Pearls have been called the gem of queens and the queen of gems. For centuries, they have been associated with love, marriage, seductiveness and femininity. Not surprisingly, pearls have been a popular choice for wedding jewelry for generations. High-quality imitations have been fashionable since Coco Chanel started wearing them herself in the 1920s. Whatever your style, vintage pearl jewelry can provide the perfect compliment to your wedding attire as well as a treasured, versatile keepsake to wear forever after. Let’s take a look at pearl earrings, bracelets, and necklaces from some of my favorite makers.
This premier producer of handmade imitation pearls as well as glass and Galalith beads was a major worldwide supplier from 1922 – 1975. Rousselet’s workers coated glass beads with essence d’Orient (pearl essence), a solution of crystals made from fish scales and lacquer. Up to 10 coats were applied. Until 1940, pearl essence was made only in France.
He (and later his daughter Denise) also designed jewelry for stars of the Folies Bergère (including Josephine Baker) as well as couturiers such as Coco Chanel, Jacques Fath, and Robert Piquet. The 1950s pendant earrings in the photo above – seen here – are unsigned but can be attributed to Rousselet, based on their construction and components. His pieces were usually signed on only a paper hang tag.
Here are two additional pairs of 1950s earrings by this maker. On the left is a more traditional look – a cream-colored baroque pearl center encircled by a ring of smaller matching pearls. Though unsigned, these earrings have the traditional Rousselet filigree backs and ear clips. A very colorful and complex choice is on the right. This pair features a cluster of pearls along with blown-glass emerald, ruby, sapphire, and amethyst leaves, intertwined with rondelles. Though unsigned, these earrings are undoubtedly by this maker – they match a magnificent signed necklace and earrings set that you can see here.
For more Louis Rousselet jewelry, visit the boutique. Among the pieces shown is a stunning grey-and-white pearl sautoir and earrings set made for Chanel’s boutique in 1948-1952.
Another maker known for lavish and imaginative use of imitation pearls in a variety of shapes is Miriam Haskell. According to Miriam Haskell Jewelry (by Cathy Gordon and Sheila Pamfiloff), from the 1920s until the late 1950s, one of two New York-based companies provided the firm with glass coated with pearl essence. In 1957 or 1958, the Niki Company in Japan became the exclusive supplier of pearls to Haskell.
These classic earrings on the left feature a baroque pearl dangling from a pearl-studded Russian-gold-layered plaque. The adjustable screw-back that Haskell adopted in 1960 helps us date this versatile pair, which are fit for a bride as well as everyday wear. The bracelet on the right has two rows of baroque pearls with vertical rondelle spacers, all hand-wired onto a gold-tone hard-mesh-hinged bangle. This piece is also one that can be worn for a wedding and afterward.
You will find more vintage pearls as well as other Miriam Haskell creations here.
Initially a fashion designer, Hattie Carnegie started producing costume jewelry in 1939. Instead of copying fine jewelry, a common practice at the time, the firm’s designs were innovative, distinctive and often whimsical. These two pieces from the 1950s illustrate these characteristics.
The necklace on the left is adjustable and meant to hug the neck. Pearls and faceted crystal beads dangle from the diamanté-embellished gold-mesh choker. The bracelet on the right has faceted crystals and pearls that dangle from the center structure of three rows of diamanté. Both pieces have lots of movement and sparkle.
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For More About Pearls
Watch this video from the Victoria & Albert Museum to find out about the lustre, longevity and luxury of both natural and artificial pearls, and their association with the birth of Aphrodite (Venus), goddess of love and beauty.
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