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Multicolor Pearl Strands
A New Rainbow of Pearls

Just when you thought we reached the rainbow's end as far as Tahitian pearl colors go, there has been a rash of sightings of stunning hues rarely seen before. A clue to the sudden proliferation of these exotic shades is the fact that most of them are found in multicolor strands where they join in a large array of hues. "Production of certain colors has always been so limited dealers could never get enough of them to make necklaces," says Alex Vock of ProVockative Gems in New York. "Multicolor strands have allowed the trade to make use of rare and uncommon colors on a regular basis."

Don't get the wrong idea. The sudden appearance of sky-blue, dawn-pink, and bronze-red Tahitian cultured pearls, to name a few of the new hues frequently encountered in multicolor strands, doesn't mean these shades are any less rare. It just means that Tahitian pearl specialists have discovered a way to dispose of the scarcer splendors they amassed over the years. Indeed, when Robert Wan, who produces at least 50 percent of all French Polynesia's pearls, held his second trade-only auction in March of this year, he offered dozens of superb multicolor necklaces. At his first auction in September 1998, Wan had offered just one or two such pieces.

Ironically, multicolors are nothing new. Tahitian pearl pioneer Sal Assael of Assael International in New York made them 20 years ago. Back then, however, they were considered strictly a novelty. Even now, some specialists in South Sea pearls view multicolors as a fleeting fashion born of necessity. But others view them as a lasting new staple inspired by profound attitude changes about pearls. "Thanks to Tahiti, the pearl is now regarded as a colored stone," says Pamela Butler of Ocean Gem Pearl Corp. in San Francisco. "The multicolor strand is a celebration of this fact."

Nevertheless, some dealers who do not share Butler's belief in multicolors fear the trend is showing signs of fatigue. They're misreading the signs. Multicolors are no longer an answer to a problem of what to do with odds and ends. They have become an innovative genre of South Sea pearl jewelry in their own right. What's more, this genre is inspiring dealers and designers to take full advantage of the enormous diversity of colors and tones they are finding in pearls from Australia, Indonesia, and the Philippines—not just those from Tahiti.

As a result, this holiday season the guiding aesthetic principle for making what one dealer calls "the color-medley South Sea pearl necklace" will be this: Anything goes. Not only will jewelers find strands of black and white multicolors but they will find strands mixing every category of South Sea pearl to give the fullest variety of colors yet seen in these strands. Expect to see Tahitian blacks and grays combined with Australian and Indonesian whites, pinks, creams, and yellows.

SOFT BLENDS AND SHARP CONTRASTS

There are two schools of thought on composing South Sea multicolor strands. The first and far smaller school espouses multicolors that are subtle in their diversity, comprised of softly-blended hues and homogeneous dark, medium, or light tones. Although pearls in these necklaces can be of multiple origins, they usually aren't since strands are divided into three distinct tone categories: black, silver/gray, and white/yellow. For the most part, pearls in black and silver/gray strands are Tahitian and those in the whites and creams tend to be Australian and Indonesian. "The multicolor strand is evolving into a very refined and elegant form of jewelry," says Ocean Gem's Francoise Gougher.

That is still a minority opinion, however. Most dealers feel multicolors should be jazzy and vibrant, sometimes extremely so. Hence they make strands that are highly contrasting, rather than complementary, from a standpoint of both hue and tone. The only elements they keep consistent are shape and, to a lesser extent, luster and complexion. As for shape, there are three popular options: rounds, drops and, new this year, circles (pearls with natural grooves in them).

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<p>Just when you thought we reached the rainbow's end as far as Tahitian pearl colors go, there has been a rash of sightings of stunning hues rarely seen before. A clue to the sudden proliferation of these exotic shades is the fact that most of them are found in multicolor strands where they join in a large array of hues. "Production of certain colors has always been so limited dealers could never get enough of them to make necklaces," says Alex Vock of ProVockative Gems in New York. "Multicolor strands have allowed the trade to make use of rare and uncommon colors on a regular basis."</p>