Nothing suggests classic elegance more than a pearl necklace or a set of studs. And now, all eyes are on the pearl as designers are increasingly fashioning fresh styles like long, layered necklaces and funky, chunky rings. The classic strand will never do you wrong, and celebrities are layering long pearl strands and donning colored pearls alongside sparkly gems. In Style magazine writer Amy Goodman was invited on “Today” to talk about what to wear with that old strand and how to invest in some new luminous beauties.
The traditionalist: For a look that is slightly preppy, and perfect when paired with a crisp shirt or cashmere, try a multi-strand necklace of freshwater pearls. Keep in mind that freshwater pearls are the most reasonably priced in the pearl chain of command, as they are grown in mussels in lakes and rivers, and thus, are abundant and easy to grow.
A pearl primer:
- Mother-of-pearl: Actually not a pearl, mother-of-pearl is the iridescent lining of the shell around the pearl. It is measured in inches, not millimeters (pearls are measured in half-millimeters), and relatively low in cost.
- Chinese freshwaters: These are the least expensive, most common and usually cultured (not occurring naturally). Rule of thumb: jewelry costing less than $500 is usually made with Chinese freshwaters.
- Akoyas: Praised for their pure white color and perfectly round shape, Akoyas hail from either Japan or China and are expensive. Standard diameter is 7 millimeters.
- South Sea pearls: South Sea pearls come in only large sizes, of at least 10 millimeters or more. Golden South Sea Pearls from Australia are the most rare and most costly of all pearls in the world.
Meeting with metal: Pearls that mix and mingle against metallics create a look that is both classic and contemporary and highly gift-worthy for a range of ages.
Check out the 18 karat gold twig necklace made by Iridesse, with very rare metallic freshwater pearls, which have a very high luster grade. In general, when searching for pearls, look for the three S’s: you want a pearl with a surface that is unblemished, a shape that is round and a size that is big — the bigger the better! Add to this luster and color, and you’ll become an expert pearl shopper. Iridesse, $1,850; 866-294-5503.
The bib necklace has a broad sweeping style (at least a half-inch in width) that tapers back like a baby’s bib. Designer Julez Bryant’s necklace of freshwater pearls and gold-filled chain features intricate craftsmanship, and looks great offset with a little black dress or a strapless neckline to fully showcase its beauty. Fragments, $655; 866-966-4688.
For the younger set, Dogeared’s sterling silver circle pendant with freshwater pearls offers a delicate, playful and affordable option. Dogeared, $76; sold at Intuition, www.shopintuition.com.
Ornate and intricate: Simple pearl stud earrings used to rule the day, but now pearls lavishly adorn all pieces — and the more in terms of quantity the merrier. If such detail makes you shy for fear of how to clean it, don't worry. Pearls are low-maintenance. Polish with a soft cloth and wear them to moisturize (the body’s natural oils keep them conditioned). Whatever you do, don’t use commercial cleaners, swim while wearing pearls or wear perfume or body lotion near the pieces, all of which can negatively alter the condition of the pearls.
Check out the seven pearl flower ring set in silver and 18 karat gold, by John Hardy, $495; 866-454-2739. Or the freshwater pearls with mother-of-pearl on gold-filled bracelet by Miguel Ases, Fragments, $445; 866-966-4688.
Color me pretty: Pearls are natural beauties when simply set, but now designers pair them with colored gems to enhance their soft and subtle sheen. Typically semiprecious stones like amethyst, peridot and topaz are the best companions to pearls, lending a regal air.
South Sea pearls are coveted for their size, typically beginning at 10 millimeters and climbing as high as 20 millimeters. Check out Kara Ross’ South Sea Pearl Necklace with amethysts, blue topaz, citrines and peridots, $2,915; Bergdorf Goodman, 212-735-7500.
Teardrops of the moon goddess — that's how early discoverers described blue pearls. Paired with vivid green peridot, they create a striking combination that's reminiscent of the freshness of spring. Clusters of pale-blue 7-millimeter rice-shaped pearls are wrapped with 4-millimeter peridot beads on a sterling silver and pearl chain. The necklace adjusts from 16 inches to 18 inches and closes with a lobster clasp. Peridot is August's birthstone and pearls are June's birthstone. Exclusively from RedEnvelope, $135; redenvelope.com
Revive me: Classic styles lend a stylish statement with a vintage feel. The opera-length necklace, appropriately dubbed for opera attendees who wore them in 19th century, are 36 inches in length or longer. Singer Vanessa Carlton has been seen layering this style for a bit of alternative rocker chic. Pearls come in all sizes, and these dainty seed pearls are typically smaller than 2 millimeters. Check out the extra-long freshwater seed-pearl necklace (90 inches), by Jill Alberts, $280; 847-681-1630.
Swing and sway with a tassel necklace, a design that originated in the roaring twenties to keep up with the Charleston. They can reach as low as the navel, so start flappin’. Check out the freshwater-pearl necklace (30 inches with 3-inch tassel) with sterling-silver toggle clasp, M+J Savitt, $590; 800-372-8488.
Adornments: Dress up a favorite pearl necklace that you already own (or borrow one from grandmother) and personalize with charms or pendants. Have one too many brooches from this season and last for your lapels? Fasten one onto a pearl necklace and still feel fashionably cool. Check out this Donna Distefano Ltd. freshwater 34-inch necklace, $340, with gold charms including 18-karat iolite, $800, 18-karat lemon topaz, $450, and 20-karat gold ring, $750; 212-594-3757.