The flappers of the Roaring ‘20s had a distinctive look with their bobbed hair and daringly short dresses. The signature accessory was pearl jewellery. Pearl chokers and long, lavish pearl rope necklaces were both in vogue. Elegant single strand pearl necklaces were also popular, and suddenly pearls were appearing on rings and brooches too. The hair, the hemlines, the exuberant dance crazes and the fondness for gin cocktails are all explained by the repressive culture that crumbled with WWI. But how did pearl jewellery suddenly get so popular?
Once upon a time, pearls were exclusively for royalty. Divers braved the ocean to search oyster after oyster to harvest pearls, and they were extremely rare. Not even the richest royals wore extravagant pearl ropes. It wasn’t that everyone was suddenly rich from bootlegging gin. Pearls changed.
What Are Cultured Pearls?
Today, we hear the terms ‘cultured pearls’ and ‘natural pearls’. Natural pearls are those found in the wild. When a bit of debris got into an oyster’s shell, the oyster secreted a calcium carbonate nacre to surround the irritant. As layers of the nacre accumulate, the pearl grows in size. Because people demanded more pearls than Mother Nature produced in the sea, we began trying to create them in controlled conditions. The man who succeeded was a vegetable seller in Japan named Kokichi Mikimoto. He wasn’t the first to create pearls, but his created pearls were the most successful.
For centuries, people had been farming molluscs to increase their odds of finding pearls without diving. In the early 1900s, this evolved into aspiring pearl farmers introducing debris into molluscs to produce pearls. But it was Mikimoto who devised the technique of placing mother-of-pearl beads into oysters. His efforts produced the best results – large volumes of gorgeous, round pearls. His pearls hit the markets in 1921 and changed everything.
Cultured pearls are not manufactured. They develop the exact same way natural pearls do, but the process is started deliberately and they are grown and harvested in controlled conditions.
How Cultured Pearl Jewellery Changed Fashion Forever
Once it became possible to harvest cultured pearls, the popularity of pearl jewellery soared. At last, many women could enjoy this stunning adornment formerly available only to the most elite. Once the exclusive preserve of women such as Cleopatra, Elizabeth I and Marie Antoinette, pearl jewellery was quickly embraced by Hollywood stars and ordinary women who love beauty.
Today, pearl jewellery is popular for weddings and beloved for its versatility. A single-strand pearl necklace is the perfect finishing touch for a little black dress. Add a suit jacket and court shoes, and that ensemble can go to the office. Swap the jacket for a wrap and the court shoes for sassy heels, and it’s ready for a night out.
From the 1920s to the ‘80s, pearl jewellery evolved along with every fashion trend, adding a regal touch to every woman’s jewellery box. It isn’t all about pearl necklaces: vintage pearl jewellery offers some stunning pearl rings and brooches that are sure to turn heads and start conversations.