Contrary to popular belief, pearls are not formed when a grain of sand enters an oyster. Rather, a technician creates a tiny incision in the mollusk’s reproductive organ and inserts a small nucleus and a piece of mantle tissue from another pearl into the cut. This tissue contains epithelial cells which grow into a pearl sack around the nucleus and deposit nacre, the lustrous, iridescent substance that characterizes a pearl. This luster later becomes the most important factor in determining the value of the pearl. All pearls commercially produced today are cultured pearls, but the process differs slightly between the types of pearls.
Some types of pearls I use:
Chinese fresh water pearls
These are grown without a nucleus, so the mussel determines the resulting shape of the pearl. They can grow in a multitude of body colors. The finest freshwater pearls have a luster so brilliant it is referred to as metallic. These are the types of freshwater pearls I favor.
Tahitian pearls are salt water cultured pearls grown in small batches in French Polynesia. Tahitian pearls are grown in the black-lipped pearl mollusks native to this part of the world. These naturally dark in color pearls are some of the most sought after in the world.
The word “keshi” is Japanese for poppy seed. These are accidental pearls that grow next to larger pearls in the same mollusk, as a byproduct of the culturing process. They grow without a nucleus, so they are pure nacre, and tend to be baroque shapes. These rare pearls are favored for their high luster, delicate proportions and organic shapes.
Cortez Mabe pearls
These uniquely multicolored pearls form in the Pteria sterna, conventionally known as rainbow lipped pearl oysters that are endemic to the Sea of Cortez. This pearl source dates back several hundred years, however populations were nearly wiped out due to regional development and overfishing. Marine biologists working over the last 30 years have carefully brought the species back to cultivation levels. Today only around 4000 pearls are cultured every year, making these some of the rarest pearls in the world. There is also zero waste in the process as they are also a food source. This is the only pearl farm in the world operated by a Marine biologist.
My pearl sourcing process
I source pearls from wholesalers who travel directly to the pearl farming regions throughout the world and review and select each pearl from thousands. Doing so gives me access to quality pearls from varied locations at the best prices for my customers.
Keep lotions, oils, perfumes and hairsprays away from pearls, as they will damage the luster, and keep them in their pouch when not wearing them. Pearls themselves do not need to be cleaned, however if you are cleaning metal around pearls, take extra care when doing so, and never use a commercial cleaner or cleaning device.
Some gemstones I work with:
Tourmalines have the largest color range of any gem species, naturally occurring in shades of almost all hues. The name tourmaline comes from the Sinhalese word ‘toramalli’, which means ‘stone with many colors’. There are several species of tourmalines, and several color varieties within each species, all caused by trace elements. Because tourmalines exist in so many colors they were often mistaken for other gems, tourmalines were not recognized as their own species until the 1800s. In the late 1800s the Empress Dowager Cixi was one of the major collectors of pink tourmaline, and had the gemstones fashioned into elaborate jewelry, carved snuff bottles and other ornaments. I love tourmalines for their amazing color spectrum, color zoning (multiple colors in one stone), and stunning optical effects.
Emerald, aquamarine and morganite are members of the Beryl family, and they are each defined by their green, blue and rose colors respectively.
Pliny the Elder wrote about emerald’s lush hue: “Nothing greens greener”, and perhaps because of this emeralds have been treasured by cultures the world over for thousands of years. The first known emerald mines were recorded in ancient Egypt, where later Cleopatra adorned herself and her palace with emeralds, and gave them as gifts to visiting dignitaries as displays of her power and wealth. In ancient Incan, Aztec, and Muiscas cultures, emeralds were offered as gifts to the gods, and also factored into spiritual beliefs. I am inspired by the unique inclusions that give many emeralds their personality, referred to as ‘jardin’ - French for garden.
The name aquamarine comes from Latin for ‘seawater’, and thus most of its folklore in western cultures is connected to the ocean, and its association with Neptune in Roman and Greek mythology. Its color is due to trace amounts of ferrous iron. I love aquamarine’s vitreous luster particularly when mirror-cut.
Rose, or pink beryl, is referred to as morganite. Its pastel pink color is caused by traces of manganese. Morganite was named after American financier and avid gem collector J.P. Morgan, for his gifts of gems to museum collections. I love morganite for its rarity, delicate color, and beautiful multiphase inclusions.
I prefer these gemstones full of personality, cut in glowing cabochons or with flat tables to peer into their depths, or with natural surface texture left untouched.
Ruby and sapphire are both gems of the mineral corundum. Red corundums are rubies, blue and all other color corundums are sapphires. Trace elements in the minerals are what produce the different colors.
In Sanskrit, the word for ruby means “king of gems”. Individuals reportedly often wore sapphires when consulting with the Oracle at Delphi. I love the shiny rutile needles, referred to as silk, that can form in rubies and sapphires.
Diamonds are the only gemstones formed from a single element, carbon. They form around 100 miles deep in the earth under extremely high temperature and pressure and then are forced up to the surface. Diamonds have been appreciated all over the world, beginning in ancient India where the oldest known diamond mines existed. Diamonds featured in personal adornments and religious sculptures, where they were used as eyes in statues of Hindu deities at temples. My favorite diamonds are icy, individualistic rustic diamonds, and shimmering rose cut diamond slices.
Although not widely known to consumers, ask any jeweler or gem connoisseur what their favorite gemstone is and they will likely reply spinel. This is for their intensity and variety of hues (red, orange, pink, purple, grey and blue), their brilliance, and their crystal. Like diamonds, spinels are singly refractive and often very transparent, making them sparkle brightly. Raw spinel crystals are so beautiful in their rough state that they are referred to as nat thwe or “spirit-polished” in Myanmar, where many are found. Throughout history, spinels were mistaken for rubies and called Balas rubies. Many illustrious “rubies” are actually spinels, such as the “Timur Ruby” and the “Black Prince’s Ruby,” both in the Crown Jewels. It is only because of modern gemological equipment that we can distinguish between ruby and spinel. I truly love spinels, especially the metallic grey and fuchsia hues.
Moonstone is a variety of the feldspar-group mineral orthoclase. During formation, the minerals separate into stacking layers. When light passes through these microscopic layers it scatters producing the phenomena adularescence, the ethereal glow that characterizes moonstones. As such, many cultures associate this gemstone with moonlight. In Hindu mythology moonstones are solidified moonbeams. Moonstones were popular gemstones with Art Nouveau-era designers who favored their pale mysterious sheen. Rainbow moonstone is technically a variety of labradorite, another feldspar-group mineral. It has a distinct multicolored adularescence. I love the floating sheen of moonstones en cabochon and the movement they give to jewelry pieces.
My gemstone sourcing process
I buy the majority of my stones from dealers who buy the rough material directly from mining localities, and then work with their own lapidarists to cut and polish the stones. Most people would refer to this as ‘responsible sourcing’, because of the transparency involved from mine to jeweler. The origin is known, the lapidarists are employed by the dealer at a fair wage and safe working conditions, and there is less change of hands, but still it involves a high degree of trust in the dealer.
Hardness in gemstones refers only to resistance to scratching, all stones can crack if they are struck with force, or dropped. Gemstones can be cleaned with dish soap and an extra soft toothbrush or by gently using a microfiber cloth. Metal surrounding gemstones can be cleaned gently with a polishing cloth and rinsed in soapy water, then carefully dried with a soft cloth.
I use recycled pure, 935, and 925 sterling silver in my jewelry. Pure silver is 100% silver, while 935 and sterling silver are alloys consisting of either 93.5% silver, or 92.5% silver and the balance copper and other metals. Pure silver is a softer metal used to form bezels and make chain links for weaving. Sterling and 935 silver are more durable due to the addition of other metals, so they are better suited to make ring shanks, jump rings, earring wire, hoop earrings and more.
Select designs are available in recycled, solid 18 karat gold. A karat is a unit of measurement to describe the purity of gold out of 24 parts total. Gold is by nature a very soft metal, so other metals are combined to make jewelry pieces more durable, which is why it is important to understand karat measurements. 18 karat denotes 18 out of 24 parts gold, or 75% purity. It has a lovely warm hue due to the high gold content, while still being practical and less likely to dent and scratch.
All metal can scratch, so please take care wearing and storing the pieces to avoid this. Keep jewelry pieces in their pouches when not in use, especially sterling silver pieces to delay oxidation. Use a soft polishing cloth to gently clean the pieces and remove any oxidation, then rinse them in tepid water and diluted dish soap and dry with a soft cloth.
Pearls: Cultured Pearl Association of America
Gemstones: Gemological Institute of America, International Gem Society