Pearls Fashion of the Ages

Judging by the fanfare surrounding a new museum exhibit, diamonds may be a girl’s best friend, but pearls are her quiet passion. The exhibit, titled “Pearls,” features fashions embraced by celebrities and royalty spanning hundreds of years.

“Pearls” opened in October at the American Museum of Natural History in New York, and is the most comprehensive museum exhibit on pearls ever presented. It took four years to plan and execute and comprises 500,000 individual pearls and more than 800 objects. It incorporates pearl history, jewelry, art, literature, and science.

Highlights include a necklace given to Marilyn Monroe by Joe DiMaggio and the royal turban crown from 19th-century Nepal. Contemporary examples of pearl fashions include a floral pearl and diamond brooch set en tremblant by American designer Ella Gafter.

“Over the ages and throughout numerous cultures, pearls have captured the imagination of kings, poets, movie stars, scientists, and all admirers of the beauty and variety of the natural world,” said Ellen V. Futter, president of the museum.

The exhibit will run in New York until April 14, then travel to the Field Museum in Chicago for a six-month showing. It was sponsored by Tasaki Shinju and organized by curators from the museum’s division of paleontology, invertebrate zoology, zoology, and anthropology.

Along with the exhibit, this celebration of pearls includes a companion book, Pearls: A Natural History. For those who cannot visit the exhibit or simply want more information, an online behind-the-scenes tour of the making of the exhibit is available at the museum’s homepage, www.amnh.org.