Jewelry & Accessories

Mother Of Pearl: The Return Of Your Grandma’s Favourite Accessories

May 1, 2024

The idea that what’s old becomes, at some point, new again isn’t exactly revolutionary. You can practically hear the collective sigh of each generation as they see their long-forgotten fashions trotted out a decade or so later by brands eager to repackage them for the younger set. Fashion is, after all, cyclical, with silhouettes, hues and styles going from ‘it’ to ‘out’ and back again throughout the years. The same-same-but-different approach is also applied to accessories. And pearls are an interesting example of this.

The first recorded use of the mollusc-made gemstones—natural pearls are made by sea oysters or freshwater mussels as a protective response to irritants—for jewelry dates back to 2300 BC in ancient China. A mainstay in adornments since then, the popularity of pearls has been punctuated by pop-culture appearances. Audrey Hepburn’s eye-catching necklace in Breakfast at Tiffany’s; Gabrielle “Coco” Chanel’s long “ropes” of pearls worn layered over casual shirts; Marilyn Monroe’s simple string from the Mikimoto Pearl Company; and, more recently, Harry Styles, whose necklace underscores the gender neutrality of pearl jewelry. 

“Fashion trends come and go, but pearls are versatile and will always bring style to whatever you wear,” says Amber Hsu, founder of B.C.-based Barebone Jewelry. “These gems are as individual and special as those who adore them. Not just for women, pearls transcend traditional boundaries into men’s fashion, gender-neutral fashion and gender-fluid fashion and are loved by generations.”

“Pearls have been trending for many years and I think that shows just how timeless they are,” agrees Kara Yoo, founder and designer of the namesake Vancouver-based jewelry brand. “They keep coming back.” A costuming chameleon of sorts, working with a variety of personal styles “from subtle to maximalist,” according to Yoo, the latest pearl designs are ushering in a fresh new take on the timeless accessory option. Hsu reflects that, while “you can never go wrong” with a classic freshwater pearl necklace, more-modern pearl designs include “a single pearl on a gold-plated ring or a stretch ring encircled with mini pearls, [as] these add textures and chic details to your look.”

“Not only do they evoke a sense of understated elegance, but they transcend age, gender and personal style,” adds Justine Lançon, chief creative officer of the Toronto-headquartered jewelry brand Mejuri. “There’s something for everyone and anyone.” In fact, pearls are proving so popular with shoppers that, this spring, Mejuri unveiled a new collection entirely devoted to the gemstones. Dubbed Pearl Power, the collection aims to further evolve the design options in the space—firmly pushing pearls past simple strands into innovative accessory territory.

“We are always looking at the re-contextualisation of the pearl, and how to make it modern and exciting for our community,” Lançon explains of the collection, which includes a pearl station necklace, and delightful drop earrings. “This particular collection is more minimal but can easily be layered with existing pieces.”

Pandora, considered to be the world’s largest jewelry brand with more than 7,800 points of sale in 100 countries, also put pearls at the front and centre of one of its latest launches, which sees freshwater pearls remixed with strands of sterling silver and gold-plated metal beads, irregular chains and more. 

A timeless addition to one’s jewelry collection (and therefore, a worthwhile investment), pearls are also positioned as a more sustainable option among gemstones.  

“The sustainability aspect is also big for us and a lot of our customers,” says Yoo. “Pearl farming is lower impact than gemstone mining. We’re always on the lookout for vintage pearls, too, which is another source of inspiration for us.” When done under ecologically mindful practices regarding water quality and pollution, pearl farming is billed as creating less pollution and fewer carbon emissions than gemstone mining, according to industry insiders. This interest in naturality also spills over into the designs themselves, with many shoppers gravitating toward pearls with more-natural formations and organic shapes such as organic baroque and Keshi pearls.  

Hsu confirms that “the cultivation of pearls is organic and typically involves minimal environmental disruption. Pearl farming can have positive effects on marine ecosystems by providing habitats for other marine life and improving water quality. Unlike synthetic materials used in some jewelry, pearls are natural substances that biodegrade over time. Pearls offer a sustainable alternative to other types of jewelry materials, providing a natural and environmentally friendly option for those seeking beautiful and ethical accessories.”

“We’re seeing this with diamonds and gemstones, too, where customers are more interested in the natural formation of stones, and stones that tell more of a story,” says Yoo. The designer points to interesting shapes of pearls such as stars and hearts as a particularly appealing evolution of the gemstone, for the fact that these uniquely shaped options allow even more creativity with pearl jewelry designs. For a recent capsule release, her brand created a “hidden” pearl stud earring and ring where the pearl is “nestled” within the rather than being the centrepiece of the creation, a play on the “quiet luxury aesthetic,” according to Yoo. Perhaps the most charming among Yoo’s pearl offerings are the petite rice pearl strings, shaped into beautiful bows, which adorn earrings and necklaces for a whimsical take on the TikTok-popular Soft Girl aesthetic. 

Pearls aren’t the only throwback accessories to make it back into the ‘it’ category this season. Believe it or not, brooches—yes the time-tested lapel decoration sported in recent years more by septuagenarians than the style set—are back. 

“We’ve been seeing a theme of ‘adornment’ since 2022. From viral design hacks on TikTok to major designers showing us how to elevate a classic style, the brooch was a natural progression in us reviving older sensations,” says Randa Salloum, owner of Vancouver-based vintage shop Collective Will. “Italian design house Schiaparelli has showcased larger-than-life creations that dazzle, so it was only a matter of time before it was introduced on a smaller scale to the masses.

“We’re seeing bedazzled flowers to solid-gold cats,” she adds.

While a blazer lapel or a hat band, as seen at brands like Gucci, are still appropriate places for a brooch to adorn in 2024, Salloum points to a few more inventive options as her favourite styling approach to the accessory: “Mix and match your brooches to cover buttons down a shirt, add them on a bag, cluster them on your baggy denim, above the top button on a shirt, or the middle of a tie. Of course, there is always my favourite way: discovering bug-shaped brooches and placing them on your shoulder or chest for a bit of a lively look.” —Aleesha Harris

Pearl Protection Plan

A timeless jewelry investment, pearl pieces also require some precious treatment. Yoo offers five tips to keep your natural pearls looking like new: 

  • Remove your pearl jewelry before putting on lotion or perfume.
  • Store them separately from other jewelry so they don’t get scratched.
  • Do not use an ultrasonic machine, chemicals or abrasives to clean your pearls as it will damage and dull them.
  • Do not wear your pearls in the shower or swimming.
  • To clean pearls, use mild soap, lukewarm water and a soft cloth if they are heavily soiled. Otherwise, clean them with a soft cloth often to prevent skin oils and dirt from accumulating.


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