Pearls are the only gems created within a living creature, connecting their wearers with nature through their beauty and uniqueness. They have been used as jewellery for centuries and featured in outfits and styles of every type, from adorning golden crowns and royal garments to simply emphasising the elegance of a little black dress.
These iridescent gems first gained popularity among Chinese royalty in 2300 BC as a symbol of wealth. You can find out more about pearl meaning, history, and symbolism here.
Read on to find out more about the most famous pearl wearers in history and why even the largest pearls in the world can disappear in a matter of seconds!
Pearls and royalty
A famous quote from the Hollywood actress Grace Kelly says: ‘The pearl is the queen of gems and the gem of queens.”
Legend has it that Cleopatra had the world’s largest pearls in her jewellery collection. The story goes that Cleopatra bet Marc Antony that she could serve the most expensive meal in history.
She took off one of her stunning pearl earrings and placed it into a goblet of vinegar. As the pearls dissolved, Cleopatra drank the vinegar and won the bet. The legend has been retold for centuries, and is depicted by many artists with the title ‘The Banquet of Cleopatra’.
Queen Elizabeth I
Another powerful ruler who adored pearls was Queen Elizabeth I. She lived in the Renaissance Period, also called “The Pearl Age”. During this time period, pearls were much sought-after, and quickly found their way to Europe.
Pearls became a part of jewellery and clothing for both men and women, incorporated into buttons, collars, and even hairstyles. Elizabeth I was famous for her extravagant makeup and her exquisite taste in fashion and jewellery.
Many portraits show her wearing several strands of pearls and beautiful gowns with pearl decorations. Historians believe that Elizabeth I was obsessed with a pearl necklace which consisted of no less than six hundred pearls belonging to her imprisoned cousin Mary Queen of Scots. Shortly before Mary’s execution, the pearls became part of Elizabeth’s extravagant jewellery collection.
Queen Elizabeth II
Queen Elizabeth II, the current monarch of the United Kingdom, is also well-known for her love for pearls. After receiving her first three-strand pearl necklace from her grandfather, King George V, she incorporated the beautiful gems into her official engagement uniform.
In an interview with PEOPLE magazine, Leslie Field (the author of The Queen’s Jewels) described the white gemstones as “rare, beautiful, and lustrous” and said that there has never been a Queen who didn’t wear pearls. Even the Imperial State Crown is decorated with 273 pearls!
Pearl fever in the 20th century
´A woman needs ropes and ropes of pearls´ – Coco Chanel
One of the most famous pearl wearers of the 20th century was Coco Chanel, the uncontested queen of the little black dress. With her casual-chic style, Chanel adorned herself in layers of pearl necklaces. The famous Chanel pearls were long-strand necklaces of black and white pearls, often including coated glass gems as well as freshwater pearls.
Throughout recent history, Hollywood actresses have been fashion icons. The feminine style of Audrey Hepburn and the sex appeal of Marilyn Monroe influenced women’s styles around the world.
In Breakfast at Tiffany´s (1961), Audrey Hepburn embraced pearls by wearing an iconic black dress by Givenchy, accessorised with fabulous costume pearls by the French designer Roger Scemama.
Another beloved pearl wearer in the 1960s was Jackie Kennedy, the wife of the 35th American President John F. Kennedy. Jackie Kennedy had a simple, classy style. She particularly loved large pearls with a deep lustre. In fact, the First Lady was even quoted as saying ´pearls are always appropriate.´
A new era for pearls in the 21st century
Pearls never go out of fashion! In modern days, we see fashion icons, actresses, politicians, and musicians choosing pearls as their jewellery of choice.
The first lady, Jill Biden, wore a dazzling blue dress with a pearl-embroidered collar at the most recent Presidential Inauguration. Michelle Obama has often been spotted wearing a shiny double-stranded pearl necklace as well.
But they’re not the only famous politicians who are putting pearls in the spotlight.
The Kamala Harris pearls
Kamala Harris, the vice-president of the USA, started a new fashion trend with her statement “pearls and chucks” look. On the Inauguration day, she combined a beautiful pearl necklace with Converse Chuck Taylor sneakers. The Kamala Harris pearls have sentimental value for the vice-president. They are a symbol of the Alpha Kappa Alpha sorority. The members of the sorority are college women of African-American heritage, known as pearls. Harris describes the necklace as a “gesture of sisterhood and solidarity, rather than a display of wealth”.
The new vice-president of the United States inspired women around the world. To show support, many people honoured the historic Inauguration day by wearing “pearls and chucks”.
The Harry Styles pearls
2020 was the year of pearls, especially for fans of Harry Styles. He turned pearl jewellery into a must-have accessory for all fashion-forward men. In May 2019, Styles appeared at the Met Gala with a Gucci outfit, which included a single pearl earring. The designer of the ensemble was Alessandro Michele, the creative director of Gucci.
During a press tour for his album Fine Line, Styles has been seen wearing pearls in combination with suits, T-shirts, and hoodies for several interviews. In 2020, he became the icon of gender-fluid fashion and was named the most influential celebrity dresser of the year.
Harry Styles’ love for pearls has inspired influencers and TikTok stars to turn pearl jewellery into part of their style.
The A$AP Rocky Pearls – revolution in hip hop fashion
However, Harry Styles is not the only musician embracing the inherent elegance of pearls. A$AP Rocky has started a new era in hip hop fashion by replacing the iconic chain necklaces with a freshwater pearl necklace.
At a Dior show in November 2018, A$AP was spotted on the red carpet wearing a white transparent shirt matched with a three-strand pearl necklace. In 2019, he wore a pearl ring and an elegant pearl necklace combined with a pink suit at a pre-Grammy party.
Pearls throughout the ages
“There is just one piece of jewellery that is equally becoming to everybody, lovely with almost every ensemble, appropriate for almost any occasion, and indispensable in every woman’s wardrobe. Long live the pearl necklace” – Geneviève Antoine-Dariaux.
Antoine-Dariaux obviously felt about pearls the way that we do here at Lullu. Pearls are an evergreen fashion trend that evolves throughout the ages. From Cleopatra’s large pearl earrings to A$AP Rocky’s glamorous pearl necklaces, we know that pearls will continue to be the gem of choice amongst the most fashion-forward, influential people.