Call me old fashioned, but I’ll take glamorous stars like Marilyn Monroe, Grace Kelly, Audrey Hepburn and Elizabeth Taylor over spoiled pseudo-celebs like Paris Hilton, Ashlee Simpson, Nicole Ritchie and their ilk any day of the week. Whereas Old Hollywood oozed class, sophistication and mystery, today’s overexposed starlets lack grace–and sometimes even talent! Take the way they present themselves: Today’s stars walk the red carpet barely clothed, dripping in outrageous, tacky bling, yammering on about their personal lives. Yesterday’s icons–Jackie O and Lady Diana also come to mind–projected a glamorous elegance one would actually strive to emulate. They dressed with flair, accessorized with style and kept their private lives private. What’s more, many of the Old Hollywood elite wore my favorite gem, the pearl, whose ladylike, demure reputation is so fitting for these elegant women. Luckily for me, and the rest of the world, pearls are making a big comeback. Let’s hope Hollywood revives old-style ladylike behavior along with the ladylike gem. As an homage to Old Hollywood glamour, let’s take a look at the pearl jewelry made famous by some of our most beloved female icons.
Perhaps the most famous jewelry collector of our time, legendary actress Elizabeth Taylor also owns the most famous pearl, La Peregrina. Given to her in 1969 by then-husband Richard Burton (yep, he’s the one Liz married twice), La Peregrina, an enormous, pear-shaped white pearl, was found by a slave in the early 1500s in the Gulf of Panama. First given as a wedding gift to Mary Tudor, the daughter of King Henry VIII, the rare and extraordinary gem was owned by a succession of royalty before being purchased at auction by Burton for Taylor as a Valentine’s Day gift. (Why she divorced him I don’t know. Why she divorced him twice is even more of a mystery. Any man who gave me jewels like that would be a keeper.) After receiving the huge pearl, which was hanging from a thin chain, Taylor instructed famous jewelry designer Cartier to create a ruby and diamond necklace incorporating the gem. The breathtaking result is absolutely stunning. (Search online for a photo; the necklace is truly special.) Trivia: Taylor once lost the famous La Peregrina pearl in her home. A frantic search turned up the enormous white gem…in her dog’s mouth! Thank goodness Taylor found it before it was scratched!
You wouldn’t think luscious Marilyn, emulated by every modern day celebrity from Madonna to Lindsay Lohan and Christina Aguilera, would sport a demure single strand of pearls. With her blonde locks, eye-popping cleavage and breathy voice, the Marilyn Monroe we love is more over the top than that–but a single strand of pearls is exactly what she wore. Marilyn received the luminous saltwater pearl strand from baseball slugger Joe Dimaggio, her second husband. Joltin’ Joe presented Marilyn with the gorgeous 16-inch Mikimoto necklace made from forty-four matched round white Japanese akoyas while they were on their honeymoon. Perhaps Dimaggio, in giving luscious Marilyn the gorgeous pearl strand, was trying to turn the sexy star into the perfect 1950s housewife? They were known as Mr. and Mrs. America, after all. Alas, their marriage lasted but a year.
Breakfast at Tiffany’s is a classic film not only because it’s a wonderful romantic comedy that stars beloved screen legend Audrey Hepburn, but because it showcased the waiflike Ms. Hepburn’s elegant and effortless style. The dress she wore in the film, her now-famous simple black sleeveless style, was the perfect backdrop for the six-strand pearl and rhinestone necklace she sported as adorable Holly Golightly. (In the film, the beguiling but penniless Golightly would endearingly stare in the renowned jeweler Tiffany’s window, daydreaming of owning the treasures within.) Trivia: Hepburn’s necklace in the film is faux, made from marquise-shaped rhinestones (not diamonds!) that cascade gorgeously from the imitation pearls. Faux or not, the ornate pearl necklace looks just gorgeous on Hepburn’s graceful neck.
Jackie O: Surprisingly, Jackie O’s famous and much-photographed triple strand pearl choker is also simulated. The gorgeous pearl choker she’s known for featured round white “pearls” on strands of graduated lengths, and typified Jackie’s signature crisp, elegant style. The necklace’s popularity went through the roof when Jackie was photographed holding her son John-John while he played with her pearls. Trivia: Jackie’s triple-strand faux pearl necklace went up for auction in 1996. The simulated pearls, nearly valueless were it not for their association with Jackie, were expected to fetch $500-$700. The Franklin Mint bought the piece for $211,500!
Another beloved icon of style, wealth and class, Princess Diana’s most famous pearl piece is probably her dangling pearl and diamond tiara. Dubbed the Cambridge Love Knot, this gorgeous tiara was given to the princess by her mother-in-law, the Queen of England. Copies of Lady Di’s pearl tiara are now worn by brides the world over on their wedding day. But Lady Di wore the Spencer family tiara on her wedding day, not the Cambridge Love Knot, and paired it with a sapphire and pearl choker she received as a wedding gift from her husband-to-be, Prince Charles. Over the top? Not when you consider the dress this jewelry was meant to accessorize: Princess Diana’s ivory silk gown had a 25-foot long train and was decorated with 10,000 pearls and sequins. Fit for a princess, indeed.
Other famous pearl admirers
When dishing about celebrity pearl jewelry, no article would be complete without mentioning fashion maven Coco Chanel, the scrappy French designer who made pearls her signature look in the 1920s. Wearing pearl ropes as easily as other women wear jeans, Coco’s House of Chanel used pearls in many jewelry pieces, and put out such gorgeous jewelry as a bracelet made of 105 akoya pearls surrounded by diamonds and gold. Recently, the Paris-based fashion house premiered its annual jewel collection, which features one-of-a-kind pearl pieces priced from $29,000 to $450,000.
When talking about celebrity pearl jewelry, we must also mention Sarah Jessica Parker, the actress and modern day style icon who made layered oversize pearl necklaces chic in her memorable Gap ads from last year. Nor can we neglect Rene Russo. The necklace the model- turned-actress wore throughout the movie Tin Cup, which featured white pearls evenly spaced on fine chain, received almost as much attention as the Golden Globe-nominated romantic comedy. Rene’s Tin Cup necklace, now a jewelry staple, sparked a new trend in modern, sophisticated pearl jewelry. Today, several stunning variations of this simple and elegant Tin Cup necklace can be found in jewelry stores worldwide.
Speaking of modern chic, Kiera Knightly rocked pearls at the premier of her movie The Black Pearl by sporting a black baroque pearl choker made with different shades of Tahitian pearls. (Lucky girl not only gets to wear gorgeous jewelry, she also gets to work alongside Orlando Bloom and Johnny Depp.) Life isn’t fair! And we can’t forget style icon Kate Moss; the fashionable model is also frequently seen in pearl strands.
So how about it young Hollywood? Why not drop the outrageous bling, daring dresses and outlandish behavior in favor of the ladylike glamour, sophistication and enigma that surrounded the screen legends of the past? America is sorely lacking screen icons that we admire, much less want to emulate. Let’s bring back style, class, and pearls.