Pearls: Downton Abbey's '20s treasures

Happy New Year!

January 6 is the long-awaited North American return of "Downton Abbey", but thanks to a son's technical abilities, I raced through all of Season 3 over the holidays. Inspired and heart-wrenching season (that's all I'll say), with a bonus feature: fabulous pearlwatching in the Abbey and beyond!

The Countess of Grantham is costumed in pearls that would look perfect 90 years later, and it is she, as you would expect, who wears the largest, most luminous necklaces and earrings:

Lady Mary, Lady Edith and Aunt Rosamund typically wear ropes of smaller pearls, knotted or simply loose:

In the Roaring Twenties, these would have been natural pearls; culturing was in its infancy. A rope of small pearls such as Lady Mary wears above would still have been a serious piece of jewelry. Pearls from Scottish rivers–now nearly extinct–were prized. (Lady Sibyl, now married to Branson, is not costumed in pearls, to underscore her new status and far more modest married life.)

The pearls cast their timeless effect, lightning the women's faces and flattering evening and daywear. They retain their magic today, though we rarely dress for dinner in magnificent embroideries or attend a cricket match in ecru chiffon. 

2013 picks

To join the Abbey's beauties, I'd look for a versatile yet 'strong' piece that has something of the unusual about it, but also retains the glow and elegance of the gem.

Present day pearls exhibit a wider range of colour and shape than ever before, and you don't need a fortune to afford a stunning choice. Silver-blue baroque akoyas, natural colour in a generous 9mm-9.5mm size, are $522 for an 18-inch necklace, from Pearl Paradise.

A white, pink and grey freshwater 8.5-9mm strand from Winterston is on sale till January 20 (or while supplies last) for £215. The whites and pinks are natural, the grey is dyed.

This vintage garnet, pearl and diamond necklace was made thirty years later (ca. 1950) but is decidedly Cora Crawley, charming yet idiosyncratic. Price, $595 at Beladora II.

Ninety years after they cozied up to coronets, pearls have stepped beyond the aristocratic realm, beautiful as ever but infinitely more affordable. 

So, beginning Sunday evening, watch away and enjoy, including the parade of pearls!


I love the longer ones knotted...I am going to do this soon. Enjoyed the post!
Kristien62 said…
I received season 2 of Downton Abbey for Christmas and need to catch up. If I can't get up to speed by Sunday, I'll DVR the series. As a "woman of a certain age," I would love a cream or pink tinged pearl necklace. The soft colors would be soft and forgiving near my very pale skin (I think.)
Susan B said…
That Beladora II necklace is timeless and lovely. Lately I'm drawn to more of the bigger, statement pearls.

Great captures of period pearl jewelry. I can hardly wait for DA to return!!
LPC said…
I watched Season 3 online too. Including the Christmas special. Yikes. And that's all I will say about that. I love it that you show us the pearls. I can't believe I didn't notice! That last necklace is beautiful, and I wouldn't mind some silver gray babies either:).
KSL said…
So looking forward to Sunday when DA begins. I only wear pearls when I'm dressed very casually, I feel too mumsy in them dressed up. And welcome back.
Lorrie said…
I've been very quiet about DA because I've watched the third season, too.
My husband bought me pearls for Christmas. He ordered one strand on line, choosing the diameter (by millimeters) and then the length, which he thought was centimetres, but turned out to be 50 inches. When they arrived he was so disappointed that he went out and bought (locally) an 18 inch strand. I'm keeping both - wearing the longer one knotted or looped.
They are cultured pearls, a creamy white that I love.
Unknown said…
I am addicted to the series and can't wait for Sunday evening.
rb said…
I don't know if you get tired of me leaving the same comment over and over, but I love it when you write about pearls!
We are watching Downton Abbey season 3 online too and I never even noticed the pearls! I cannot believe that I missed them but I have been smitten by the wonderful hats that the ladies are wearing and the riveting story line.
Happy New Year!
Duchesse said…
Pam: Yes, knotted is one of my favourite styles too!

Kristien: Ask your friends not to say anything, it would so change your enjoyment of S2! The colours you describe flatter any skin tone and it would be fun to play with whether you prefer cream or rosé overtones. Generally, follow the undertone in your skin, peach or pink.

LPC: There are even more! But if watching more than once, you will see them.

Pseu: Tiny pearls have their place (and I've posted on that) but for grown women I usually do not show anything smaller than 9mm.

Kathy: If feeling mumsy in pearls when dressed up, a woman might either
- buy a strand of top grade South Seas or
- restyle her pearls into something hipper than a plain necklace, or
- layering the necklaces and add more colours or varieties;
All of which are fun to do!

Lorrie Orr: NO problem, honey! BTW nearly all pearls sold today are cultured- or that 50 inch strand of rounds would be the price of a Lamborghini.

Chicatanyage: I'm confused as I was thinking the season had already aired in the UK. Season 3 is a blockbuster.

rb: I need and appreciate the encouragement, so I'm grateful to hear this!

hostess; Just go back and watch again! Yes, the hats are outstanding, as they move into the 20s and away from wartime restrictions.

sisty said…
This comment has been removed by the author.
sisty said…
Sigh. The twenties are my favorite decade, style-wise. I'm looking forward to Downton Abbey starting up again this Sunday, and I too love it when you write about pearls. Happy New Year!
Gretchen said…
I am eagerly awaiting the new season...I wait until they've all aired, and then watch them in one obsessive swirl via Netflix, as I don't have television anymore. I will wear my pearls in multiples to watch, in honor of those lovely characters and the delicious oysters who give us such beautiful gems! I love the suspense of knowing something big, maybe a few somethings, are in store for us. It is such a fun serial to watch. Meanwhile, I'll get my Fellowes dosage up to snuff by watching Gosford Park again, which is equally good....
materfamilias said…
Still haven't seen this -- one of these days, I'm going to have to get round to iTun-ing and catching up.
This post reminds me that I keep forgetting to post photos of a portrait I snapped in Amsterdam last spring because of its rendition of pearls, thinking of you. . . one of these days.
Anonymous said…
Hi Duchess - The Pearl Paradise blue Akoyas are $522, not $622, for an 18" strand. I actually picked up a strand for Christmas on sale. I'm over 50 and took your advice and went for the largest size. They are stunning and I'm very pleased.
Love your pearly posts.
Duchesse said…
sisty: Always a pleasure, thanks!

Gretchen: We don't have TV either and gorging, commercial free is such fun.

materfamilias: I predict you'd love it and am surprised you have not seen one way or another.

Anonymous: Thanks for the correction and enjoy those most beautiful akoyas!
Susan said…
I love the Belladora necklace.

I sometimes feel Mumsy just being be! And yes, pearls can add to that. I understand about making them a bit different and current. I need to think about doing that with an old strand. I have a newer one that is larger pearls and not just round. I feel a little better in it, but not entirely.

I did watch Downton Abbey last night. Did anyone else notice the editing issue? (Jerkiness)

I look forward to this season
Duchesse said…
Susan: I'm frustrated I can't drop by and play with your pearls. A reno to your old strand would be so much fun!
Unknown said…
Watching DA is worth it just for the clothes and jewelry. Thank you for pointing out the pearls. I'll keep an eye out for them when we get around to watching it on iTunes.

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