The Oyster’s Autobiography

“A woman needs ropes and ropes of pearls.” —Coco Chanel

Here is a thing you may not know about me: I have a history with pearls. I inherited one of my grandmother’s imitation pearl bracelets when I was eleven, and even though the creamy paint is chipping off the pearl-shaped beads, I treasure it and wear it anytime I need a bit of luck.

My parents bought me my first set of real pearls when I turned sixteen, and they sit in a place of honor in my closet, safe in their gold-leaf velvet-lined box for me to admire whenever I feel the need.

Not being into diamonds, blood or otherwise, I’ve filled my embarrassing secret Pinterest board with dozens of photos of pearl and opal engagement rings. (Really, I just don’t “get” diamonds. Why are they such a thing?)

And almost every day, I finish my getting-ready routine by slipping on one of my mother’s old rings, a simple gold band topped with a single pearl. (She may or may not know that I’ve “borrowed” it from her jewelry box.)

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Pearls make me think of my mother, my grandmother, and so many other women in my family, not only the ones I know (or knew) but also those who have been handed down to me as stories and photographs. When I wear my grandmother’s bracelet or my mother’s ring, it’s a link to a collective past.

But I also find pearls incredibly beautiful, be they blister pearls, Tahitian pearls, South Sea pearls or classic white pearls (I bet you didn’t know there were so many different types of pearls). So of course, while I was wandering the massive exhibit hall at a recent professional conference, stumbling upon an entire booth of pearl jewelry felt a little like fate.

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Pearls With Purpose is a unique organization aimed at improving the lives of women in developing countries. The organization offers women training in “micro-enterprising,” or developing small businesses, as well as scholarships and educational opportunities for underprivileged youth, and dental and health care for the women who craft the jewelry that Pearls With Purpose then sells (at temptingly affordable prices, FYI).

The women and families who benefit from Pearls With Purpose are those who might not otherwise have the ability to create much of a livelihood. One of the conference booth staffers told me about setting up Pearls With Purpose trainings in lepers’ colonies and working with people deemed “untouchable” in countries deeply segregated by caste, class, race or religion (or all of those). Pearls With Purpose pays the uneducated, untouchable and destitute $50 dollars per week in places where they would ordinarily earn a tenth of that. This is a major step toward closing what is less an income gap than an income chasm.

Being the sustainable fashion nerd that I am, I was so excited to toss aside my professional conference self and ended up staying at the Pearls With Purpose booth for probably far too long, chatting with the staffers and ogling pretty much everything on display. I ended up choosing two items: a delicate gold wire ring topped with a cluster of Tahitian pearls and a slender necklace of alternating pearls and gold beads.

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Hey, here’s a fun pearl fact: did you know that Tahitian (aka black) pearls are almost never actually black? They’re usually found in dark shades of blue, purple, red or brown.

Also, all this talk of black pearls is inevitably making me think of

Captain Jack Sparrow

Ah, the idols of my youth. Too bad you’re pretty terrible and something of a rape apologist these days, Donny Jepp.

ANYWAY, for those of you who inexplicably are not in love with pearls, Pearls With Purpose sells other types of jewelry, and it all goes to the same fantastic cause. So go forth! Pick up something beautiful, and lend a hand to someone in need while you’re at it. Or if you’re not in the market for a new pretty thing, you can donate your money, time or talents to the cause. Thanks to Pearls With Purpose for all that you do!

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