Provocative Pearls: Cartier to Lady Gaga
earls have captured the hearts of jewellery lovers for centuries. These lustrous gems, with their beauty and elegance, have adorned the necks of famous individuals throughout history. From Cleopatra who used to drink pearls melted in vinegar to iconic wearers like Elizabeth Taylor to Lady Gaga, pearls have left an indelible mark on the world of fashion and culture.
Le Peregrina is a perfectly symmetrical natural pearl discovered in Panama over 500 years ago. At a whopping 55ct is one of the most famous pearls in history. This pear-shaped beauty has a rich lineage, passing through the hands of numerous famous individuals, initially being the darling of the Spanish Monarchy, which included the elder brother Joseph Bonaparte (who was installed as King of Spain) and King Philip of Spain who was married to Queen Mary I of England. During Napoleon III's exile in England his inherited jewel was sold to the Duke of Albercorn and later bought at action by Richard Burton in 1969 for US$37,000.
"Elizabeth Taylor's dog nearly swallowed one of the most famous pearls"
This was an exceptional Valentines day gift to Elizabeth Taylor and it nearly came to grief when it was mislaid by Taylor and later found in the mouth of her puppy. The pearls journey and its association with royalty and Hollywood made it an iconic symbol of luxury and prestige rapidly accelerated its value. Le Peregrina was sold at auction in 2011 for US$11million from Elizabeth Taylor's estate and is now in a private collection.
"A double strand of pearls bought Cartier its New York Flagship Store"
This would have to be one of the most powerful pearl tales, the legendary real estate deal where Morton Plant bartered his 5th Avenue Mansion for a double strand of Cartier pearls which his second wife coveted. In 1917 Pierre Cartier was on the hunt for a flagship store in New York. Around the same time Maisie Plant fell in love with a double strand of natural pearls which took Cartier years to collect.
At a dinner party, Cartier suggested a swap valued at around USS1.5M plus $100 cash. The besotted husband agreed and the last remaining mansion on millionaire's row at 5th Avenue became the Cartier flagship store in New York where it still remains today.
However, this does not end well for Morton Plant. Mrs Plant's pearls dramatically lost value as the natural pearl market was about to collapse due to a process developed by Kokichi Mikimoto to develop a cultured pearl. In 1957 they were bought for US$165,000 and sadly have not been seen since.
"Mikimoto: The Birth of Cultured Pearls"
Kokichi Mikimoto, the founder of the famous Japanese pearl brand, is credited with developing the technique for cultivating pearls in 1893. It transformed the jewellery industry and totally changed the pearl landscape allowing them to reach a much larger market. No longer risking lives for deep diving and years to collect matching natural pearls to make a necklace, he developed a way to culture pearls. These real pearls have the advantage of of being created under controlled conditions with human intervention which enables the perfection and wide range of pearls we see today. A perfect relationship between nature and mankind. Mikimoto continues to be a leader in pearl jewelry, offering a wide range of designs that highlight the natural beauty of these exquisite gems.
"pearls breach the gap between aristocracy, politics & power"
e are so used to seeing Anna Wintour in her gemstone necklaces it would be easy to assume she owns no pearls. In the book "The Pearl Necklace" (Assouline), Anna Wintour describes her jewels and the styles worn by then First Lady Hilary Clinton and Princess Diana at a White House luncheon in 1996, “You really can’t think of three more different women, but we all reached for our pearls this morning. You just can’t go wrong. I’d love to have what Diana’s wearing, those are very real and expensive. Hillary’s are very classic. Mine are baroque and lighter.”
Pearls are a go to for women in power, their style effortlessly bridges the gap between rare & exquisitely expensive such as worn by royalty to the faux pearls of Jackie Kennedy making them incomparable to any other gemstone.
"Lady Gaga's pearl epiphany"
"However, it just so happened I was in Japan, and I decided to buy myself a strand of Mikimoto pearls. Why wait for a lover to buy you jewelry, lover yourself! After the year Japan had, and the experiences I’d shared with the people there, I thought it would make for a beautiful memory. The staff from Mikimoto arrived, we cracked open some champagne, and my buddy Brandon and I tried pearls on and swooned. I quickly decided that I couldn’t only buy one for myself. I would feel terrible. So I made it about the girls: one for my mother, my gorgeous and talented sister, and Bo, my best friend. It was to be a sign of our womanhood, a thank you for fostering mine, for my sister a sign of things to come, and for my mother a strand of pearls to represent each of the blessings she had cultured for our family over the years" Lady Gaga (LA times mag 2012)
Lady Gaga perfectly captures the feelings that pearls evoke and why they play such a significant role in history. Their timeless beauty captivates and inspires, making them a cherished gemstone for generations to come. The arrival of the cultured pearl has made pearls reachable for any budget and taste, becoming the perfect marker for important milestones.