Saturday, January 15, 2011

Thou shalt not covet ...

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
But the times change and so, Queenie aside, do we.
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.

Coco Chanel

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.


  1. I inherited my mother's string of Mikimoto pearls - my father bought it for her on his one and only business trip to Australia in the 1960s. The pearls are evenly sized, and that always seems more up-to-date than graduated ones. Apparently pearls go "dead" if they're not worn. Because she wore them a lot, they have a lovely sheen, and now I wear them often too.

  2. Oh, lucky you. Actually, my mother left what we rather grandly called her jewellery to me, and that included a string of pearls. But that was in England more than 10 years ago, and distance and family dynamics being what they are, I've never seen them.