Best of NYC

By Irene Fogarty

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“Why is it that men can be bastards and women must wear pearls and smile?” – Lynn Hecht Schafren

How’s that for a nice romantic opening to our wedding issue? Well, I have to admit when I read this quote I felt it expressed my exact thoughts. On pearls, of course. You see, I’ve never quite understood women’s fascination with these cold, uptight, and unblemished gems. Furthermore, I never really appreciated why a woman would want to wear a string of them. What’s so special about these mother-in-law-loving strands?

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Quite a lot, actually. Here’s what I discovered from one of New York’s finest and most innovative, jewelry consultants/curators/designers, Kimberly McDonald. After speaking to her recently, she changed my opinion on pearls, jewels, and why we should appreciate their rare and exotic beauty. (She didn’t, however, succeed in changing my views on mother-in-laws).

Pearls of wisdom
As the oldest known gem, and once the most valuable, pearls are anything but ordinary. Take their meaning for example. The Latin word for pearl literally means “unique”, attesting to the fact that no two pearls are identical. “Pearls are very special jewels. You just need to discover what works best for you and make them yours. Most of all, have a little fun with them,” advises McDonald.

As one of New York’s best-kept secrets when it comes to spectacular jewels and designing them, McDonald’s approach to her clients is special too. Working closely with her small collection of private clients, McDonald gets to know their likes and dislikes. What they wear, what their lifestyle is like as well asking them to make a wish list about pieces of jewelry they’d love to own, regardless of price, availability of the jewel, or any other obstacle.

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She then either works with some of the world’s most exclusive designers, (like Henry Dunay, Nicholas Varney and the house of Zadora) to create one of a kind designer pieces or in some cases McDonald herself will design the piece and have it made by one of the master jewelers that she works with (these jewelers also make items for Vera Wang, Harry Winston, Lorraine Schwartz and other well-known jewelry houses). “My clients want jewelry that’s uniquely theirs. They don’t want things that are immediately identifiable or recognizable status symbols.” McDonald herself is the first to admit she admires the classic designers whose knowledge, expertise, and style have not followed the ever-changing trends. A big fan of Dunay, with whom she often works on one of a kind pieces), McDonald loves how this world renowned jeweler of the 80′s, remains true to his vision of transforming large colorful gems into eye-catching pendants that serve as very personalized statements. Real classics and must-haves for any jewelry collection.

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The most rewarding thing about McDonald’s precious passion? “When my clients call me, the minute they open the box and say, “Wow. It’s so amazingly beautiful! Thank you.”” Designing engagement rings, she often incorporates colored diamonds (green, pink, yellow) to complement the brides’ eyes. The results are astounding.

And the most frustrating thing? “Clients who tell me, ‘be creative, do your thing,’ and then want to control the whole process.” But for the most part, McDonald’s values her “job” as much as she does the jewels she works with. She almost feels honored, even privileged to work in an industry that’s so creative yet respectful of the principles of art. In her opinion, jewelry is much more than a mere accessory: it is the most artistic form of expression a woman can wear.

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McDonald has been featured in many magazines, from the Robb Report, InStyle Weddings, Time Out, Worth and most recently on Julib.com’s “March picks” for her dazzling vintage pieces. What makes her so different from other jewelers in the city is her knowledge of the jewel, as well as her expertise and passion to create something unique. Scoping out estate sales and jewel expos, she tracks down wonderful wedding day baubles at wonderful prices. She gives her clients 110% attention in order to design and create a one-of-a-kind piece that they will treasure forever.

Pearls for wedding girls
So back to pearls. In case you’re getting cold feet about wearing them on your day, check this out. The Greeks held the pearl in high esteem for both its unrivaled beauty and its associating with love and marriage. And that’s not all. The ancient Egyptians prized pearls so much they were buried with them.

So now that you know their status, remember you’re wearing something historically precious. And just like a classic white shirt, McDonald claims the best way to wear them, is to make them yours. Try them out, play around with them. See what works best for you. To help you, here are a few of her “pearl pointers”.

Pick pearls as you would pick your wedding dress. If you’re wearing your hair up, a long drop pearl earring will suffice. Leave your neck bare for a more simple, yet elegant look. If you’re wearing your hair down, try a smaller pearl stud button with a layered necklace. Try a pearl pin for your hair, something vintage that’s subtle yet sophisticated. Classic yet fashionable.

Pearls of all shapes and colors are a highly, versatile accessory for every woman’s wardrobe. The classic, round pearl necklace is perfect for evening wear or suit dressing. Long strands may be doubled with the assistance of jeweled or gold clasps. Kimberly evokes the sentiments of Coco Chanel, “When you think you have enough necklaces on, add two or more and you’re good to go.” So double up on those pearl strands for a 1920 flapper-chic appeal. Even more daring, you can intertwine your strands with beads of other precious gems for a striking effect.

The most popular colors for round pearls are whites, creams and pinks. Silver, black and gold are also gaining new interest.

The beauty about pearls is that they look good on every skin color. As McDonald explains, paler skins can benefit from their luminescence, while ivory pearls complement darker complexions. Pearl wearers can start as early as age 13. Some of McDonald’s clients start pearl collecting by buying just one pearl a year. By the time their daughter or granddaughter reaches 18, they have a beautiful strand of exquisite pearls, which can become a valuable heirloom.

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Pearls – perfect wedding gifts
In addition to wearing them on the “big” day, pearls have been considered ideal wedding gifts because they symbolize purity and innocence. In the Hindu religion, the presentation of an undrilled pearl and its piercing has become part of the actual marriage ceremony. So if you want to give a pearl gift, try a pair of McDonald’s pearl and diamond drop-earrings. Only problem is they’re so stunning, you may want them for yourself!

“The rarest things in the world, next to a spirit of discernment, are diamonds and pearls.”
- Jean de la Bruyere

Taking care of your pearls
Like anything precious, it’s important to look after your pearls. You can wash them gently with a mild soap and water and then dry them with a damp cloth. Be sure to apply make up and perfume before you put them on. Alcohol can dry them out which can cause pearls to lose their shine with age. And to avoid losing a pearl altogether, don’t buy a pearl ring. Since we use our hands all too often, pearls can become loose in a setting and fall out without you noticing it.

Gem trends
Back to the 21st century. What’s the jewel news these days? According to McDonald, we’ve gotten away from collecting jewelry as valuable pieces. The days of growing your pearl collection are well gone. Instead, there is a current obsession with ‘bling’ and amassing a quantity of sparkling baubles as opposed to going for top quality hand made pieces. Mass production and lack of appreciation for these rare “pieces of art,” are probably the main reasons for this. She is striving to bring back a real appreciation and love of jewelry with her clients and to guide them as they form a legacy of precious pearls and gems to leave behind; a sort of wearable heritage for their offspring.

McDonald does see encouraging signs that pearls, and rare stones, are making this well-deserved comeback. Today’s pearl adorners include Gwen Steffani, Cate Blanchett and Nathalie Portman. Designers are beginning to use more natural things like wood and metals and dressing them up with garnets, aquamarine, and amethysts. She also predicts good things for other obscure stones, such as moonstone and cat’s eye.

One final piece of advice from New York’s Pearl Girl, “Don’t bother with pearls if you don’t appreciate them. They’re too special.” So if all of this hasn’t convinced you of the beauty of these iridescent gems, stick to the “bling-bling.”

If you’d like to see the oldest known pearl jewelry, go to the Museum of Louvre in Paris, where it was found in the tomb of a Persian princess who died in 520 BC. Or if you’d like to see the future of pearls and how you can make them your very own, go call Kimberly McDonald. She’ll know what’s good for you, even if you don’t.

Kimberly McDonald
212-988-5711
kmcdonaldnyc@aol.com

Originally published May 2005
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