Closed Exhibition – Pearls
Pearls: About the Exhibition
Origins of the cultured pearl
Attempts to produce pearls through human intervention go back centuries. The ancient Chinese had discovered how to create a blister pearl by inserting an object into the oyster. In the 18th century the Swedish naturalist Carl Linnaeus experimented in a similar way.
However, it was Kokichi Mikimoto (1858–1954) in Japan, who at the beginning of the 20th century was granted a patent for developing round cultured pearls from Akoya oysters that their industrial production began. By the 1950s cultured pearls had conquered the market and Mikimoto’s dream ‘to adorn the necks of all the women of the world with pearls’ became a reality.
Today Mikimoto is renowned for its quality control, following the founder’s philosophy of using only the very best quality pearls for jewellery. Its flagship store is still in the Ginza district of Tokyo.
Sash clip, 'Cherry Blossom' by Mikimoto
15 carat gold coated with platinum, cultured half pearl, small natural pearls and diamonds
© Mikimoto Pearl Island, Japan
'Gothic' choker by Mikimoto
18 carat white gold, diamonds and Akoya pearls
© Mikimoto Pearl Island, Japan
South Sea pearls
Cultured pearls from the South Seas are found in countless colours. Their iridescence and hue are dependent on the type of molluscs they are grown in and where they are farmed.
The queen of all oysters, the Pinctada maxima, produces the finest South Sea pearls. These come from established farms in Burma, Indonesia, the Philippines, Thailand and along the northern coast of Australia. The common Pinctada maxima produces white pearls, the silver-lipped variety results in pale metallic-grey tints and the gold-lipped specimen creates gems with an intense golden hue.
The Pinctada margaritifera, the black-lipped oyster from the Pacific atolls, produces the famous Tahitian pearls. These are not all black. Some are white, and the black ones take on spectacular green, blue, even aubergine, tones reminiscent of the colours of peacock feathers.
Jewellery design experienced great changes during the second half of the twentieth century. During the 1960s and 1970s avant-garde jewellers in Europe broke away from traditional gem-set jewellery to create abstract sculptural designs with unconventional settings for pearls. In contrast, the high-end jewellers sought a path between tradition and Modernism. From the 1980s, the emphasis for artist jewellers has been less about the value of the pearl and more about novelty of design. Searching for new ways of wearing pearls, they set them in a variety of metals, often with textured surfaces and successfully combined them with non-precious materials.
Today the range of aesthetics in pearl jewellery is boundless and the variety of pearls quite remarkable. Whether natural, cultured or imitation, pearls continue to be fashionable and are being worn by increasing numbers of women. Pearls are a symbol of femininity and timeless jewels befitting at any event or occasion.
'Grand Jeté' brooch, made and designed by Geoffrey Rowlandson (born 1931)
'Grand Jeté' brooch
Made and designed by Geoffrey Rowlandson (born 1931)
18 carat gold, brilliant-cut diamonds and cultured baroque pearls
© Geoffrey Rowlandson
Snow White Wrist Piece 'A Fusion of Winter Snow and Spring Flowers', made and designed by Nora Fok (born 1952)
Snow White Wrist Piece 'A Fusion of Winter Snow and Spring Flowers'
Made and designed by Nora Fok (born 1952)
3-D printed white plastic, cultured white pearls
© Frank Hills, photographer
Brooch, made and designed by Friedrich Becker (1922-1997)
Made and designed by Friedrich Becker (1922-1997)
18 carat white gold, 96 natural pearls in varying shades
© Frau Hilde Becker