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Pearls: perennial style

The trademark jewel of the most powerful, influential and stylish of women is the pearl. The rarity of fine examples coupled with the difficulty of obtaining them are two facts that have made pearls an historical metaphor for great women. The very appearance of pearls, their glowing luster and slight iridescence has been likened to the beauty of women.

Common to portraits of queens, aristocrats, heads of state and first ladies is the wearing of pearls. Queen Elizabeth I of England acquired large and unusual pearls for the Tudor dynastic treasury, which contributed to the wealth of the realm. Another monarch, Catherine the Great of Russia, used the purchase of pearls and art as a political weapon to gain European dominance of objects that defined a nation's wealth. Photos of the first modern First Lady, Jackie Kennedy, reveal her delight in wearing pearls. Such is also the style of First Lady Michelle Obama.

Women of fashion have always emulated the royal taste for pearls. The French developed a method for making non-melting wax pearls. A glass nucleus enrobed in a semi-transculent wax and lacquered outer coating could be drilled for stringing or be used alone to set like gems. In the 1920s, the simulated pearls of American mfgs were a close imitation of the real thing. They were made in different grades and clasped with gold or platinum. The fever for imitation pearls resulted in a slowdown in the genuine oriental pearl business.

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