The pearl collar, which is an Ashley family heirloom, symbolizes marriage. The collar is traditionally worn by Ashley women only on their wedding day and was last worn by Philip’s mother. Philip gifts it to Rachel first on Christmas and again on his twenty-fifth birthday, when it is actually legally his to give. Rachel wears the necklace several times over the course of the novel, but the most important time is on the eve of Philip’s birthday, just before Philip and Rachel have sex. Later, Philip interprets Rachel’s acceptance of the gift (and the fact that she has sex with him) as proof that she has consented to marry him. While suffering from meningitis, Philip also has a fever dream about Rachel wearing nothing but the necklace, which suggests how intimately Phillip associates the necklace with Rachel’s sexuality.
On a deeper and more disturbing level, however, the pearl collar is also a symbol of Philip’s possessive obsession with Rachel. His desire to see Rachel wearing the collar represents how desperate he is to be sure of his “ownership” of her; Philip needs tangible proof that Rachel belongs to him. Though du Maurier never explicitly makes the comparison, it is significant that the piece of jewelry that holds such meaning is a “collar,” rather than a bracelet or a pair of earrings, as “collar” frequently refers to an item worn by an animal demonstrating to whom the animal belongs. Furthermore, the pearl collar is worn around the neck, pointing to when Philip strangles Rachel in a desperate attempt to threaten her into marriage.
Pearl Collar Quotes in My Cousin Rachel
Her shoulders were bare. She had dressed her hair higher than usual, the roll of it was looped up and drawn back, showing her ears. Around her neck was the collar of pearls. It was the only piece of jewellery [sic] upon her person. It glowed soft and white against her skin. I had never seen her look so radiant, or so happy. Louise and the Pascoes had been right after all. Rachel was beautiful.