The world of pearls: 7 pieces we love and where to wear them
Pearls have left their formal image behind to become modern expressions of casual luxury, writes Joanna Tovia.
Pearls have added an elegant finishing touch to regal outfits for millennia, but today, discerning women of style are donning pearl jewellery for the most relaxed of affairs.
One such event is the Cable Beach Polo tournament. Each May, a fleet of private jets head west to Broome, Western Australia, for a two-day polo showcase that has been attracting the glamour set for 10 years. The tournament is famous for inviting guests not to wear shoes, but what many of the VIP crowd does wear is pearls.
The allure of Paspaley pearls
Perfectly illustrating the shift of pearls as the epitome of formal elegance to an expression of casual glamour, TV personality Catriona Rowntree this year paired her sunny yellow dress and straw hat with a Paspaley pearl necklace valued at more than $500,000, along with elegant drop earrings. VIP guest Nim Alan sported a $200,000 pearl, sapphire and diamond necklace, a gift from husband Alan Selcuk on their 30th wedding anniversary.
Paspaley Monsoon Cicada earrings in yellow gold, RRP $32,800
The necklace sat easily with her floral dress and wide-brimmed straw hat.
The Cable Beach Polo event was launched in 2009 by pearling heiress Marilynne Paspaley. Her family’s jewellery company started out in the 1930s, and is credited with developing the cultivation techniques that would revolutionise the industry in Australia.
Cultivated South Sea Pearls are now considered among the world’s best, and sought after for use in high-end jewellery. Although Australia produces less than one per cent of the world’s pearls, what we do produce accounts for more than 20 per cent of the worldwide value.
Natural pearls are worth significantly more than their farm-grown counterparts because of their rarity. In 2017, a Paspaley triple-strand pearl necklace featuring 237 natural pearls achieved a price of $2.8 million at auction in Hong Kong. A set of natural pearl and diamond earrings fetched $1.1 million at the same auction.
Pack your pearls
Pearls go hand in hand with luxury cruising, where understated elegance is the order of the day. There are several standout designers turning these lustrous treasures into wearable pieces, and nowhere is it more appropriate to don a strand than on board a river cruise in the south of France, or an ocean voyage to exotic lands.
Michael and Dr Patricia Kailis opened Broome’s first pearl jewellery store in 1978 – right at the heart of the Australian pearling industry – and four decades on they continue to embrace the natural beauty of the Australian South Sea Pearl. The founders of Kailis Jewellery hail from Greece, and pride themselves on pearls that are a cut above in all the qualities that matter: lustre, shape, size, colour and surface quality.
The Kailis design philosophy is about letting the pearl ‘speak’ with purity and integrity to create striking pieces of modern jewellery.
Western Australia’s Smales Jewellers is also on the radar of pearl enthusiasts, designing its own pearl collection and stocking select Kailis necklaces, rings, bracelets and earrings. Ron Smales Senior opened the first boutique in Kalgoorlie in 1937, growing to become a well-known designer of signature pieces, which often incorporate both diamonds and pearls.
Jewellery designer Margot McKinney has created a name for herself thanks to her bold creations, now stocked by US luxury retailer Bergdorf Goodman. McKinney says: “I strive to make every piece as versatile as possible so that the women I am designing for will have pieces that work as successfully and easily with a T-shirt as with a gala gown.”
Strands of pearls are timeless, POA © Kailis