Pearl jewellery has been worn for thousands of years, and up till quite recently pearls fetched such high prices that real pearls were out of the reach of most women. Your grandmother or great-grandmother may have owned one prized pearl necklace that was brought out only on special occasions.
The introduction of high-quality cultured pearls has brought about a revolution in pearl jewellery. While the classic white pearl necklace is still a jewellery box staple, designers are now using pearls of every shape and colour to produce costume pearl jewellery to fit every taste, budget and wardrobe. Pearls are now available in round, button (a slightly flattened round), rice and baroque shapes. Baroque pearls can be anything from textured coin shapes to sticks, ridged rice or round pearls, or completely free-form shapes that catch the light in striking and unusual ways.
It is no longer necessary to resort to glass pearls to get the look of pearls without the price. Cultured freshwater pearls are made using a process of seeding real donor shells with a material that encourages the production of nacre (the substance that gives pearls their lustre) and results in a pearl so beautiful that it is hard to tell it apart from a naturally produced pearl. Like natural pearls, cultured freshwater pearls (the kind found in most costume pearl jewellery) are graded according to their size, shape, lustre and colour, so you will encounter a wide variation in prices. You are sure to find something to suit your budget!
Pearls look wonderful against any skin tone; fair skin looks more translucent when adorned with natural-coloured pearl jewellery, while golden or jewel-toned pearls look amazing against dark skin and enhance its natural sheen and depth. With so many colours and combinations available, costume pearl jewellery can suit anyone of any age or colouring.
So where do you start with building your pearl jewellery collection? A smart move is to begin with a set of pearl clip earrings and matching necklace; as pearls combine beautifully with other materials, you can wear the different pieces separately to ring the changes. Choose the colour that best suits your skin tone and hair colour, and find the shape of pearl that appeals to you most.
Many women think of pearls as primarily evening wear, and often choose their pearl jewellery with special occasions in mind. Yet freshwater pearl jewellery is now so affordable that you should be using it frequently for daytime wear. Try on those special occasion pearls in the daylight, and see how their lustre catches the light! There is a wide selection of pieces available that combine pearls with gold, silver, gemstones or crystals to take advantage of the light-attracting qualities of quality freshwater pearls and bring a new freshness to daytime wear. Clip on pearl earrings, for example, can be found in both the traditional clip form or as stunning drop earrings, combining pearls with precious metal, clustering them together in wired designs, or adding fine chains for a more casual look.
Today's costume pearl jewellery usually combines pearls with gemstones, precious metal beads or glass beads to give a more relaxed look that is easily worn with casual clothes. These pieces work well with everyday business attire without looking fussy; a multi-strand necklace of coloured pearls looks very effective against a plain top and can transform a classic outfit while retaining an air of elegant simplicity.
As with all costume jewellery , don't be afraid to choose a bolder style than you usually wear, or to combine two or more pieces together for a striking effect. There are no rules any more!