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The pearls that inspired an art movement

While pearls have always been a classic style staple, their not-so-perfect cousins, baroque pearls, are having a shining moment

Johannes Vermeer’s ‘Girl With A Pearl Earring’
Johannes Vermeer’s ‘Girl With A Pearl Earring’

A timeless accessory, pearls will never go out of style, but 2019 saw them making a return, this time in an irregular avatar. The Spring/Summer 2019 runways saw designers such as Prabal Gurung and Oscar de la Renta accessorize them as layered lariat necklaces, stranded hoops and ear cuffs, and sculptural bracelets.

In India, a handful of jewellers have been working with natural baroque pearls for some time now. Delhi-based jeweller Natasha Khurana of online store The Line has been using these pearls since 2015. “The first time I saw them, I thought they looked like teeth," she says. “There’s no particular logic to their design but there’s something attractive about the idea of imperfection. With regular pearls, people often have a preconception about them to be sophisticated, but baroque pearls undercut that attached sense of refinement."

Divya Chugh’s ‘Aquila’ earrings
Divya Chugh’s ‘Aquila’ earrings

Delhi-based jeweller Divya Chugh agrees, saying: “People have grown up wearing pearls traditionally passed down from their mothers and grandmothers, but now they are experimental with how they want to accessorize, which is just as important as the right outfit now. You would only find abstract design ideologies being showcased at fashion shows, and people weren’t ready to wear such designs, but it’s changed now." She has been using them for the last five-six years.

Eina Ahluwalia’s ‘Path Of Venus’ earrings
Eina Ahluwalia’s ‘Path Of Venus’ earrings

Mumbai-based jeweller Eina Ahluwalia explains that it’s a question of an ever-evolving market. “When trying something new, you usually go for what’s classic first, before hopping on to whatever’s unique, and we have come to that point now," she says.

  While Ahluwalia suggests wearing baroque pearls as a simple pair of mismatched danglers, she also recommends a necklace or choker—strung on chains with regular pearls. “The reinvented take on the classic design, just like the one Audrey Hepburn wears in Breakfast At Tiffany’s (1961), but more modern and in line with your personality," she says. Chugh, on the other hand, dipped baroque pearls in gold while designing a gold-centric collection a few years ago. The result was a stunning pair that they still make.

Right to the source

Ahluwalia, who has been crafting them for five-six years as well, says, “These individualistic pearls are now more easily available because of their abundance in the South-East Asian regions. The variety that’s available is amazing, and producers there have also begun pearl-harvesting farms (for cultured baroque pearls, that are more affordable)." Chugh, too, sources her pearls from the same region.

Pearls are the only gem created by a living organism—mollusks. They are formed as a result of the oyster’s defence mechanism, as they coat any intruder with their secretory nacre, a calcium-based crystalline substance. They can also come in slight tinges of grey and pink. No two baroque pearls are usually alike, and it’s their odd, abstract shapes that make them unique.

The art connect

 In history, pearls have been referenced in several pieces of art, symbolic of purity and soul, and were usually worn by those high up the social ladder, as a symbol of status. Artist Anthony van Dyck’s portrait of Charles I of England, Charles I in Three Positions (1635), shows him wearing his favourite baroque pearl earring in the left ear, Johannes Vermeer’s Girl With A Pearl Earring (1665) shows the girl wearing what looks like a large pearl earring in her left ear, as a sign of chastity and wealth.

These lumpy, irregular-shaped pearls were called “baroque" long before the word was associated with the style of European aesthetic in architecture, art and music. While the word baroque is derived from French, it is also said to be descended from the Portuguese word barocco, translating to “a flawed pearl". They were at their peak during the 17th and 18th centuries in European culture, popular as much among artists in their paintings as they were in the hands of jewellers.

The pearl eventually lent its name to the baroque era, during the same period, which was characterized by the use of grand and ornate elements by artists and musicians such as Caravaggio and Bach.

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