LUXURYCULTURE.COM - Poetry in Pearls


A collection of the most exquisite pearls in the world arrives for the first time in Europe at Paris's Natural History Museum, where luster and contour attest to natural force and artful human pursuit.

Perfection is passé as the rare contours of baroque pearls inspire designers to humor, poetry and play.

A perfectly beautiful woman, jewelry designer Lorenz Bäumer explains, is sometimes absolutely uninspiring.

"It's the imperfections that are interesting, that are real." His speech begins to focus like the keen eyes of a craftsman of delicacies, "Then they can really be something."

As we discuss the role of naturally imperfect material in jewelry making, it is sometimes unclear if we are talking about a baroque pearl or the uneven reality of our very humanity.

The current exhibit at the Muséum National d'Histoire Naturelle tracks the pearl from a biological phenomenon to Marilyn Monroe's Mikimoto necklace, received as a honeymoon gift from Joe DiMaggio in Tokyo. Curated by scientists and jewelry designers alike, with a spectacular selection spanning time, place, size, color and setting, the pearl is properly celebrated.

The exquisitely concentric pearl is indeed the symbol of ageless beauty, innocence, and luxury, as well as man's quest for perfection since the first cultured pearl in 1907. The iconoclastic baroque pearl, however, steals the show.

Among the many unique pieces exhibited, the largest known Baroque pearl becomes the manly chest of the mythical half-man, half-beast Centaur - a silversmith crafted the character entirely around the valorous chest he envisioned in the pearled contours. The imperfections in the baroque pearl inspire a study on the human form with the dramatics of caricature and storytelling.

Lorenz Bäumer takes a lighter approach. In a recent collection, he illustrates common sense sayings involving animals and cartoon-like characters. He uses Baroque pearls as certain parts of the anatomy, a visual base for the surrounding silverwork.

And what better inspiration is there, than the perfectly imperfect contours of the Baroque pearl? William James, the American psychologist and philosopher, once wrote, "A sense of humor is just common sense, dancing." Indeed, it is humor that makes Lorenz Bäumer's collection truly modern.

In a contrasting style, the Venetian jewelry house Codognato uses baroque pearls in a sober, old-world style that continues to entice the chicest of patrons. A baroque pearl moonlights as a turban above an ebony or golden visage - an appropriate recall to the pearl's frequent appearance in the legendary stories of 1001 Arabian Nights.

Meanwhile, the magnificent Milanese jeweler Buccellati touches on the Baroque in its Private Collection this season. An exquisitely crafted butterfly has a mysterious grey and green baroque pearl for a body. Its wings are expansive rows of diamonds.

The Baroque cultural period - a name, in fact, appropriated from that of the baroque pearl - is characterized by ornament, drama, and an exuberant profusion of detail. Art, music, architecture, interior design and literature were all inspired by the idea of the unpredictable and the elaborate. The senses and the imagination play with the offset syncopated rhythm of shape.

It is, of course, again unclear if we are talking about a simple pearl or a musician's imitative counterpoint. That is the nature of Baroque pearls - more suggestive than they are declarative, more interesting than they are predictable. While they may not be the most valuable pearls on the market – yet, that is – they are certainly valuable sources of inspiration. The use of baroque pearls in jewelry is, to cross terms, experiencing an impressive Renaissance.

The classic pearl, however, never fails to appear again and again in reincarnations that celebrate circular perfection. Chanel uses only cultured pearls in its jewelry, avoiding any interpretation of the baroque for the moment. Bulgari features an exquisite pearl contraire ring in this season's Lucea collection, a bold confrontation between a grey Tahitian pearl and a white Akoyo pearl, offset by diamonds in a square setting.

It is a poetic truth about all pearls that a basic biological defense of nature creates the little lustrous beauties. Layer upon layer of nacre biomineralization, and a foreign object becomes an iridescent treasure. Born from the very instinct of self-preservation, pearls provide an unfathomable degree of luxury as its result.

"Any fool can make things bigger, more complex, and more violent. It takes a touch of genius - and a lot of courage - to move in the opposite direction," said Albert Einstein.

The mollusk may be a fine example of the genius of nature, giving us the little pearl of wisdom that foreign intruders can turn into beautiful rarities, if they are just treated right.

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