Posts tagged pearl jewellery

A typical display case at Jewellery Arabia, which this year was held in Bahrain on the 21st-26th November.

The 26th edition of Jewellery Arabia was held in the International Conference Centre of Bahrain from the 21st-26th November 2017.  This is the biggest jewellery show in the region, attracting over 50000 visitors from around the globe and is one of the very few that sells to the public as well as the trade.  Over 500 exhibitors took part, showcasing everything from loose gems to fantastic pieces of high jewellery.

There were prices for everyone too- with diamond set jewellery starting from as little as $100 to breathtaking unique pieces valued at several million.  The European jewellery contingent was well represented by big names such as Boucheron, Faberge and Boghossian.  The strongest representation of course was from the Middle East, with family owned Mattar Jewellers and Al Zain Jewellers nestling alongside independent Bahraini designers such as Azza Al Hujairi.  It was my first time exhibiting in the Middle East at the invitation of Azza.  The entire experience was a pleasure- the Barhainis simply could not have been kinder or more charming and there is a real sense of fellowship amongst the jewellery community there.  This is in marked contrast to London, where designers tend to be more reserved.

The economic climate was, however, challenging.  There were fewer big spenders from Saudi Arabi and those that showed spent cautiously.  This is no doubt a consequence of the anti corruption crackdown currently being conducted by the Saudi Crown Prince.  The sanctions against Qatar meant that they could not attend and there is general economic uncertainty created by the ongoing troubles in the Yemen.

None of this, however, deterred the exhibitors from putting on a magnificent display of colour and craftsmanship.  There were three designers in particular that caught my eye and my mentioning them is purely subjective- I just thought they had really lovely things. 

1.     Nikos Koulis

This was the Greek designer’s second showing at Jewellery Arabia.  His style struck me as very much neo Art Deco: beautiful, richly coloured stones with strong colour contrasts and clean lines. 

Emerald, diamond and black enamel earrings by Nikps Koulis.

Ruby, diamond and black enamel ring by Nikos Koulis.

2.     VAK Diamonds

This brand is the brainchild of Vishal Kathari, who is descended from a long line of jewellers.  I met Vishal at Baselworld earlier this year and was very much taken by the limpid, clear quality of his rose cut diamonds in their inventive light-as-a-feather settings.

Opal, diamond and pink sapphire ring by VAK diamonds.

Diamond jewellery by VAK in its signature light-as-a-feather setting.

3.     Mattar Jewelers

The pearl knowledge of this family is several generations old.  Of the current generation, four out of the five siblings are involved in the family business.  The eldest brother, Talal Mattar told me that he was encouraged to go and play with pearls in the family workshop from the age of 6- you cannot beat knowledge like this.  The sumptuousness and creaminess of their pearls is astonishing and cannot be captured in photographs.

Pearl and diamond tassel earrings by Mattar Jewelers.

Pearl necklace by Mattar Jewelers.  The quality of their pearls is impossible to convey photographically.

PEARLS (Part 1)

Pearls have held us in fascination since the earliest records of history. Our mental image of various kings and queens is often associated with blazing diamonds or sapphires the size of 2p pieces. What we forget is that for centuries monarchs all over the world valued pearls above all other stones. They are the most understated and elegant of gems. It wasn't until Mikimoto in Japan made pearl farming commercially viable in the 1920s that they became relatively affordable; before that, they were beyond doubt the priciest of jewels.

Unlike crystal based gems, they require no re-cutting and polishing to fulfil aesthetic criteria.  Their status is epitomised by the anecdote of the famous Cartier brothers buying their prestigious 5th Avenue store site in New York for just $100 in cash and a strand of natural pearls appraised at over $1 million.The reason for their value lay in the intensity of labour required to farm them: hundreds, sometimes thousands of oysters needed to be gathered and killed before a single natural pearl was found. The rarest are perfectly round, with lack of surface flaw and symmetry being particularly important, so it is understandable why collectors prized ropes of perfectly matched pearls so highly. It is ironic that pearls, regarded a symbol of beauty and perfection, should start off as an irritation to an animal. Put very simply, a foreign body enters a mollusc which it cannot dislodge. To ease the discomfort this causes it, the mollusc secretes nacre, or mother of pearl in order to ease the irritation. As the nacre secretion builds up the pearl is formed and so, if you drill into a natural pearl you will always come across the nucleus, the irritant that caused the pearl to form in the first place. 

Pearls are also more ephemeral and ethereal than diamonds or sapphires- a diamond can be re-cut and re-polished, withstand all sorts of harsh treatment. Being formed of organic material, pearls are far more susceptible to damage and putting scent on or applying hairspray while wearing them can cause irreparable damage to the lustre. 

Queen Elizabeth I in the famous Rainbow Portrait at Hatfield House.  Note the remarkable diamond and pearl ornament round her neck.

Queen Elizabeth I in the famous Rainbow Portrait at Hatfield House.  Note the remarkable diamond and pearl ornament round her neck.

Monarchs all over the world utilised pearls as an enhancement to their status, using them not only as jewellery but wearing ropes of them yards long to embellish themselves and their clothing. The most famous of these monarchs of course was Queen Elizabeth I, yet even by her lavish standards some of her dresses were decorated with fakes. No matter; what was important was the visual impact, particularly in an age where Royal exposure largely relied on portraiture.  Known as the Virgin Queen, her exuberant use of pearls was also symbolic as they represented purity, and her tomb effigy in Westminster Abbey shows even her shoes were decorated with considerably sized pearls. Her fabulous collection was probably dispersed during the Interregnum; however, four excellent quality drop shape pearls survive, mounted in the Imperial State Crown- stones she bought from her cousin, Mary Queen of Scots. 

To reaffirm the importance given to pearls by our not so distant ancestors, it is worth noting the vicious dispute Queen Victoria had with her Hanoverian cousins on her accession to the throne. Under Salic Law (whereby a female cannot inherit the throne) she inherited the British throne but could not accede the Hanoverian one. The most monumental quarrel broke out broke out over the Hanoverian family jewellery: in theory she had to hand over the jewellery to the next Hanoverian male heir, yet the quandary was that a large part of the collection had effectively been bought with English money. Victoria eventually settled a couple of decades later, relinquishing many important pieces of jewellery but most importantly to her, not the pearls. These were then distilled into two simple rows of pearls and worn by one Princess Elizabeth as a necklace on her wedding day to Phillip Mountbatten.

The way Queen Victoria's daughter-in-law, Queen Alexandra, used pearls is also a good analogy for the pearl itself. She made chokers highly fashionable in order to hide a physical defect, a scar left on her neck by a childhood operation and they became an iconic accessory of her style and the Edwardian era. Thus, like the pearl itself her use of them was born to mask an imperfection. 

It is probably quite right that nobody fights wars over pearls any more, probably for the best that cultured pearls have made the almost semi-divine gem affordable to everyone.  What is irrefutable, however, is that as far as jewels go they are the most miraculously humble gems, complete in their perfection from creation.