Some of you are curious about giving or receiving pearls for a 16th birthday. Let’s answer your questions, even those you did not know you asked.
Which pearls to give, or request, for a 16th birthday? Ah, tell me first what you want them to mean.
We could solve a simple equation, as in, since 16-year olds are fashionable these days, (what with teenaged style bloggers, 16-year old models, and television shows like Gossip Girl), therefore we present a 16-year old with pearl fashion.
The usual Privilege pearl fashion involves irony. All great expressive statements require some inner tension; oxymorons generate their own buzz. For example:
You can string nacre on copper wire, fashion it into a tassel, overload it with mid-century references in a gold bow.
But in so doing you sidestep the cultural implications of a single silk-strung strand of pearls. Whether we like it or not, whether we subscribe to the writ or march in protest on metaphoric streets, pearls mean feminine. And in particular, pearls on a young woman have traditionally signified feminine purity and a readiness for marriage.
What to do about that? Well, one could:
- Embrace the traditional construct
- Reject it and pearls too
- Reclaim pearls. Evolve their significance.
I’m voting for #3. Pearls on a 25-year old already hint at a certain graceful acceptance of protocol, which can stand one in good stead, professionally. After all, rules are best broken by those who know them well. Larger pearls on a 35-year old say success. And very large ones, on us older sorts, say great success, either of our own making or shared with a revenue-generating partner. All to the good.
Whether you’re embracing the traditional for this 16th birthday, or some sort of evolution, here are some routes to that classic strand of pearls. First, something playful, in glass. Patsy Kane, whom you see around here wisecracking in our comments, offers this ribbon-tied fancy. On the traditional side, and sweet as strawberries. I’d opt for this bow, slightly smaller pearls.
Second, you can buy a strand of smallish round real pearls. Let’s say 5-6.5.mm. I prefer uniform pearls to a graduated strand, at this size. Pearl Paradise, endorsed by the goddess of pearls herself, Duchesse, does a good job of explaining the difference between freshwater and traditional saltwater pearls. Saltwater cultured pearls are now known as Akoya, but were first produced by Mikimoto. You can even follow Pearl Paradise’s CEO, Jeremy Shepherd, on Twitter.
Spend $126 for a 16-inch AAA 6.5-7.0mm strand of freshwater pearls.
Alternatively, a 16-inch AAA strand of 6.0-6.5 Akoyas can be had for $378. If the lustre is equivalent, in fact I prefer the freshwaters’ slight deviation from the round . Rejoice in those moments where less costly is more desirable.
The final alternative, and one with its own history and a certain poignancy, is Add-A-Pearl. No, I am not kidding. My mother, in her own inimitable style, gave my daughter a few pearls on a gold chain when she turned 16. They’ve added pearls subsequently, via a trusted jeweler in Santa Barbara. It’s something between them. I leave it undiscussed. I do not know the cost.
But one could subscribe to the actual Add-A-Pearl operation, extant in Illinois. They have a Facebook discount on offer right now. I would not have expected to say the words, “Facebook” and “Add-A-Pearl” together, but such is modern life and one is well-advised to ride along. Here’s what you might give your 16-year old:
Simple, yes? Innocent, yes? Unfortunately, also expensive. It will cost you $149 for just four 4mm pearls. Or, if you buy natural pearls instead of cultured, you will pay for $206 for one 2.7mm pearl, and two 2.3mms. Yup. Add-A-Pearl explains the difference between cultured and natural quite well here. Suffice it to say that Cartier traded a strand of natural pearls for their Fifth Avenue storefront, back in the day.
I like Add-A-Pearl because you’re buying an experience, the promise of a continued relationship, albeit with a commercial underpinning.
But I also like it because you’re sketching out a concept, not predicting the future. Should your 16-year old have the option and the desire to become a debutante, she can add matched pearl upon pearl. Should she decide to attend Cooper Union on scholarship and live in the East Village with 6 other students, she can add aardvark charms. Or whatever they’re wearing in the East Village by then.
Either way, mark a birthday you may find meaningful with lustre. Lustre, somehow, implies more possibility than a harder shine. Shall we say that pearls celebrate an illustrious future? If we prefer philosophy to word play, purity of heart serves us well in any cultural context.
*No compensation has been received for this post.