I have always been enamored with pearls and their association with fashion but there is so much more to them…the history is fascinating…from natural pearls to cultured, from Haute Couture, to Opera, to Royalty, to Art, to Romance, and on and on….whether a single strand or a extravagant bib the pearl has so many interpretations….let’s look at some.

The natural pearl is harvested by mostly female ame pearl divers in Japan






Natural pearls…

”Cultured pearls are real, genuine pearls that are formed inside a living oyster with human intervention. When a nucleus is surgically implanted in the oyster’s flesh, the oyster recognises it as an irritant and begins to coat it with smooth layers of nacre. Over time, the growing pearl gets completely covered with the beautiful iridescent substance we call nacre, or mother-of-pearl. All pearls sold today are cultured pearls, with the exception of vintage estate jewellery and heirloom pieces that are more than 80 years old.“

“Natural pearls, on the other hand, are formed naturally by free-range “wild” oysters living at sea without any encouragement from humans. When a natural irritant such as a fragment of shell, a scale or a parasite becomes lodged inside an oyster or mollusk, it gets coated with layer upon layer of nacre. Contrary to popular belief, grains of sand do not form pearls. If sand were enough of an irritant, our ocean floors would be littered with millions of natural pearls! Natural pearls are actually very rare, mostly because pearl-producing species of mollusks were nearly hunted to extinction with most natural beds of pearl-bearing oysters depleted by over-harvesting in the 18th and 19th centuries. Today, natural pearls are extremely rare. Only 1 in about 10,000 wild oysters will yield a pearl and of those, only a small percentage achieve the size, shape and colour desirable to the jewellery industry.” Source: Raw Pearls


Kokichi Mikimoto

“Mikimoto learned that Akoya oysters produced the best pearls. He explored methods of introducing a particle into the flesh of the oyster to stimulate secretions of “nacre” that build up in hundreds of thousands of layers, creating a lustrous pearl. He overcame many failed experiments and challenges of nature, from oyster-eating octopi to a disastrous “red tide” of bacteria that threatened the survival of his oyster beds.” Be sure to go the Mikimoto website, linked here, for the extraordinary story of the originator of the cultured pearl. Source: Mikimoto Pearls

Pearls in history….

A mosaic….


Queen Elizabeth I


Whoopi Goldberg hosting the Oscars several years ago…gowned as Queen Elizabeth I

Vermeer’s The Girl With The Pearl Earring


A bejeweled  Maharajah



Georges Bizet’s Les Pecheurs de Perles, The Pearl Fishers….one of my favorite opera’s, of course the highlight, the duet, it is definitely my favorite operatic piece!!

Queen Victoria…


Mata Hari probably wearing Paul Poiret….


A couple of showgirls in costume…..

Of course, Gabrielle Chanel…..always mixing real and faux



Lagerfeld for Chanel….love these!!!


I’m obsessed with this look from the 1930’s


As well as this one…


The iconic Audrey Hepburn in the iconic black dress and pearls in Breakfast at Tiffany’s

First Ladies and their “pearls”….cultured and faux….



Liz with Queen Mary’s beyond exquisite La Peregrina pearl sold at auction for $11.8 million


Liz with more pearls…..

Marie Antoinette’s pear and diamond pendant sold at auction for $32 million



Something in a tiara perhaps from the English Crown Jewels….0371ED77-015F-4DBF-A285-08AA77FBA8DB

Gloria Vanderbilt at home…


The modernity of this classic on Rihanna…


Masses of pearls


The elegant embroidery of Lasage for a Haute Couture piece…


Nena in a treasured Adolfo jacket with wide pearl beading around neck, down the front of the jacket and on the cuffs…the beading,  Photo courtesy of the Nena Ivon Archives at Columbia College Chicago


A few more books, one non-fiction the others fiction.


All photos, unless otherwise noted, from Pinterest photo credits unknown.




Yesterday’s post on the book Death Among Rubies got me thinking about gems and rubies in particular.  I know more about diamonds and emeralds, my two favorite gems than I do about rubies.  Let’s investigate together, shall we!!

I found that rubies are often more valuable than diamonds and are in the same category as sapphires.   They are graded with the same four C’s as diamonds, color, cut, clarity and carat weight.  They are also valued by where there are found, the most prized are from the Far East.  They are the July birthstone and are said to be a symbol of love and passion…obviously with their depth of color. Just a teeny overview of this incredible stone.  Isn’t nature a wonder….look at what rock can produce, extraordinary!!!

imageA ruby in its natural state.

imageExamples of cut stones.

If you have not visited the Grainger Hall of Gems at the Field Museum it is a must see.

imageNatural ruby crystals in marble in the Grainger Hall of Gems at the Field Museum.

The Field Museum was (and still is) one of my most favorite museums anywhere (my other Chicago favorite is the Art Insitute but all our museums are amazing).  I remember as a child going with my parents and all areas were exciting to me but the two exhibitions I always had to visit were the butterfly collections and the Hall of Gems. Both were jewels in my mind.

imageFrom the Field Museum bookstore.

The Hall of Gems, as well as the entire Museum, has seen extensive changes since my childhood but it still features not only exquisite gems and jewelry but also gives the visitor an in-depth education of the story behind the stones using all the technology we have today.

imageNinety carats of rubies set in platinum encircled in diamonds on a diamond chain from the Grainger Hall of Gems at the Field Museum. I’m starting to love rubies!!!!

imageElizabeth Taylor’s famous Cartier ruby and diamond necklace and earrings gifts from Mike Todd in 1957, Van Cleef and Arpels ring from Richard Burton in 1968.

imageNew York City Ballet performing the Rubies Suite from George Balanchine’s ballet Jewels. I was extremely fortunate to see the premiere in New York in April 1967.  It is a stunning piece.  Along with Rubies, the other two acts are Diamonds and Emeralds.  The next time I saw it performed was at Ravinia many years ago.

imageThis is how I envision the dagger from the pages of Death Among Rubies, a horrible way to use such a magnificent piece.

What is your favorite gem?  Do share.

All images from Pinterest photo credits unknown.