For most, pearls represent elegance, timelessness and nobility. What might not be so common are references to the gem as fashion-forward, contemporary and avant garde… until now.
The latest pearl jewellery trends are pushing traditional boundaries like never before. Take, for example, Chanel’s oversized pearl necklaces that took over the brand’s spring/summer 2014 runway. The giant pearls dominated conversations that season and designer Karl Lagerfeld even gave the pieces a shout-out on Chanel’s in-house blog: “My favourite thing [from spring 2014] is the new necklace [shaped] like an earphone, it’s two huge pearls, but in fact it’s very flattering because the huge pearls give a beautiful light on the girl’s face.”
Pearls have also made appearances on the recent catwalks of other luxury fashion brands such as Dior, whose pearl-studded Tribale earrings – a small pearl rests on the ear while a larger one peeps out from behind the lobe – have inspired a swarm of copycat designs.
Stella McCartney introduced a twisted pearl choker during the brand’s autumn/winter 2015 show that could have been misinterpreted as a sculpture on the neck, while Givenchy’s models had their faces – yes, faces – heavily decorated with all kinds of jewellery pieces embellished with pearls.
Facial piercings and the like are perhaps a little extreme but the attention generated from such shows has helped to increase the gem’s popularity amongst consumers and also inspired other designers to experiment with new ways of working with it.
Najo managing director Jo Tory credits the current fashionable appeal of the pearl as one of the main reasons for deciding to use the gem in a number of pieces from her new La Luna collection.
“We have often incorporated pearls into our designs over the years; however, this time we have a small, beautiful and cohesive collection,”she explains.
“Fashions come and go, and then they are always reinvented with a modern twist. This is what has happened with pearls. Ever since Dior created the double pearl earrings they have gained in popularity and there is a new appreciation for this gorgeous material.”
When asked about recent changes in consumer choice, Ikecho Pearls director Erica Madsen says, “There’s definitely a preference for more fashionable, on-trend designs. While the classic knotted-strand remains a big seller, and is a must in any stock range, we are finding bold colour combinations with pearls to be a great hit.”
Madsen says rose gold and pink-toned pearls are performing well, adding that large baroque styles and natural coloured pink freshwater pearls will continue rising in popularity in 2016.
Like Madsen, Allure South Sea Pearls managing director Lindsay Youd notes an increased demand for colour.
“Allure is seeing greater interest in both golden South Sea pearls and Tahitian black pearls,” he explains, adding, “Consumers are seeing pearls as an important part of their jewellery wardrobe and are starting to add coloured pearl pieces to their jewellery collection to complement their white pearl jewellery.”
Broken Bay Pearls sales manager Melissa Clift says feedback from retailers regarding its Akoya pearls also indicates a rise in popularity for different colours and shapes: “The jewellers are saying they like baroque pearls to create unique jewellery. We have also been told that ambre strands (gradated colour) or mixed-colour strands are popular at present.”
Meanwhile, Aquarian Pearls managing director David Norman comments that bracelets are “selling very well everywhere” as are multi-coloured strand designs using pearls from various locations.
Commenting on changing consumer preferences, Norman points to a “greater demand for exclusive high-end, one-off pieces incorporating larger, higher quality and higher priced pearls, especially in Australian, Tahitian and Philippine golden-coloured South Sea pearls”.
Pearl Perfection’s Nerida Harris states that the supplier’s trend-based designs always sell well, adding that there has been a huge shift towards using rose gold findings across its lower and higher price-point pieces in response to demand.
Harris believes the “rose gold look still has some life left” and will thus be popular again in 2016. She also tips that the mixing of pearls and coloured gemstones will be a hit this year.
One supplier that is placing strong emphasis on the fashionable opportunities offered by this gem is Atlas Pearls and Perfumes, a loose pearl supplier now targeting increased appetite for unique pearls by also producing and selling finished jewellery, according to CEO Pierre Fallourd.
“We believe Atlas Pearls has a novel approach to jewellery design,” Fallourd says. “In order to embrace current trends, and rather than looking at jewellery as an independent accessory, Atlas’ approach is to promote styling through strategic partnerships and dynamic collaborations with established and contemporary designers and fashion labels.”
Fallourd lists collaborations with Western Australian-based fashion business Zhivago and accessories designer Poppy Lissiman to produce an ear cuff and the Eye Sea You collection, respectively, as examples of this.
Jonathan Jacobson, co-founder of Pearl Traders and finished pearl jewellery business Perlis Jewellery, explains that making bold,“different” pieces has always been the supplier’s focus. “We mainly ‘do our thing’,” Jacobson says of the inspiration behind Perlis Jewellery, which qualifies for the Federal Government’s Made in Australia initiative.
“We may get certain ideas from the overseas markets but we are focused on creating attractive jewellery around the pearl; using its unique shapes and qualities. With some of our pieces we have been innovative by setting a diamond directly into the pearl in an 18-carat rose gold setting.”
It seems most suppliers gain design inspiration from a combination of the pearl itself as well as trends occurring in the wider industry.
Norman explains that because Aquarian Pearls is primarily a supplier of loose pearls, design inspiration typically stems from the pearl being used at the time.
“We mostly get our inspiration from the pearls themselves and how best to present them in finished jewellery that shows off their cleanliness and lustre as much as possible,”he says, adding,“We also take a lot of inspiration from walking the aisles of the international design section of trade fairs and from the couture magazines of Britain, the US, France and Italy.”
Similarly, Youd states that although Allure South Sea Pearls regularly monitors European fashion and jewellery trends, sometimes the pearl will “speak to you”, allowing a design to evolve around the gem.
“We try to pay attention to fashion trends without solely relying on them,” Madsen adds. “I feel Ikecho sets its own trends all the time as well, to be honest. We still want to create our own mark in the fashion world. Our designs are often influenced by new technology as exciting new pearl shapes and colours become available.
“The Chinese market also has enormous influence over current trends. We’re always up-to-date with the international market fashion movements as well as the Australian market.”
It seems keeping abreast of local and international fashion trends is at the heart of meeting consumer demand. The pearl may be timeless but jewellers are being offered numerous opportunities to experiment with the gem’s wilder side. Fashion can be fickle so retailers best strike while the trend is hot.