Coco Chanel mixed them with the real thing, Jackie Kennedy wore them exclusively and Miriam Haskell used them to create some of her finest pieces. Man made…fake…costume…faux… simulated… Human kind has been imitating natural pearls for many hundreds of years. One source I read said that the Ancient Chinese employed a method for creating a pearl like bead in the first century AD. In the 1700s, M. Jacquin of Paris formulated a method for simulating pearls by lining hollow blown glass beads with an iridescent substance derived from fish scales. The beads were then filled with wax for weight and stability. In the later 1800s a man named Eduard Heusch obtained a patent for making imitation pearls. Heusch is the man behind the Majorica pearl. His company dedicated itself to perfecting the art of the simulated pearl and by the 1950s they had a break through in their process which enabled the creation of a bead that looked so much like a real pearl; it is said to have fooled jewelers. The Majorica process mimics nature by coating glass beads with multiple layers of a lusterous pearlized laquer made from synthetic and natural ingredients. Their formula is a highly protected secret and to this day the Majorica company is considered the finest in the trade. Just like real pearls, man made pearls come in a range of shades, most often the same as those found in nature although novelty colors are sometimes used as well. If you are interested in knowing more about the history of man-made pearls here is a great article to read.
|Simulated pearls in a range of shades|
Costume pearls are such an eternal accessory, I can’t imagine a jewelry box without a strand or two or more…. they come in an endless array of styles and have amazing versatility. You can wear a simple strand with jeans or a ball gown. Even the showier styles can be mixed up with day or evening outfits. Below are a few examples of different pearl looks. Keep in mind though, this is just the tip of the iceberg :)
|The demure single strand in different lengths for a lady like touch.|
The above strands are all from the 1950s. They are high quality from companies like Prestige and Deltah. One way to tell higher end costume pearls is that the thread is usually knotted between each bead and they often have sterling clasps. Below I have listed the names for the different lengths of single strand pearls and their approximate range of measurements.
Collar 12”- 13”
Choker 14”- 16”
Princess 17”- 19”
Rope 37” and over
Below are two examples of graduated, multi-strand necklaces. These are iconic of the 1950s and 60s. Faux pearls were often mixed with other accent beads like Austrian crystals and filligree.
|Classic Mid Century multi-strand necklaces with Austrian crystals|
Here we have a faux pearl choker by Carolee. In the 80s and early 90s this was a popular look, a bold clasp was often used and could be worn in front as a point of interest.
|Decorative clasp could be worn front or back|
And finally, a 38” rope of 1970s Majorica pearls with original box.
|Majorica, considered the finest simulated pearls money can buy|
The vintage market is an excellent source for great pearl costume jewelry and there is such variety to choose from. You can find cheap and fun all the way up to investment pieces. The prices are generally quite affordable even for the very best. A new strand of Majorica pearls will run you in the hundreds while there are vintage sets available for less than one third the price. You can find faux pearls to fit any occasion, something to keep in mind the next time you are hankering to add to your jewelry stash.