Pearls of Wisdom

Whether they come in the form of a single-strand necklace or drop earrings, in hues of soft white or subtle pink, pearls make the perfect wedding-day accessory.

FOR MANY BRIDES, WEARING PEARLS ON THEIR BIG DAY IS AS MUCH of a no-brainer as wearing a white dress. Classic. Sophisticated. Elegant. These water-born gems are all that and more. “Pearls have a deep and historic role in weddings and have become known as the wedding gem,” says Inezita Gay, vice president of product development and pearl acquisition for Iridesse, with a location in Copley Place. “Representing purity and innocence, pearls have long been considered the ideal jewel for the bride.”

But while pearls may be steeped in tradition, you don’t need to be a traditional bride to appreciate them. “We’re seeing pearls used for more than just classic brides,” says Jennifer Sciolto, store director for Tiffany & Co. in Chestnut Hill. “There are so many design options available.”

And Michael Finn, manager of E.B. Horn in Boston’s Downtown Crossing agrees. “Pearls go with anyone, and brides know they’re going to wear them for more than just the wedding day.”

Choice Pearls

WHEN IT COMES TO SELECTING THE PERFECT PEARL, BRIDES HAVE four types to choose from, ranging in color, shape and size. “Akoya pearls are classic and what most brides think of when they think of pearls,” says Sciolto. These saltwater pearls are considered the smallest of oyster pearls. Freshwater pearls are slightly larger than Akoya pearls, while South Sea pearls are the largest you can find—ranging in size from 9-20 millimeters. Tahitian is the fourth type of pearl, but its colors of metallic black, gray or green don’t necessarily make it a traditional wedding choice.

When a bride first walks into E.B. Horn looking for pearls, Finn talks about color, clarity and luster to help her pick a quality gem. “The ideal color is white with a hint of rose, but really they all vary,” he says. Luster, the shine of the pearl, is also important. “The longer the pearl is in the ocean, the more coats of nacre [the crystalline tissue produced by the oyster to create the pearl] it has, and the more layers of nacre, the more inner shine and glow it has—making it more valuable,” he says.

To determine quality, Sciolto urges brides to look closely at the gems by laying the strand in a line and seeing how well-matched in color and size the pearls are. “Is there a nice pinpoint reflection? Do you see any bumps or welts?” she says. “These can be determining factors of the quality—don’t look at them separately, it’s a blend of all these factors.”

A smaller pearl, however, doesn’t mean it’s of lesser quality. “The first thing I ask about is size,” says Alissa Eck, sales associate for Cartier on Newbury Street. “If they don’t have an idea of what they want, I show examples of the different millimeters. At Cartier we start at around 8 millimeters, which is too big for some brides—sometimes they want smaller pearls.”

Prices vary dramatically depending on type and size. According to Sciolto, a strand of Akoya pearls could range anywhere from $2,900 to $45,000. “It really depends on the millimeter and even the clasp,” she says. “We could do a simple 18K-white-gold clasp, or a flower jewel or pavé diamond clasp.”

South Sea pearls generally are more expensive. “The cost varies a lot,” says Eck. For a good strand of South Sea 10-15 millimeter pearls you could expect to pay upwards of $130,000.

What To Wear

WHETHER IT’S SIMPLE STUD EARRINGS OR an elaborate choker, what type of jewelry you choose is purely a personal preference—but the wedding day staple, according to Finn, is a pair of pearl earrings. “Earrings are our most popular because they’re easy to wear,” he says. “But it’s common to see a necklace and earrings, whether stud or drop.”

For someone a little less traditional, Veronica Sagherian, a partner at Adamas Fine Jewelry in Newton, suggests a pearl pendant. “Either a single pearl with a diamond on top for a classic pendant, or a pearl with diamonds wrapped around it for something a little less classic,” she says.

At Cartier, double- and triple-strand Akoya pearl bracelets also offer a slightly different twist to wedding-day jewels. The double-strand boasts a diamond clasp, while the triple-strand is punctuated with diamond bars holding the strands together. “Bracelets are in right now, and layering is popular,” says Eck. “I prefer the double- and triple-strands because they’re more substantial, but it just depends on your personal preference.”

While most brides tend to work the jewels around the wedding dress, it can work the other way as well. One employee of Chestnut Hill’s Tiffany & Co. let her 10-strand pink-hued Tiffany freshwater-pearl necklace set the tone for her gown. “She walked into the bridal shop and told the salespeople, ‘It’s all about this necklace,’” says Sciolto. The result was a gown with a pinkish hue to complement the pearls.

Perfect Pairs

PEARLS ARE PERFECT ON THEIR OWN, BUT sometimes a little added bling is called for on the Big Day, in which case diamonds are the most popular choice. “Most often pearls are paired with diamonds,” says Sagherian. “Our hottest-selling item right now is a single-pearl earring with a single diamond hanging just below.” Sagherian also offers her brides South Sea pearls with diamonds drilled in. “We take a 13-millimeter South Sea pearl and drill diamonds randomly into it,” she says. “It’s a nice look for a bride who wears no other jewelry.”

But brides need not be limited to diamonds. “A wide array of gemstones can be used to complement a cultured-pearl jewelry design,” says Gay. “From amber to zoisite and everything in between.”

Regardless of which style, color or size you choose, you can’t go wrong with a simple strand of pearls. “They’re synonymous with classic jewelry,” says Sciolto. “They’re a beautiful investment that you’ll have for the rest of your life.”