Pearls are not so much having a “wow moment” as entering a completely new era of imaginative design and styling. Whether it’s the sliced and spiked creations of Melanie Georgacopoulos and Bibi van der Velden, the edgy, unorthodox collections that Thakoon and Prabal Gurung have made for Tasaki, or the gentler but no less radical looks from Sophie Bille Brahe and Mizuki, artists and consumers alike are learning to have fun with their pearls.
Matthew Harris of jewelry brand Mateo New York is a fan of both round and baroque cultured freshwater pearls. “I absolutely adore them. You can play around with them without breaking the bank, yet make something so special.”
Bibi van der Velden Sea Goddess ring with keshi pearls. (Bibi Van der Velden)
Pearls are firmly on fashion’s radar as well. These lustrous jewels embellished full Balmain and Givenchy outfits on the fall-winter 2023 runways and appeared in the butterfly-themed necklaces at Dior’s recent cruise show in Mexico. Baroque pearl earrings accessorize nearly every collection from fashion brands Erdem and Simone Rocha. Also fueling interest is Tiffany & Co.’s cute new Bird on a Pearl capsule collection, inspired by the works of designer Jean Schlumberger. Meanwhile, pearls ruled the red carpet at this year’s Met Gala and were the go-to jewelry — courtesy of Australian specialist Autore — for Queen Charlotte in Netflix’s new Bridgerton prequel.
Sophie Bille Brahe Wrapped Perle earring with freshwater pearls. (Sophie Bille Brahe)
Go for baroque
There is a lot of buzz surrounding these little beauties. As Georgacopoulos points out, “younger people are seeing more pearls in fashion shows, which trickles through to the high street with fashion [jewelry] pieces. As they get older, they convert that look to gold and come to us.”
The quirky contours of freshwater cultured baroques and keshi pearls tend to be popular for the same reason Harris offers: They let you play. “Because of its one-of-a-kind nature, [a baroque pearl] is just sublime when paired with gold and colored semiprecious gemstones,” he says.
Marie Lichtenberg Mauli pearl necklace with gold locket. (Marie Lichtenberg)
Georgacopoulos agrees. “Baroques have a bit more personality than round pearls,” she says, admitting that she would have preferred if the South Sea pearls she pierced with gold for her M/G Tasaki Baroque Drops collection had been more unusually shaped.
As a sculptor, Mizuki founder Mizuki Goltz often approaches her works from a visual perspective. For those designs, she says, “I choose more specific pearls like South Sea and akoya, along with unique shapes and color.” Other times, when she wants to create a mood, she opts for freshwater and akoya pearls; “their scale, size and effortlessness become essential.”
Balmain fall-winter 2023 collection. (Balmain)
Getting an earful
Round and baroque freshwater cultured pearls have become popular with the fashion crowd because they are not a heavy investment. This makes them ideal for styling trends like stacking and layering.
Maria Tash’s Pearls Go Punk collection features a curated ear stack with pearl hoops, ear cuffs, spiked pendulum charms, and double-pearl connector-chain charms. Sophie Bille Brahe’s Wrapped line has loops of pearls that sell as individual earrings for asymmetrical wear with a stud or other designs. Mizuki has cascading pearl ear cuffs and baroque pearl hoops, and Eéra adds akoya drops to its own multicolored square hoops. Mateo New York’s Pearl Blizzard Mobile earrings take inspiration from artist Alexander Calder, while the brand’s Dots collection explores the geometry of a cube-shaped ring with a perfect pearl sphere on top — quite a statement.
“Pearl ear cuffs have done great with retailers overall,” says Goltz. “They do especially well with floating pearl chain necklaces and long pearl lariats” for layered styling. “All have touches of diamonds, which add to a playful look.”
Blizzard Mobile earrings from Mateo New York with freshwater pearls. (Mateo New York)
Besides being ideal for ear curation, pearls also highlight the animal- and insect-themed cuffs and necklaces of Gaelle Khouri and Bibi van der Velden. Mateo, Sophie Bille Brahe and Mizuki are swapping simple necklaces for more playful designs with graduating pearl sizes, while knotted threads in different colors punctuate the pearls in Marie Lichtenberg’s pieces.
For retail showcases, Goltz advocates unfussy diamond or gold-chain necklaces with a statement pearl, or statement rings like her open ring with a baroque pearl and cascading diamonds — a signature Mizuki look. Pairing asymmetrical and minimalist designs with baroques makes for “a dynamic piece,” she says.
And pearls have gained serious street cred, Harris notes. “The pearl has been revolutionized with sleek and modern designs that are visually a work of art.”
Mateo New York Cube ring with a freshwater pearl. (Mateo New York)
Main image: Erdem spring-summer 2023 collection. (Jason Lloyd Evans/Erdem)