Sunday, 9 June 2019
Christie's specialists Angelina Chen and David Warren on the gems that have captivated both Eastern and Western collectors for centuries.
Coveted by both Eastern and Western collectors for centuries, pearls have historically adorned some of the world's most extravagant monarchs and society figures. Famous wearers of pearl jewelry include King Henry VIII, Coco Chanel who wore cultured pearls, Princess Diana and Elizabeth Taylor — whose natural 16th century pearl La Peregrina set two world auction records when it sold for $11,842,500 at Christie's in 2011.
Pearls are even cited for their beauty in scripture — in the Bible, Jesus compares the Kingdom of Heaven to a "pearl of great price," while the Quran says that dwellers of paradise will be adorned with pearls. According to Marco Polo, the Hindu kings of Malabar wore a necklace of 104 rubies and pearls, given from one generation of monarchs to the next.
Yet, despite their formidable history, pearls can be for everyone: "It is possible to find beautiful natural and cultured pearls below $10,000," comments Christie's specialist Angelina Chen, whose favorite pieces from our online sale include a pair of antique natural pearl earrings. "Natural pearls are rare, and I anticipate the value of these earrings will be recognized by collectors," Chen adds.
"One of the things I love about pearl jewelry," says Angelina, "is its wearability. The same piece can be dressed up for a formal occasion, or worn effortlessly with a T-shirt."
The variety of designs by some of the world's most famous jewelry brands means there's a piece to fit everyone's personal style: "Pearls come in such a range of colors and shapes that they sit beautifully in different settings and jewelry — and hold the unique distinction of being a naturally beautiful material, without the use of cutting, faceting or treatment," comments Chen.
"Today, both natural and cultured pearls feature prominently in jewelry by all of the world's most renowned makers, including Buccellati, Mikimoto, Tiffany & Co., and Van Cleef & Arpels — all of which are featured in our online auction."
"A pearl's color is essentially determined by the type of oyster in which it is produced. Cultured Tahitian pearls, for example, are formed from the Pinctada Margaritifera, a black-lipped oyster that gives the dark charcoal colors that many collectors have grown to know and love," Chen says.
Other types of oyster produce pearls of different shades: "Both the white version and the warmer Golden South Sea Pearl are created in the Pinctada Maxima, which is the largest type of oyster capable of producing cultured pearls," explains Chen. "Akoya pearls are formed by the Pinctada Fucata oyster, a smaller type of oyster than those that produce the South Sea varieties of cultured pearl, which most often results in a white body color with wonderful rosé and green overtones."
Two of Angelina's favourite colored pearl lots from the sale are a Tiffany & Co. foliate brooch, which includes gray, white, and golden cultured pearls, and a strand of golden cultured pearls. "I adore the lustre of the cultured pearls in this necklace and brilliance of the diamond rondels," Chen comments. Other colored cultured pearls featured in the sale include an outstanding Tiffany & Co. grey pearl necklace.
"Collectors are advised to avoid artificially colored pearls, and instead enjoy the wide range of naturally occurring colors that are found in jewelry from top makers and are included in Christie's Jewels online auction," advises Chen.
The variety of pearl jewelry means there's a piece to suit every occasion — though experts advise that daily wear should be approached with caution.
"It really depends on your skin, and its acidity," explains Christie's resident pearl expert David Warren. "With some people's skin, daily use may be fine. Other factors, like using a lot of hair spray, can result in their degradation, however."
Treated correctly, pearl jewelry can last a lifetime — making a timeless addition to a wardrobe, or perfect heirlooms for future generations. To ensure their longevity, proper storage is vital.
"Never store your pearls in cotton wool," advises Warren, "this is the most vital piece of information pearl collectors should be aware of. Each pearl contains moisture, and if you put them in cotton, it draws that out and they crack. Pearl dealers in the Middle East wrap them in a silk cloth — follow suit, and wrap them in a silk handkerchief, or granny's old silk petticoat."
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