pearls first came on the scene about thirty years ago, they were not always of the best quality. However, with selective farming and breeding, Chinese freshwater pearls are now among some of the most beautiful. “The colors come from minerals and impurities in the water,” explains Sarna. “Freshwater pearls often have a lot of iridescence. I especially like gold, pink and blue iridescence.”
PEARLS THE JUNE BIRTHSTONE
With so many choices of pearls, anyone can enjoy them, but they are particularly special If you happen to have a June birthday as pearl is your birthstone. For those who have made it to 30 years of marriage, pearl is the 30th wedding anniversary gift.
“Pearls emanate a simple beauty,” concludes Sarna. “When do you ever see something so simple that is so beautiful?”
By Amber Michelle