Pearls have long been a "classic" jewelry box staple synonymous with ladylike elegance, but today, for some Long Islanders, the luminescent gems are simmering with a new message: Pearls convey power.
Jewelry designer Stella Flame, owner of the eponymous jewelry gallery in Sag Harbor says, "There’s been a huge uptick in interest. Thank you, Kamala," crediting Vice President Kamala Harris for whom pearls are a signature accessory for helping to repopularize pearls. Others, such as Elizabeth Kanfer, footwear and accessories fashion director at Nordstrom say that in a time when meetings are more likely to be virtual than in real life, "Items that look good on camera" are in demand and the gems fit the bill. But one way or another, pearls are having a moment.
For Harris, pearls are a connection to her sorority Alpha Kappa Alpha, the first Black-American Greek Letter sorority where the founding members in 1908 were referred to as "The Twenty Pearls," and where even today, each new member gets a badge with 20 pearls upon initiation. She graduated from Howard University in 1986 wearing matching pearl earrings and a necklace, and to date, has punctuated every major moment from receiving the COVID-19 vaccination to taking the oath of office as Vice President wearing pearls in one form or another.
The VP connection has been good for folks in the jewelry business. "Harris is really going to give the pearl industry a giant boost in terms support and validation. She’s inspired me," says Flame who has taken to working pearls into her own pieces mixing them in with precious metals and other gemstones. She recently attended a webinar called, "Reimagining the Pearl. Youthful, Bolder and Edgier," and says, "I’m completely going in a pearl direction."
But for members of Harris’ sorority past and present, pearls go way beyond trend. "They’re so delicate yet I think they symbolize strength," says Deniella Hart, 21, of Rosedale, a senior in the nursing program at Adelphi University who is the president of the very small Alpha Kappa Alpha chapter there. She joined the sorority for the feeling of "sisterhood," she says. "I’m an only child. I saw their presence on campus and I was trying to find a place for myself and I felt a sense of unity."
Today, she has a wardrobe of pearls — mostly necklaces and bracelets — which she calls "unique" and says intrinsically message "inspiration to reach higher. That a young, Black woman who looks like me, from the same background can break the glass ceiling and go further."
Hofstra alum and lifetime member of Alpha Kappa Alpha, Lauren Taylor, 36 of Roosevelt, who is a school librarian, says, "I have a whole drawer full of pearls — single strands, multi-strands — I always try to pick them up when we have our conferences." Harris’ pearls, "may or may not be a nod to us," she says. "But I personally feel it’s a slight, little wink to us."
Of course, Harris is far from the first political figure to wear pearls. Fans of the strands have included Jackie Kennedy Onassis, Nancy Reagan, Barbara Bush, and Michelle Obama. "No matter which side of the political bench you sit on, the pearl is a very democratic gem," says Fran Lukas, CEO of The Jewelry Group, a New York-based manufacturer and wholesale distributor of about 20 brands of fashion jewelry including Anne Klein, Ralph Lauren, Givenchy and Marchesa.
Though the company has always produced accessibly priced pearl jewelry, Lukas has noticed a slight increase in sales of late. "They are a relevant gem. They symbolize wisdom and are associated with positivity, dependability and integrity and people are looking for that comfort and things they can depend on in their lives these days."
ON-TREND FOR SPRING
It’s a new pearl world for Lisa Zampolin, the owner of Love, Lisa, a Massapequa-based jewelry company, where she says, "Pearls have gone a little edgier."
"They’ve always been perceived as something for an older customer, but my customers skew younger." To that end, Zampolin is introducing a playful, pearl ankle bracelet for spring.
And Flame sees the trend burgeoning. "Today, there’s even a men’s pearl market. Rappers are wearing them and they’ve become more gender fluid. Look at Harry Styles."
Moving forward, Karen Giberson, the president of The Accessories Council, a trade group in New York City, says, "I know a 100% that brands are making more pearl items. I’m seeing amazing resources — even on headbands and hair pieces and other Zoom-friendly items." As for the Kamala-factor, she says the vice president’s pearls are symbolic. "A pearl necklace is ladylike and elegant but the way she wears it — like on the cover of Vogue — says, ‘I can be relaxed and comfortable but take me seriously.’ They’re her power piece."