A perfect string of pearls often recalls images of style legends, such as Jackie Kennedy and Audrey Hepburn.

Now pearls are appealing to a younger generation and gaining popularity in part because designers are imagining new ways of wearing them.

“There’s an emergence of younger designers breaking the traditional boundaries of classic styles with pearls,” says Hisano Shepherd, a Los Angeles–based jewelry designer for a company called little h.

“From the early 1900s through the 1950s, the most coveted pearls were perfectly round, white pearls worn as choker-length necklaces or stud earrings,” says jeweler and designer April Higashi, owner of Shibumi Gallery in Berkeley, Calif. And these traditional- style pearls were staples the world over. “In Japan, women were gifted with pearl studs and pearl strand necklaces for coming-of-age and wedding gifts,” Shepherd says. But that’s changing.

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A Fashion-Forward Focus

Today’s pearls aren’t limited to simple strands or studs, and the 2019 Spring fashion runways were proof. “There were a lot of pearls from influential designers like Chanel and Gucci on the runways,” says Karen Giberson, CEO of the Accessories Council. They featured “bold mixes, layers, large sizes, fun colors.”

London-based pearl stringer Renata Terjeki, who designs, restrings, and restores pearl jewelry for clients around the world, is seeing a rising popularity in modern styles, such as long necklaces and pearl tassels. “The great thing about tassels is that you can make pendants, earrings, and rings out of them,” she says. And combining them with metal appeals to many different types of consumers. “You can put a pearl tassel pendant on an 18-carat white gold chain or on a long pearl necklace and you’ll have two completely different looks,” she says.

Faux pearls are being used more on apparel—around necklines, tracing pockets, decorating the heel of a shoe.

Styling for Everyday Wear

“Millennials are making pearls more casual by taking the primness out of them and wearing them in cool, new ways,” says Marion Fasel, founder and editorial director of The Adventurine, an online fine-jewelry magazine.

A single black wall can also give character and structure to a space and be used to highlight furniture or a collection of art, Adnet notes.

“The thing now is to wear them with Adidas tees and distressed denim—more everyday than special occasion,” says Amy Elliott, columnist for jewelry-trade magazine JCK and fine-jewelry expert for the Bridal Council.

“The younger generation is responding to what women have always loved about pearls: They go with everything, light up your skin with a subtle glow, and will never go out of style,” Elliott says. But young consumers “are less into the strands of perfectly matched Akoyas and more into oblong, amorphous, baroque shapes—the ‘imperfect’ pearls.”

They can be “classic or very artsy,” Higashi says.

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Designing for a New Generation

Designers are taking a fresh approach and using unique material mixes, such as pearls on leather, gunmetal, or rose gold, Giberson says.

Mixing pearls with colored stones is a new way to string them. Designer Anna Sheffield of Anna Sheffield Fine Jewelry, based in New York and Los Angeles, combines pearls with other gems like moonstone and black, gray, and champagne diamonds. She also blends classic pearl designs with different metals—one pearl stud earring and one gold spike for its mate, for example, or classic studs with yellow- or rose-gold halos for a more modern way of pairing them.

“But no matter how designs are changing, as Jackie Kennedy once said, ‘Pearls are always appropriate,’ ” Terjeki says.