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Pearls Take On a New Palette

March 27, 1997|CINDY LaFAVRE YORKS | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Honey, they shrunk the pearls. What's more, they lavished them with gemstones and tortured metals.

"They're definitely really hot right now," says Dana Kellin, a former correspondent for the fashion trade journal Women's Wear Daily who began experimenting with pearls three years ago when preparing to launch her own jewelry collection.

Like those of other popular jewelry artists (Lisa Jenks, Gabrielle Sanchez, M+J Savitt, Jay Strongwater, Erica Courtney and Deborah Armstrong, to name a few), Kellin's designs have little in common with the plain-vanilla varieties adopted by so many first ladies. Some combine architectural nuances in modern lariats or chokers, while others tap Byzantine, Baroque or Etruscan influences, using pearls in unexpected hues.

Kellin's current pieces, featured at Neiman Marcus and Barneys New York, incorporate pearls in pink, slate, champagne and even green with precious and semiprecious stones. Prices range from $100 for a simple cultured pearl strand with silver accents to $4,000 for a necklace of 14-karat gold beads and pearls. Equally interesting styles can be had for far less. At Nordstrom, real freshwater pearl drop earrings set in electroplated metal fetch a mere $24.

Why are pearls so big?

Amanda Miller, fashion jewelry buyer for Nordstrom, believes the Kennedy-Onassis pearls auctioned by Sotheby's and the choker styles worn by Madonna in "Evita" fueled interest. And, she says, fresh designs are attracting younger women to an item once identified with their elders.

Moving into fall, Kellin is tinkering with pearls in burnished shades of gold, rust and brick, accentuated with carnelian, sunstone, red tiger's eye. "I think pearls are finally appealing to younger customers because they are attracted to their iridescence," she says, "and the variety of colors they now come in, making them less like the pristine, contrived styles that came before them."

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