Can men wear pearls?  Sure they can!  Men have been wearing pearl jewelry for centuries.  It's only in the last 200 years or so that men's fashion as been austere and decidedly lacking in jewelry.

This long style trend was set by Regency dandy Beau Brummell (1778-1840)* who went for the understated look and rejected the ornate and colorful style popular then. No more elaborate powdered wigs, makeup and colorful jackets and waistcoats for him!

Beau Brummell

Young male celebrities like Usher, Harry Styles and Joe Jonas
 (click to see images) in our time are now bucking this long drought of masculine jewelry and have begun to wear pearl jewelry. This shocked and amused some of my Facebook page followers when I recently shared the news about these modern day trendsetters. One declared "Pearls are for girls"!  I couldn't disagree more.

Modern jewelry designers are catching on with this trend reversal.  Shown at the very top is a splendid leather and pearl necklace for men by ChristineChandler.

These raw pearl necklaces for men below are by OlympusDesignsShop (shop has closed).

Pearls have never been just for females.  Around the world and throughout recorded history, pearls were worn by both men and women. Before Japanese entrepreneur, Kokichi Mikimoto*, finally kickstarted the modern cultured pearl industry, it was your wealth and status, not your gender, or even sexual orientation, which determined whether or not you could wear rare natural pearls. Thus pearls were exclusively for royalty and the very rich because natural pearls were insanely expensive.

The Ancient Romans were absolutely crazy about pearls. Both men and women wore pearls. An example is  this Roman gold, amethyst and pearl amulet which dates back to about 2nd Century CE. The medallion part of the amulet shows various animals attacking a central evil eye.  Such amulets were thought to have protective powers so many wore them to ward off ill fortune.

Roman era amulet Accession Number: FIC.07.225 John Hopkins Archaeological Museum

Julius Caesar invaded Britain in 55 and 54 BC, in an ambitious attempt to extend the Roman Empire and enhance his own prestige. But as a connoisseur of fine art and gemstones, he also had his eye on Britain's river pearls. According to his biographer, Gaius Suetonius, the potential for acquiring more gemstones made invasions worth the attempts.

Pearls were his favorite. Julius Caesar reportedly paid six million sesterces (nearly $300,000) for a single pearl. Perfectly round or matched sets of natural pearls were incredibly hard to get and thus very expensive.  Just one of the Roman general Vitellius' mother's pearl earrings financed an entire military campaign!

The mad and bad Roman emperor Caligula, wore pearl embellished slippers! He even gave his favorite horse, Incitatus, a pearl necklace.

Shah Jahan* (1592-1666), the builder of the Taj Mahal, had a jewelry obsession and he had it bad. He was the 5th ruler of the mighty Mughal dynasty in India. His portraits show him wearing a lot of jewelry including pearl necklaces.

A historical eyewitness account described his full attention on the jewels being presented to him and total disinterest in various scantily clad dancing girls cavorting before him. His personal jewelry collection was so vast, someone once estimated that it would take a jeweler 14 years to take stock of it all.  He lost interest in gemstones for a couple of years after the loss of the real jewel in his life, his beloved and favorite wife, Mumtaz Mahal, who died in childbirth.

Shah Jahan

You've heard of the 1665 Vermeer painting, the Girl with a Pearl Earring?  Well, below is a portrait of a man with a double pearl earring! It is of  Sir Walter Raleigh (1552-1618), the famous English explorer (looking for riches), courtier, author and poet. He didn't stint on pearls with his formal attire.  His doublet had large pearl buttons, his black sword belt was also decorated with pearls and even his fur-lined cape was embellished with them.  

The liberal use of pearls is thought to symbolize his loyalty to his sovereign, Queen Elizabeth I. Pearls were regarded as a symbol of purity and thus fitting for the Virgin Queen*.

Sir Walter Ralegh (Raleigh) by Unknown English artist oil on panel, 1588, NPG7
Creative Commons license courtesy of the National Portrait Gallery London

The YongZheng Emperor (1678 - 1735) was the fifth emperor of the Qing Dynasty in Imperial China.  His portrait shows him wearing formal regal attire and his court pearl necklace (chaozhu). Such court necklaces typically consist of 108 flawless pearls with a bead of a different color or material, called the fotou (Buddha’s head), placed between groups of 27. The numbers are significant in Buddhist prayer beads and mala jewelry.

YongZheng Emperor

In 2010, Sotheby's sold an Imperial Qing Dynasty court necklace similar, if not identical, to that shown in the portrait above for US$8.7 million.

* Long time readers will know I am a history buff. So these marked older features were mini biographies I wrote about famous people and gemstones. 

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Original Post by THE BEADING GEM
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