Tuesday, 30 March 2010

Pearls: Early Fashion Fad

 stars in pearls
Pearls have been popular for centuries earning them the title of (one of) the oldest gems known to man. They became particularly fashionable throughout Europe in the 13th and 14th century then even more so in the 15th century and 16th centuries. At times various times there have been varying restrictions on the wearing of this jewel for instance in 16th century South America native Americans,  free or slaves,  were prohibited from wearing them as well as gold and silk (excepting those married to Spaniards). In 14th century Germany restrictions meant that no married woman or maiden could wear pearls on her dress. Later in the 15th century only one pearl was allowed which was limited to the weight of half an ounce. In 14th century Venice there were numerous restrictions on the wearing of pearls for married women and their use in dress at weddings. How much these laws could have or were actually enforced is unclear though the possibility of excommunication in Germany may have been a  deterrent.  In the latter part of the seventeenth century however the popularity of pearls waned and instead diamonds and other crystal gems came in to favour. However as shown above pearls have never really disappeared from fashion and continue to be popular today.

15th Century
BALDOVINETTI. Alessio.c. 1465. portrait of a lady in yellow15thC broach necklace

16th Century
16thc medallion  
woman. 1570-90. byALLORI. Alessandro.

17th Century

Paintings taken from the Web Gallery of Art
Celebrity picture from http://www.outfitlandia.com/how-to-wear-pearls-without-looking-old-fashion/

Copyright © 2010 Elaine Hunter


  1. Hello, I'm doing some research on pearls in the 15th and 16th centuries. Does anyone know the different colors of pearls that were worn during this time period? Or where I can find more information on colored pearls...

  2. Great post! very interesting! I myself am a pearl girl. :) Don't know what I'd do if it were illegal to wear them! Probably go without jewelry!


  3. Anonymous there is some information on imitation pearls which were made in Venice which were coloured in this online book which I looked at when writing this article http://tinyurl.com/3y4h3s8 Tara I tried to go to you website but it didn't work :( Thanks for reading !

  4. Hi,

    Thank you for this post. I really liked it. I am working on a piece about the sumptuary laws against pearls in 1550. Can I ask where you got your information? Or if you have some tips? Thank you!


  5. Hi thank you for reading I wrote this post quite a while ago but I believe this was a useful book: 'The book of the pearl: its history, art, science, and industry' By George Frederick Kunz, Charles Hugh Stevenson as I mentioned above I also looked at this article during my research http://tinyurl.com/3y4h3s8

  6. Try this blog about the "Sea of Cortez Pearls". Those natural colored pearls were the rage in Europe from the 1600's to the 1920's... pearls that belonged to Isabel de Valois, Josephine Bonaparte, Queen Elizabeth I, Marie Antoinnette and Zenaida Yussupova came from this source.