AP Fashion Writer, New York

The chunky – and sometimes colored – pearls that Michelle Obama and Cindy McCain have been wearing on the campaign trail are not your grandmother’s pearls. They are trendy pearls and styles that are still selling strong even in this economic downturn, according to pearl jeweler Tara.

CEO Sonny Sethi reports sales are up in all categories of pearls, but especially rare and expensive black Tahitian and gold South Sea pearls. There is a lot of interest in free-form baroque pearls, which have more of an artistic look than a strand of perfectly rounded, perfectly matched pearls, he says.

Otherwise, there is a lot of experimentation in the industry mixing more traditional pearls with other materials, including diamonds, beads and metals.

Statement necklaces and cuff-style bracelets are probably the most modern pieces, according to Sethi, although earrings are the most consistently popular.

He says powerful women – McCain, Obama, Oprah Winfrey and Martha Stewart, among them – are often photographed wearing pearls instead of flashier stones, probably because they are looking to highlight their status without showing off.

It wouldn’t be uncommon for a necklace with rare pearls to cost upward of $100,000.

That said, Sethi even sees a place for faux pearls, noting that the quality of costume jewelry has improved. (He said he could spot a fake 95 percent of the time.)

Either way, Sethi promises women will get a lot of use out of their pearls because they look as stylish with a T-shirt as a cocktail dress: "There’s a pearl for every girl."

Photos courtesy of the Fashion Spot forums.