|"La Peregrina": Elizaeth Taylor's Cartier necklace|
One of The Guardian's articles concluded with a quote from jewelry historian Beatriz Chadour-Sampson, concerning one of the items on display, a bucketful of current Chinese freshwater pearls:
"Is it devaluation of the pearl or is it Mikimoto's dream come true?" asked Chadour-Sampson. "It is a matter of interpretation."
Let's pry open the oyster shell of value. In the precious gem world, as in other realms, scarcity is a prime factor of value, and these days, pearls are not scarce. (Neither are diamonds, whose price is kept artificially high.)
However, the cultured pearl world contains many levels of quality. I sometimes am bemused, and other times irritated by the way jewelers or salespersons emphasize the "genuineness" and skip over quality.
The Big Question is, What quality makes you happy? You will only know this from handling a representative pearl.
A simple suggestion: wade in by buying a pearl pendant, in the best quality you can afford.
Whatever your personal style, aside from maybe your wash-the-dog sweatshirt, you will wear that piece with everything, layered or on its own. You can also use the pendant as a charm, attached to a bracelet or other piece.
If the pendant makes you purr, your eventual strand, bracelet or pair of earrings will match that quality. One day, return to that vendor for more, or use your pendant as a comparator if shopping elsewhere.
This white South Sea 11-12mm pendant mixes well with other pieces; it's on special this month at Pearl Paradise for about $390, with a 14k bale. (Chain sold separately; the 18-inch 14k yellow gold option is $80.)
And you could stop right there. A single big South Sea has glowy charisma; a necklace of big headlight pearls might be too much for your lifestyle.
At the prestige jeweler Gump's, a 9.5mm Tahitian, set in a hip silver bale, is only $150. (I had to check that price as Gump's pearls are usually on the high end.) A great way to see if Tahitians melt your heart, and I trust their pearl quality, but call first to ask if there is a selection of overtones.
Kasumis are rare, flashing-hued freshwater Japanese pearls from the only remaining pearl-producing lake in Japan. (Chinese and Thai farmers are offering "Kasumi-like" pearls, but the real thing is enchanting.) A full strand is a serious purchase, but a single 12.3 mm Kasumi pendant delivers estimable allure. (Price, $309 at Kojima Company.)
The bumply, sometimes rippled surface is characteristic; colours range from soft peach to deep rose and bronzy-green.
I like the boule or lariat-style pendant, as in this design from Winterston UK, made here with a 9mm white Akoya. It's pricier than a drop on a chain, but you can slide the boule to adjust the length, and the 18k chain, unlike the other pendants in this post, is included in the price, £385. A Tahitian version (with green overtones) is £475.
Pearls are no longer a luxury purchase, but even the choice of a simple pendant can overwhelm. I've had a few notes from women who either bought or were given pearls of a colour, size or variety that did not thrill.
Sometimes I suggest restyling, but if you never suited the dark tones of Tahitians or find Akoyas just too white, you're better off gifting them to someone who makes them sing.
Since your hair and makeup colours may have changed in the last decade, so too may your preferred gems and metals.
Check reputable vendors like Pearl Paradise and Pearls of Joy to benchmark prices. With that info in hand, you won't make a rash decision–unless you wind up like Janet, who was supposed to be buying cat food and a pair of bedroom slippers when she met a friend for lunch one Saturday afternoon.
Janet had one too many margaritas (which in her case was only one) and bought a gorgeous but pricey pearl pendant with a ruby and diamond clasp.
Apparently when wading in, she hit a tsunami. Another reason why I like 30-day refund policies (offered by all vendors in this post)! But then I'm not Janet, who has happily kept the pendant and is wearing her old flip-flops for bedroom slippers.