Time was when pearls were so far from the avant-garde that they only belonged in the same sentence if they were being clutched at. But these timeless natural jewels have been coming out of their shell in recent years, edging into new territory in jewellery – and their latest incarnation, in a project hatched by uber-innovator Rei Kawakubo, may just signal that their metamorphosis is complete.
For the first fine jewellery collaboration in its history, Comme des Garçons has linked up with Mikimoto – the 127-year-old company whose founder, Kokichi Mikimoto, invented the world’s first exceptional cultured pearls – to put a new twist on the pearl necklace, creating seven silver designs with an edgy undercurrent based around White South Sea or Akoya Mikimoto pearls.
“Pearls themselves don’t represent something that’s different to the past,” says Comme des Garçons president Adrian Joffe, explaining how, for this collaboration – as in the past, when it worked independently with pearls – it was their timeless quality that created the initial attraction. But the key difference this time is the audience. “It is a modern idea that these pieces were designed to be worn by everyone – not just women. We thought it was important – and that was interesting to Mikimoto.”
“Pearls line up alongside diamonds in terms of value, and myriad stories spring to mind concerning them,” says Kawakubo. “If we talk about women’s jewellery, one usually thinks of pearls. Recently, I’ve noticed how men also look good when they wear pearls: the starting point of this collaboration. A traditional company, with a 125-year history, clashing with a breaking of the rules can lead to something new.”
The Tokyo-based pearl specialists’ independent collections, such as the ribbon-inspired Jeux de Rubans suites released in October 2018, have long showcased not only extraordinary craft and sophistication but a modern sensibility that was ahead of its time. The brand’s own journey began with a vision to “adorn the necks of all women around the world with pearls”, but the invitation to pair up and “challenge the norms of beauty, and explore a sense of originality free from tradition and boundaries – to adorn the necks of all, regardless of age or gender” was too potent to resist.
Kawakubo’s aim for the collection was to “refrain a little from design” and “emphasise the beauty of the pearl itself” – the result is a series of pieces that are far from far-out, but with a subversive touch (pearls are contrasted with silver chains or CdG charms, incorporating a stepped effect like a faux second layer), and each glowing specimen hand-selected for its own unique qualities.
The necklaces are just the first realisation of a relationship between the brands that will last for two years. Buckle up.