Russia and Its Pearls

Part of the Pearls exhibition.

A Long History of Opulence

In contrast to much of Western Europe, Russia carried on many Byzantine traditions well into the 18th century--particularly the lavish use of freshwater pearls. At the same time, Russia was influenced by Western styles, particularly from the reign of Peter the Great (ruled 1682-1725) through the end of the Romanov dynasty in 1917. Both the Russian aristocracy and the gentry owned pearl jewelry and clothing decorated with the gems. Russian noblewomen often wore large headdresses, or kokoshniki, decorated with pearls, lace and colored gemstones.

Royal workshops created a wide range of luxurious pearl objects, often adding pearl embroidery to rich textiles. On many of the pieces, the designers used pearls to create floral designs and scroll-like patterns, with the pearls serving as borders.