Power to the pearls: how the season’s most popular jewellery piece has hit refresh
Once a symbol of status, pearls are a key feature of the runways and red carpets this season, but their revival has tapped a different kind of consumer
Maybe it was Julia Garner arriving at Gucci’s spring-summer ‘23 show wearing 12 layers of pearls on her neck. Her “Hollywood tomboy” era, she called it. Or maybe it was Cate Blachett’s necklace blend of metallic Tahitian and white pearls at this year’s BAFTA’s, which were draped from her neckline to her left shoulder. Or maybe it was Simone Rocha’s first menswear collection, where she sent baroque pearl clutch bags down the runway.
Pinning down the standout pearl moment of the season is a difficult task. The classic gem’s renaissance is cutting through red carpets, runways, street style, and social media, with #pearlcore videos receiving over 700,000 views on TikTok. But what is it about this almost 4000-year-old jewellery piece that has captured today’s zeitgeist?
“In the past, pearls were often associated with older generations or more traditional styles. However, in recent years, there has been a shift in the types of customers who are interested in pearl jewellery.
“Younger generations, including millennials and Gen Z, are increasingly drawn to pearls for their sustainability, versatility, and timeless appeal. Additionally, there has been a growing interest in vintage and antique pearl jewellery, as more people seek unique and one-of-a-kind pieces that have a story and history behind them,” says Aoife Doyle, fine jewellery manager and buyer at Weir and Sons.
Tapping into their history is worthwhile business, especially where the gap between past and present is bridged: “Pearls have long been worn as a symbol of status and power throughout history. For example, the La Peregrina pearl was discovered in the Gulf of Panama in the late 1500s. It was worn by Kings, Queens and Emperors before appearing around Elizabeth Taylor’s neck. One of her prize possessions; it was sold at auction after her death in 2011 for $11.8m to an anonymous buyer,” Doyle says.
And while communicating wealth is one thing, pearls play out in today’s political arena too. They adorned the neck of Queen Elizabeth at both her husband Prince Philip’s and Princess Diana’s funerals, and of Kate Middleton and Meghan Markle’s during the Queen’s 10-day mourning period following her death. A considered and intentional choice, this royal tradition dates back to Queen Victoria's reign in the late 1800s. Following her husband's death, she wore black for 40 years, and her outfits were decorated only with the addition of pearls.
The pearls swing left too, with Kamala Harris wearing a custom pearl necklace by Wilfredo Rosado when she was sworn in as America’s first female Vice-President in January 2020. This was a nod to her university sorority, Alpha Kappa Alpha, whom pearls have been a symbol of for decades.
A point of difference recently, though, is the appeal they have to men; Harry Styles, Timothée Chalamet, and Pete Davidson have all been proud pearl purveyors on red carpet appearances, and, at the other end of popular culture, they were added to the latest season’s uniform of the guys on Love Island – a pretty big sartorial step up, considering their Casablanca shirt and shorts style trap.
“The market shift of pearls in popular culture reflects a broader trend towards more gender-neutral and inclusive fashion. The growing number of male celebrities and fashion icons wearing pearl jewellery has helped to break down traditional gender norms and stereotypes,” Doyle says, adding, “fashion designer Marc Jacobs is rarely seen without his favourite Mikimoto pearls.”
Coupled with this male uptick is a refreshed appetite for maximalist, avant-garde pearl styles. On the spring-summer runways, this was best seen at Chanel, Givenchy, and Simone Rocha, and Doyle notes the Mikimoto x COMME des GARÇONS collection for its edgy heavy-duty take. “There has also been a growing interest in baroque pearls, which have an irregular shape and unique texture that sets them apart from traditional round pearls.”
Hitting on the same point is Louise Stokes, the founder of Irish fine jewellery brand Loulerie. “The modern pearl styles are really appealing to a different, younger customer. Misho, a brand we stock, is a perfect example of this. Their pearl style hoops are a big hit, alongside their organic, natural styles.”
Loulerie’s pearl and gold link necklace was recently worn and styled by German content creator Fabio Montedoro, whose pared-back style and accessories focus gave Stokes a “new, fresh perspective on design and how pearls can be worn on men.”
“I think pearls are a mainstay in jewellery. You can look back hundreds of years to draw on how they were worn and styled. The current customer is looking for interesting new ways to style such a classic piece, and this mix of old and new is something that’s really interesting. Seeing such a classic piece worn by men and women, and reinvented again and again, is really refreshing.”