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Beauty in the Irregular - Baroque Pearls

Art Nouveau 'winged' Baroque Pearl brooch from the Tadema Gallery-

Did you know that every pearl begins its long life as a piece of grit or small particle that makes its way into the shell of a marine or freshwater mollusk? The mollusk's defence mechanism kicks in and coats the particle with layer after layer of a substance called nacre, or mother-of-pearl, which eventually becomes thick enough to form a pearl. As a result these shiny orbs of calcium carbonate can vary in appearance from the perfectly round (and traditionally more valuable) to the downright bizarre, each taking on the shape of the original intruder being coated.

Often seen in Art Nouveau jewellery, Baroque pearls (from the Portuguese term barocco meaning “oddly shaped pearl”) are so-called for their irregular shape. The longer the pearl remains within their oyster or mussel birthplace the higher the chance of them becoming distorted from their traditional round appearance, twisting and turning to form odd but hugely beautiful shapes. Discover heart pearls, leaf pearls, coin pearls, cross pearls, potato pearls and stick pearls.

Some baroques are very large, a well-known example being the Hope Pearl, weighing over 90 grams and selling for $200,000 in 1974. Throughout history, most notably in the Renaissance and Art Nouveau periods, these monster pearls have been interpreted as body parts of humans, lions, spiders, dolphins and a whole host of other animals. See them combined with chains and enamelling in these highly elaborate sculptural pieces which adorned the breast of elegant ladies in the Renaissance.

One of our favourites is the Canning Jewel at the V&A:

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