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Go Beyond the Classics with Pearls

Pearls aren’t just your grandmother’s jewelry. From color, size and shape to setting and chain length, plenty of pearl jewelry has a contemporary edge.

Some jewelry pieces are classics, and every woman would do well by building a basic jewelry wardrobe that includes a strand of pearls. The traditional take is a single or double strand necklace, usually 16-18 inches long. And traditionally, the pearls are cream-color or white.

But pearls aren’t just your grandmother’s jewelry. With the right attention to color, size and shape — not to mention setting — pearls can be as unique and edgy as they can be classic and subdued.

The pearl solitaire

A pearl solitaire necklace is both utterly classic (just think of it as a half-step away from a diamond or other gemstone solitaire) and a far cry from the traditional strand necklace we usually associate with pearls.

This makes a pearl solitaire the perfect option if you’re looking for a subtle, elegant look that’s equally non-traditional. As with other gemstone solitaires, you can have the stone stand alone, encase it in a traditional setting or choose one that’s a little more unique.

A splash of color

Classic pearls are white or cream-colored. Depending on pearl type, they also come in colors ranging from black to lavender to silvery gray, from rich brown to cranberry and from green leaning to gold. White pearls will evoke tradition and even pomp, but a splash of “color” — even in the form of black or gray — instantly bestows a new spin on the classics.

A strand that goes to great lengths

Like the idea of classic pearls but with a twist — literally? Consider a long opera- or rope-length strand that you can wrap, layer or knot into any length you choose. Veer even further from a classic strand by opting for color pearls.

On the other end of the length spectrum, consider a pearl collar (worn high on the neck) or choker (worn a little lower on the neck but not as low as a traditional pearl strand.)

A space apart

A contemporary take on the classic strand is to have pearls spaced at even intervals — roughly ¼ to a full inch apart — around a chain. This gives you a chance to show off the chain itself as well as whatever pearls you choose. Keep them white or monochrome for a stronger nod to tradition, or spice it up with a colorful pattern.

The conversation starter

Depending on its design, a pearl necklace can be subtle and understated or eye-catchingly bold. If making a statement is your thing, consider a set of pearls that will do just that. Look for designs that use pearls of varying shapes and sizes and weave them together in unique patterns.

Beyond the necklace

Because they look so good in a strand, pearls are typically associated with necklaces and their accompanying stud earrings. But pearls can be much more diverse than this classic look.

For earrings, move beyond simple studs with drop earrings, an ornate setting or color pearls. Or make use of the strand effect by opting for a short one — let’s say three to five pearls — that falls from each ear. For rings, engagement rings typically sport a diamond. But pearls are classy and elegant, and a fine alternative stone for an engagement ring, either in a more traditional setting or one that’s uniquely modern.

A strand of white pearls paired with simple stud earrings will never lose its classic flair. But by paying attention to pearl color, size and shape — not to mention setting — you can easily move beyond this traditional look.

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