Renaissance is known for being a period of peace and rebirth of the Arts.
Florence, thanks to de’ Medici family, became the heart of this movement, attracting artists of every field from all Europe.
One of the symbols of this period are the pearls: coming from the Persian Gulf (from the area now called Bahrein), these gems gave birth to one of the most important and flourishing trade route of the time.
In this region there were the natural conditions for the creation of this precious gem, which was quite rare to find.
During the XV century, pearls created a sort of euphoria: people went bankrupt just for having some of these round gems and Cosimo de’ Medici forbad to nobles wearing pearls’ necklace for an amount of more than 500 scudi.
Of course, upper classes refused to observe this law and men, women and also children went on wearing pearls as jewels, for adorning their hair and also as part of their clothes.
Examples of this euphoria can be found in “Portrait of Bia de’ Medici” (Agnolo Bronzino, 1542 – Uffizi Gallery), a 5-years old girl wearing a necklace, earrings and a belt made with pearls, and in “Elizabeth I” by George Gower (1588 – Woburn Abbey), in which it is remarkable the love of the Virgin Queen for these gems.
Portrait of Bia de’ Medici – Agnolo Bronzino, 1542 – Uffizi Gallery
The shape and the color reminded to several symbolic meanings, such as purity, chastity, delicacy, faith, beauty, as well as showing the status, wealth and personal taste.
During the following centuries, pearls didn’t loose their importance and they have been always loved by women of the royal families all over Europe. It was said that nothing could enlighten the face of a young girl as pearls did and for this reason they were considered, together with diamonds, “girls’ best friends”.
At the same time, pearls were so used that soon they started been considered as obvious in the jewel coffret of girls and women.
From this moment and for a long time, pearls have been put into a fashion exile because considered “old pieces” and “not wearable for young women”.
This exile ended with the XX century, when cultured pearls invaded the market: in Japan, it has been discovered how to introduce a grain of sand inside the shell, in order to push the creation of the pearl. This discovery gave birth to a revolution because the price of this jewel was more affordable comparing to the natural ones.
Their introduction in the market was not warmly welcome: women continued preferring the natural ones, because connected to the idea of uniqueness and aristocracy.
The destiny of the cultivated pearls met the creativity of Madame Coco Chanel: she simply didn’t care if they were natural, cultivated or fake ones.
Pearls became one of the signature of her creations, together with camellias and the double C.
She wore them at every occasion (in the morning, with a sporty outfit or with masculine trousers) and with every kind of textile, such as tweed and silk.
In her opinion, pearls had the power to protect her from daily difficulties: more than this, the rounded shape and the perfect volume had a calming effect, because reminded to purity and harmony.
Moschino, F/W 2015/2016
More recently, Moschino has re-launched pearls, putting them on bags, shoes and directly on the clothes, as embellishments to make his pieces even more precious.
Jean Paul Gaultier, F/W 2012/2013
This trend has been followed by many other designers, as for example Jean Paul Gaultier, who decided to enrich the style with pearls details.
Last designers (but surely not the leasts!) in proposing pearls in their collections are Dolce & Gabbana, who for the F/W 2012/2013 season, have taken inspiration from the Renaissance and given to pearls an important role in adorning classical (and unusual) accessories.
As we have seen, the history of pearls is quite uncommon: born from a (wonderful) mistake of nature, they have been worn both by women and men, being the firsts genderless jewels ever (anticipating all the discussion about gender to which we assist today).
Nowadays – and just for females – the trend seems to push mixing casual and elegant elements together, in order to enrich a sporty outfit or to downplay the elegance of pearls, making the precious stones an everyday life jewel.
As we can see, Madame Chanel is the creator of a trend lasting more than 80 years.
Dolce & Gabbana, advertisement for F/W 2012/2013 collection
Dolce & Gabbana, F/W 2012/2013 collection
Article written by Lolly Salvioni and veronicaparigi