Pearls – A Major Show at the V & A Museum

Pearls have been worn around the necks of powerful women for centuries, from Queen Elizabeth I through to Elizabeth Taylor and Marilyn Monroe. While Marilyn favoured only the simple single string, presented to her on her honeymoon by her new husband Joe DiMaggio, Elizabeth Taylor liked her jewellery on a much larger scale. Included in her vast jewel collection was the La Peregrina Pearl which dates back to the sixteenth century and was at one time part of the crown jewels belonging to the Spanish royal family. Both of these incredible women are represented in the exhibition currently live at the V&A Museum.

Photo by Milica Sekulic
Photo by Milica Sekulic

While both of these women admired the simplistic beauty and other worldliness of the jewels it is doubtful that they understood the origins of the tokens that they wore. It is incredible to believe that such beautiful objects are formed from the excrement of marine animals and tapeworm larvae. The more common explanation, especially from those who market pearls and pearl jewellery prefer to explain that it is a magical process that takes place around a simple, single grain of sand.

Facing Facts

So entrenched is the grain of sand myth that the V&A have included in the exhibition a film which shows the truth about the origin of the pearl. Natural pearls have always been rare, for example fishermen could open 2,000 shells or more before finding one which contained a pearl. While other precious stones such as emeralds, rubies and sapphires have moved in and out of vogue as fashions have changed, there is something timeless about pearls which has seen them remain popular for centuries. The way that these natural beauties are judged relates to their roundness, lustre and level of perfection. The colour tint of a pearl is dependent upon the colour of the shell in which it was formed, and colours can range between pistachio green, through to pinks, gold’s and rich aubergine shades. Included in the exhibition are more than 200 jewellery items which are sure to dazzle and fascinate visitors the event.

A Pearl with a Story

Many of the pearls in the exhibition have a tale to tell. For example there is the pearl earring that king Charles I wore to his execution in 1649. It was removed from his ear as his head lay at the foot of the executioners block and given to his daughter Mary. Visitors will also see examples of Roman pearl jewellery, worn only by those who could afford them. The exhibition explains how pearls have been used to represent not only wealth and power but also chastity and purity. Also included in the exhibition are pearls worn by those regarded as entertainment royalty and include Monroe’s necklace and Elizabeth Taylor’s earrings. Not only is the jewellery on display, so are the original, and in many cases ancient, safes in which they were kept when not being worn, illustrating how prized they were. The exhibition runs from September 2013 through to January 19th 2014.

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