Wedding party decisions are perhaps the toughest wedding-related tasks you'll tackle. Must you include the groom's horrid sister? Will having twelve bridesmaids make you look too Liza Minelli? Do you have to pair your beautiful favorite sister with that drunken slob of a best man? What to do about eight-months-pregnant Donna? And should you force your nearest and dearest into ugly bridesmaid's dresses for sheer retaliation? (Hel-lo giant royal purple taffeta butt-bow!) Phew! A girl could elope just thinking about it.
If you haven't yet chosen gifts for your bridal party, you're in luck. Read this and you'll have one less wedding dilemma. The perfect solution not only doubles as wedding attire but will thrill your bridesmaids and stay in style forever. This wonder gift? Pearl jewelry.
Before you flip out and cross the filet off your list, consider this: Real pearls are extremely affordable, especially when they're freshwater cultured pearls. And no, that doesn't mean they're Rice Krispie-shaped either. For years now, the Chinese have been producing high luster, round freshwater cultured pearls that rival the beauty of Japanese Akoyas. Gift your bridesmaids with pearls and not only will their accessories match on your big day, they'll be thrilled with a gift they can actually use.
For gorgeous quality pearl jewelry your bridesmaids will flip over, keep these pearl buying tips in mind:
* Size counts. Pearls are measured in millimeters. A larger pearl takes longer to form, and the chances of finding a perfectly round, large pearl are slim. After the 7.5-8mm mark, prices rise dramatically. Choose a 6.5mm strand...it's lovely and affordable, or, if you love the look of a larger pearl, pick a more affordable pendant.
* Pay attention to luster and surface markings. The higher the luster--seen in the sharpness of the reflection off the pearl's surface--the more desirable it is. As for surface markings, if a pearl is perfectly smooth, it's likely faux. Minor surface characteristics are natural and don't detract from a pearl's beauty. That said, avoid large pits, dents and obvious dimples.
* Check for shape: Round pearls are the rarest, and of course the most expensive. To test for roundness, roll a strand on a table or desk. It should roll smoothly. Any bobbing up and down means the strand has some clunkers and hasn't been carefully matched. Don't like round? The baroque pearl is a more affordable and unique option. Baroque pearls have no obvious symmetry, but are quite lovely to look at. In fact, baroques have been favored by jewelry designers for centuries. When you're shopping for pearls, be sure to check out baroque pearl strands...they might just appeal to you.
* Nacre thickness is important. Nacre, the same substance as mother-if-pearl, is what makes the pearl a pearl. It should be sufficiently thick; if it's thin it will flake and peel, and eventually the bead nucleus--the implanted object which irritated the oyster and started the pearl growing process--will show through. Many freshwater pearls are made from tissue-nucleated mussels, not beads, making them solid nacre. Freshwater pearls also tend to have beautiful luster. Ask a trusted jeweler about nacre thickness, as it is nearly impossible to tell nacre quality just by looking.
* Choose color carefully. A classic white strand is always in style and perfect for weddings, but pearls come in gorgeous pastels too. A lavender, pink or peach strand might work well with your bridesmaids' dresses, but be sure to consider skin tone. Lavender strands in particular look beautiful with most skin tones and are "in" according to InStyle magazine.
* In a pearl strand, such as a bracelet or necklace, uniformity is important. This is called matching. While no strand will be absolutely perfect--subtle variations are to be expected from a natural gem--they should be very similar in size, shape, luster and color. Pay attention to the clasp area, as unscrupulous jewelers have been known to hide imperfect pearls near the clasp.
When it comes to style, the sky's the limit. Pearls' newfound popularity with designers has given way to tons of unique styles and unexpected gemstone combinations. Classic pieces are always in, but many of today's modern styles are sure to become classics as well. Depending on the style of the dress, a beautiful pearl cuff bracelet, pearl dangle, stiletto or drop earrings, a pearl pendant or a pearl-and-gemstone combo style could look absolutely stunning. For a totally polished look, choose a pearl jewelry set which includes a pearl strand and matching earrings (sometimes even a bracelet!). Pearl sets are great as your bridesmaids can later wear them to work, parties, and other functions--classic pearls go with everything.
If your style is more Vogue than Town & Country, don't get stuck on the traditional stuff that's showcased in bridal magazines. Browse vintage shops, local jewelry stores and poke around the Internet until you find something that grabs you.
Remember, freshwater cultured pearls are gorgeous and very affordable. There is absolutely no reason to buy faux pearls. Your friends did shell out big bucks for wedding attire, accommodations and travel, and they're planning to throw you a killer shower. Thank your bridesmaids with a gift of timeless and affordable pearl jewelry...and please don't make them wear a big purple bow!