Once upon a time pearls stood for everything I disliked and rejected. They were polite, conventional, middle-class and, whatever the age of the wearer, middle-aged. Less an adornment than a marker of respectability.
Before the 70s struck, though, girls my own age of a certain type wore them to university with twinsets, camel coats and pigskin handbags. Just writing that makes my flesh crawl, not because I hated those accoutrements but because I so badly coveted them in order to be one of these girls. No chance. I lacked the money, the private school vowels and the breezy confidence.
When this mode of dress finally went out the window, I was for the first time in my sartorial element. And I would no more of dreamed of donning pearls than reverting to a suspender belt.
|Queen Elizabeth II|
I've never been much impressed by precious stones, always being more attracted to opals, amethysts, moonstones and so. But I've noticed how even a string of cheap faux pearls reflect their soft glow on skin that isn't as young as it used to be, so that the lovely old-fashioned word becoming comes to mind.
My appreciation was cranked up a notch by reading the new Coco Chanel biography last year, and admiring portrait after portrait of her dressed in black and long strings of pearls.
Once a certain level of appreciation is attained, covetousness, I'm afraid, isn't far behind.
Even so, I surprised myself last week on Lambton Quay when, bent on some mundane mission or other, I stopped dead in front of a jeweller's window to admire a long double rope of big irregularly shaped pearls.
I never look in jeweller's windows; their array of gold and silver bores me rigid. But this ... it hung from a plaster neck, heavy, gleaming and quietly gorgeous.
I only looked for a moment, then found myself marching into the shop and asking if I could see it. The young assistant (I think she was French and therefore understood these things) reached into the window. I said I had no intention of buying it and she smiled indulgently and handed it to me. I promptly slipped it over my neck.
They were south sea pearls, said the assistant. That was why they were so big.
"How much?" I asked, fingering the lovely weighty shapes.
She reached for the price tag at the back of my neck.
I handed them back, said thank you and left the shop.