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October 1, 2013updated Feb 17, 2014

Pearl Parade

By Chris Boyle

Cherry Blossom Necklace with White South Sea Cultured Pearls, Pink Sapphires, And White Diamonds / Mikimoto

Opening in September, a new exhibit at London’s prestigious Victoria & Albert Museum celebrates the beauty, rarity, and storied history behind the precious pearl.

Produced in conjunction with the Qatar Museums Authority, Pearls showcases some 200 pieces of jewelry and objet d’art, ranging from artifacts of the early Roman Empire to avant-garde, modern-day designs, and including the works of such storied jewelry houses as Tiffany & Co., Chaumet, and René Lalique.

On the contemporary side of pearl designs is Hemmerle, the fourth-generation German house renowned for its innovative use of rare materials in its high jewelry creations.

White Gold, Diamond, and Cultured Akoya Pearl Strand Formerly Belonging To Marilyn Monroe / Mikimoto

Extraordinarily rare melo pearls, found only in the melo melo snails of the South China Sea, are the centerpiece of a stunning pair of earrings, while a whimsical tarantula brooch is composed of one of the world’s largest dark brown horse-conch pearls.

Perhaps no marque is better known for its pearls than Japan’s Mikimoto, which revolutionized the jewelry industry with the advent of the cultured pearl. Several stunning pieces, including a remarkable high jewelry necklace named Flowing Tides, are on display.

The house continues to push the envelope when it comes to working with pearls, creating an impressive selection of high-concept, one-off pieces per year—many of which sell in their first showing. (Still up for grabs is the gorgeous Cherry Blossom necklace above, part of this year’s collection.)

Tarantula Brooch / Hemmerle

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Coco Chanel, Jackie Kennedy, Grace Kelly—some of the world’s most influential and stylish women were besotted with strands of pearls. Though she famously cooed that “diamonds are a girl’s best friend,” Marilyn Monroe donned a strand of cultured Akoya pearls given to her by husband Joe DiMaggio in 1954.

Also created by Mikimoto, the classic necklace would look right at home among the current collections in the house’s boutiques today, further underscoring the timeless appeal of pearls as both an accessory and an investment.

Platinum, Diamond, And Natural Pearl Pendant Earrings Formerly Belonging To Elizabeth Taylor / Bulgari

A pair of pearl drop pendant earrings by Bulgari that once belonged to fellow screen siren and well-documented jewelry aficionado Elizabeth Taylor are also on display.

The Pearls exhibit will be on view at the Victoria & Albert Museum through January 19, 2014.

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