Coco Chanel knocked the stuffing out of pearl jewellery. Famous for mixing real and costume jewels in prodigious quantities, in many of her portraits she is shown draped in string upon string of pearls.
Her designs for jewels were very personal to her and often influenced by her private life – either by the personal pieces gifted to her or by her work with other designers or lovers. Amongst the latter was Paul Iribarnegaray, also known as Iribe, a designer and illustrator. His hallmark was a baroque style that used large stones and mixed translucent with opaque gems, both elements that came to be associated with Chanel’s own style. Later, her designs with Fulco Verdura took on a more Byzantine style, producing the classic Chanel cuffs bearing maltese crosses with striking colour combinations of polished cabochon stones set alongside large pearls.
Jewels would have had many individual meanings for Chanel, but the pearls were paramount. Faced with an industrial dispute early in her career, she made it clear from where she drew her power and authority: “Go and fetch my pearls. I will not go up to the ateliers until I have them around my neck.”