One of my most cherished Christmas presents from last year was a beautiful 1950s simulated pearl necklace that my parents bought me. It came from one of my favourite places to rummage for unusual vintage items, Hungerford Arcade, a wonderful rabbit warren of antiques and collectables. If you’ve ever watched Bargain Hunt you’re bound to have seen it. I’ve been going there for years and even loved visiting when I was a child because there was one unit that sold Victorian dolls and tea sets. Sadly, that one no longer exists.
I hadn’t really had the chance to wear the necklace up until this weekend but as soon as I put it on I felt just a little bit more glamorous! It’s a shame women don’t wear pearls much these days as they are just so beautiful but, there was a time when a set of pearls was the must-have for every woman.
The necklace comes in its original box which has a blue snakeskin effect on the surface. However, as you can see, it is rather battered on the outside. It’s clearly been through an ordeal but this doesn’t detract from the necklace itself.
When you open it up the box lid is pristine, however, the soft cream velvet inlay on the bottom has a few ageing spots on it. But the real treasure is still yet to come.
The necklace itself is a whopping 140cm long which means that it can be worn either full length (very 1920s style), doubled or even tripled. Each creamy simulated (with basically means not real!) pearl is about 5mm in diameter and are in immaculate condition without a single mark, dent or chip on any one of them. The clasp is silver in colour but has no hallmarks on it so it can’t be sterling silver. It has four round bevelled indents and a yellow rectangle one that sits diagonally across it and all, from a distance, look like real gemstones, which is really clever. This necklace was clearly designed to allow the wearer to fake it as well as anyone possibly could, so if you couldn’t afford the real thing, who cares, these are absolutely stunning.
Attached to the necklace is the original tag from James Walker Goldsmith and Silversmith Ltd. It has the same Century Pearls logo on it that’s on the inside of the box which, after some research, appears to be a trademark used by James Walker for a collection of simulated pearl jewellery pieces. They used this name because their headquarters was established at Century House in Streatham, London.
Hand written on the reverse of the label is the actual date the necklace was purchased which was either the 1st or the 9th (I can’t quite tell which) of December 1958. I love this, as it was, most likely, a Christmas present. I can just imagine that a man bought this for his wife or perhaps a mum and dad bought it for their teenage daughter. Whoever it was for, I bet they were over the moon when they opened it on Christmas morning, just like I was.
I’ve done a little research on the James Walker company and it was founded in 1902 and originally traded as Sanders & Co. They acquired the name of James Walker from a jewellers shop based in Peckham, London which was founded in 1823, so its history goes back a long way. James Walker Goldsmith and Silversmith Ltd went on to become the second largest multiple retailer of jewellery and silverware in Britain. However, in 1984 The James Walker Group was sold off to H. Samuel and later became part of the Ratners Jewellery Company, so it no longer exists.
I found this wonderful photograph of Alderman Sidney Sanders JP (3rd from left with presentation trowel), who founded the company, at the ceremony to lay the cornerstone of Century House, which nowadays has been turned into luxury flats.
I know I will get a lot of wear out of this necklace and I hope it lasts for years. All I need now is an Audrey Hepburn style little black dress and a vintage Chanel 2.55 bag. Yeah, I can dream!