About three years ago I thought: pearls. Why don’t I wear those?
I did a lot of research (about two years just browsing and researching) before making any purchases and, after a rather indulgent and permissive winter*, I show definite results.
*with the stunning jewelery in the recent Anna Karenina film perhaps a minor catalyst.
Got a few pairs of earrings in different styles (you can see the 8-9mm studs in action here) and a classic 18″ necklace in the holiday sales, an 8-strand bracelet. Investigating longer ropes of 50+ inches (which just 15 years ago were thought suitable only for grandmothers. So old-school they are fresh again), and have determined it makes sense to get a short (acquired!) and a medium length necklace that match (with identical clasps as well) and have the option to wear them linked together.
To get the most for my money, I went with cultured freshwaters. They are almost pure nacre, which means you don’t have to worry about a thin (unless trés $$$) layer of nacre wearing away to expose a dull bead†, and they can come in a lot of funky shapes and colors that I find really modern. Most come from China. Quality and size in any pearl are a matter of the species of bivalve in question, the water quality/temperature/depth of growth/duration of growth, and other stuff that isn’t even fully understood at this point.
† as with nucleated pearls like akoyas and south sea pearls, at which point the pearls become pretty much unwearable. These nucleated pearls have hardcore, loyal followers, however, who believe them to have superior luster and orient (a.k.a. ‘rainbowiness’), in the case of akoyas, and undeniably larger size, in the case of south sea pearls, which are cultivated in a mammoth species of bivalve.
I found that it may be cheaper and more satisfying to buy the pearls wholesale and knot longer necklaces myself. Project! The knots serve to keep the pearls from rubbing against one another, which can chip and dull the delicate nacre (pronounced NAY-ker), and from being irretrievably lost if the string breaks. They are traditionally strung on silk thread suitable for the gauge of the drill holes, though contemporary jewelers often use some more durable synthetic blend. Does everyone know these things? I did not know these things. It is also a useful long-term skill as any strand of pearls requires periodic restringing, which is not so cheap. And then, of course, you can realize your own designs and repurpose old necklaces, etc. Ah. To have proper skills.
I knotted this!
Pearl jargon: little pearls klink, medium sized pearls clank, 10mm+ pearls klonk (and are known as ‘klonkers’).
There is something warm and approachable about pearls (and semi-precious or opaque stones, but especially pearls) that glittering, faceted gems do not have.
[Not that one wants always to be warm and approachable.]
Opulent yet subtle and wearable in contexts high and low. Relatively affordable.
[Especially if they are fake, or of middling quality. Some of the pieces in the first photo are costume jewelery, which have their place. Some are low-quality in the traditional gem-appraisal sense, as in not round or flawless, but in the modern eye this can make them even more appealing.]
I maintain that they go with anything. They are less aloof, yet can meet the rubies and sapphires on their own ground, as proven in the jewelry and gowns of so many medieval and renaissance portraits. [Of course, in great quantity the subtlety goes out the window.]
They warm to the skin, glow with luster and orient, and love to be worn. Properly cared for, they will outlast you.
Also, they make stellar gifts. And, if you talk about them enough, people will give them to you. Inexplicably, some people seem to have pearls they do not want.
http://www.pearl-guide.com/ extremely helpful forum and lots of useful links. The loudest piece of advice I took away from the forum was, get the best you can afford. I like this approach in general.
http://www.pearlparadise.com/ the vendor I’ve made most of my purchases from, they also sell pearls by the inch and have great customer service (no issues about returning pieces to correct matching or sizing issues, and a 90-day return policy). Great sales sometimes, too.
http://www.stachurawholesalegemstones.com/ this is where I got knotting supplies and the more colorful wholesale pearls. They also sell other precious and semi-precious stones.
Tears of Mermaids: The Secret Story of Pearls interesting book about the pearl industry at every level, from the farm/ocean to the customer. If you are ever mesmerized by pearls –how they are heavier than they look, how they seem to glow from within, how they came straight out of some bivalve just like this (treated pearls aside), a gift of nature– this is for you.