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Winter Wonderland of Jewelry
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Diamonds or pearls? Pearls or diamonds? What’s your pleasure? The brilliant opulence of a sparkling diamond versus the quiet perfect, shimmering luster of a pearl. There is so much to love with both of these gems. They spice up an outfit, give a little shazam to the ordinary day; they add bling, sparkle and a je ne sais quoi that brings joy to the wearer and the giver. Surprisingly there have been quite a few changes in pearls and diamonds over the years, basically there is more to know and more to love about these signature items of refinement.

Dan Telleen, owner of Karats and pearl aficionado, is quick to point out that today’s pearls are not the pearls of yesterday or yesteryear. Pearls took off after World War II when soldiers came home to the United States with great fanfare, carrying strands of the world’s first cultivated pearls, the Akoya pearl. These pearls were grown in Japan, each pearl in a strand was similar in size and color–and nearly flawless. Think Audrey Hepburn in Breakfast at Tiffany’s. Classy, elegant and demure with a touch of playfulness–a look many women admired and emulated.

Pearls are rated in several ways: on shape, luster, color, surface perfection and size. Thanks to the Akoya pearl, many believe a perfectly round pearl is where it’s at. Focus on the luster: the nacre coating that makes the pearl look and feel like, well, a pearl.

Pearls rarely occur naturally, nor do they only come from oysters. Who knew?! Before the cultivated Akoya pearl, pearls were rarer than diamonds–and costlier. To create an entire strand of pearls that matched in size and luster could take years. In the late 19th century, Cartier acquired their building in New York City for a strand of pearls.

“Pearls never go out of fashion and are always the go-to item,” Telleen says. “They go with just about everything. You can throw on a strand of pearls and go to the grocery store or the ball, they work where ever you go.” He goes on to say that not just any strand of pearls works for everyone. There are so many choices colors, shapes, sizes–the world is your oyster and your pearls should match your essence.

Pearls are a lot like a woman: they are, at once, strong and fragile. You can stand on a pearl and it won’t break, yet the surface can scratch. And they come in a huge range of shapes, sizes and colors. Black pearls are rare but do, in fact, occur. There are golden pearls and pink pearls, which were almost never heard of even a decade ago. Pearls, which can be grown in fresh or salt water are a result of the clam or oyster’s defense against an irritant in its shell: it secretes a layer of nacre around the irritant, which builds into a smooth pearl. Clean, clear water is key for a beautiful, lustrous pearl—and they are able to be grown in the U.S., Tahiti, Japan, Australia and Indonesia. The warmer the water, the faster the animal can build a pearl. The colder the water, the more lustrous and stronger the pearl’s outer layer. It takes between one and five years for a pearl to grow…. the longer the growth period, the thicker the nacre and the more beautiful the shimmer.

A modern trend in pearls is to leave the perfectly matching orbs behind and instead embrace the natural looking, funky shaped pearls. Pearls don’t have to be round to be revered: a strand of pearls can come in all shapes and sizes. These are gorgeous, chunky strands of pearl strung together. Definitely no two pearls are the same–and these definitely are not your grandmother’s pearls.

Then there are diamonds which, like pearls, have never been out of style and never will be. “Diamonds represent love, wealth, status; the older a woman, the larger the diamond,” says Michele Howe, owner of Michele’s in Vail Village, a store that specializes in pre-owned and estate jewelry. Actually, the price of a diamond depends upon the cut, clarity, color and carat–the four “Cs” of the stone.

“Diamonds are an investment for a special event or upgrade after 20 years. A lot of diamond jewelry, becomes an heirloom,” Howe says. “If it’s a classic design, not real modern, it’s something to pass on for generations. The value doesn’t go down.”

Certainly, there is something special about looking down and seeing your grandmother’s diamond ring on your finger. It represents history, family and love. A single round diamond solitaire has been the most popular cut for an engagement ring for years.

These days, you might see gray or brown diamonds–some raw-looking or others that enhance the look of a sapphire, emerald or even citrine or blue topaz. The stones get color from the earth: yellow diamonds have nitrogen and blue ones have boron. Colorless is the most sought after quality–with a zero being the best and a ten not as valuable. The larger the diamond, the easier it is to see the color. But, of course, if you love diamonds with color, go for it. Many people are leaning just that way.

“A lot of today’s modern jewelry designers are using brown diamonds,” Michele says. Just as women are falling in love with various shades and shapes of pearls; they’re adoring larger diamonds as well. Instead of the one carat diamond studs, Howe is seeing three- carat diamond studs. The more bling, the more sparkle and the more clarity to love.

“There is no substitute for quality,” Howe says in her lilting voice. It’s just a matter of deciding what type of quality you’re looking for… then again, why choose? Diamonds and pearls, pearls and diamonds: what’s not to love? They are heirloom pieces that shimmer, full of love.

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