Pearl Friends continued: Wendy

“My husband traveled quite a bit for work and I had to mow our three-acre yard with 300 pine trees on a riding mower. Every week as I traveled in hundreds of circles around the yard, all I could think about was how wonderful these pearls were…”- Wendy

We are thrilled to continue our interview with Wendy Fairchild for this week’s blog post. Enjoy!

Wendy and her husband Bill at Jeremy and Hisano's wedding ceremony

Wendy and her husband Bill at Jeremy and Hisano’s wedding ceremony

Everybody loved the jewelry that you wore to Jeremy and Hisano’s wedding,  can you tell us a little bit about it?

 I was at the Malibu Ruckus two years ago.  I was interested in finding a White South Sea strand to go with a pair of stud earrings that I had in my collection.  When you go to “The Vault,” you have a choice of loose pearls or drilled strands.  The prices vary depending on the size, shape, and quality that you select.  Like many, I have a round, perfect taste but a baroque pocket book.  Jeremy selected many trays of White South Sea baroques for me to choose from.  Then he said he had just gotten in a shipment from Dr. Joseph Taylor’s  Atlas Pearl farm.  He hurried back into the vault and bought out more trays of pearls.  If you haven’t been to the vault, this is what shopping looks like…. 

White South Sea baroque beauties from the Atlas Pearl Farm

White South Sea baroque beauties from the Atlas Pearl Farm

Wendy picked the second strand from the bottom...

Wendy picked the second strand from the bottom…

I just love this necklace, it just glows on the neckline and feels so good on.  

The finished necklace.  Good choice Wendy!

The finished necklace. Good choice Wendy!

So what is next? Are you on the lookout for the next special addition to your collection?

 Actually, Cynde and Jeremy selected some pearls for me from his last shopping trip to Hong Kong. Hisano is making me a custom metallic souffle, pistachio Akoya, and fireball pendant.  Because of the finished length, I’ve requested a hidden enhancer bale be made for the back of the souffle. After looking at the two pearls, I asked for an additional green akoya pearl and bezel set diamond spacers with eye pins that will be installed between the pearls to make it movable. I can’t wait until it’s completed and floating on my omega necklace or clipped into a strand of pearls.

Pendant in progress

Pendant in progress

What do you love most about your pearl jewelry?

How versatile it is. They can be worn with t-shirts to business suits and everything in between. I have found that Tahitian pearls are easier to wear daily as they seem less formal. They come in so many colors that contrast and complement my skin tone. No matter what the season, they always seem appropriate. I reach for this 11-15 mm multi-colored strand the most often for everyday wear.

EverydayStand

What advice would you give to someone that was new to the world of pearls?

 Lots:

(… and she wasn’t kidding!)

* Find a online pearl forum and learn as much as you can before you jump into your first purchase. You will save yourself money and you’ll be directed to the best, most reliable sources for purchasing quality pearls at the best price points.

 * Pearls are safe. You can wear them on vacation or anywhere without fear. Many ladies have a collection of fake travel jewelry but you don’t need that with pearls, as most have no idea what they are worth.  Additionally, most have a preconceived idea of pearls only being small round and white. When you wear pearls that don’t look like grandma’s small graduated akoyas, they don’t know what you’re wearing. I can’t tell you the amount of times I’ve been told “Nice Beads” by strangers, and that’s OK.

 * Don’t be afraid to step outside of the box or your comfort zone. I was afraid to buy white or baroque pearls. I liked the look on others, but was afraid I would not wear them if I bought them. Cynde actually sent me one of her large white baroque south sea pearl strands to borrow for 6 months and I wore it a lot. Not only did I fall for the color and saw they were not only for special occasions, I loved the free form shapes too. I purchased my white south sea strand shown above because of this experiment.

 * Many ladies start out buying smaller pearls but slowly go up in MM size. Warning, once you wear large pearls, it’s hard to go back wearing smaller pearls again. Re-gifting unworn pearls is nice and others will love you for it.

 * Since there is no universal grading system every seller uses, you have to trust that your seller is selling the exact grade they claim on their site. Stock photos are great, but will you get pearls like them when you open the box? Check your seller out on the internet and in the forums. Also, using the Better Business Bureau is a helpful tool.   If you did an experiment and bought 1 of the exact same grade item from three different vendors, you will find not everyone’s AAA pearls are the same, and price doesn’t mean quality.

 *Look outside you local jeweler for your pearls. Unless they are the exception, they will be carrying commercial grade pearls. Since the average store does less then 10% of their sales in pearls, they are not usually something they focus on when buying their stock.

 * Buy the best pearls you can afford.  Mediocre pearls will never make you happy. Many buy lower quality pearls to start their collection and then don’t wear them.  It’s amazing how many women say they didn’t think they liked pearls until they started purchasing pearls of higher quality merchandise.

 * Pearls are versatile and recyclable. If you tire of the style or length, it easy to change their look. Buy more of the same, another color, perhaps some faceted gem or metal beads and have them restyled into another look or perhaps a less formal style. A necklace can become two bracelets, a few stands can become a rope. A little imagination and you’ll be reaching for them again.

 *Join forums and join the fun. Many of the people on the online forums have found lifelong friends they would never have found in their daily life. Some meet up in hotels, resorts and even mansions. It’s educational and exciting to see collections of pearls you’ve read about but have not had to opportunity to see anywhere else. You can meet the pearl farmers who are growing the pearls you wear, vendors and fellow pearl enthusiasts.  Most people are very helpful and you may find yourself learning how to restring your pearls, who would have guessed?  

What would your dream pearls be, If you could have any kind of pearl in any size or shape?

Wow, you saved the hardest question for last. With the new technology and many pearl farms pushing the envelope with innovation, we have no idea what will be for sale in the future or even in the next six months. Many pearls that were by-products of something that they were trying to achieve may be available for a very short time, but are either dropped or disappear when success is achieved.

 I am grateful for the items I have collected that were brought in via small, hand-selected lots. The eight-way rollers, Inception pearls – pearl in a pearl, and color-shifting freshwater pearls for instance. When these things appear you have a small window of opportunity to grab them or miss out: many are not repeated. Some were just produced by one lone farm trying to invent something new for the market.

Inceptions pearls - pearls nucleated with pearls

Wendy’s tin cup made with “Inception Pearls”

I am very intrigued with the new “Provoked Tahitians,” I love the look of the multi-colored Edison strands, and anything coming out of Douglas McLaurin’s Sea of Cortez pearl farm.

So, if I have to pick, Sea of Cortez wins my vote.  Perhaps one special pearl, like this one of a kind pearl that he grew a few years ago and was named “The Matryoshka.”

matroyshka sea of cortez pearl

One of the finest pearls ever to come from the Sea of Cortez

Pearl Friends: Wendy Fairchild

Wendy Fairchild is a prominent member of the online pearl community whom we’ve known for many years.  As you’ll discover from this interview, she’s had an eye for pearls since she was in first grade! Her opinions, taste, and pearl knowledge are just as impressive as her collection of breathtaking pearl jewelry. A big thanks to Wendy for sharing lots of pictures and beautiful memories!

We have so many of Wendy’s pictures and memories, we’ve decided to split this interview into two separate posts. Watch for part two next week!

Wendy's Tahitian souvenir

Wendy’s Tahitian souvenir

1. So what was your first piece of pearl jewelry?

 My husband and I went on vacation in 2000 to Moorea, French Polynesia with two other couples.  I had a neighbor who had gone to Moorea and showed me a black pearl she had gotten on her vacation. Living in a very small town in WA state, black pearls were not in our jewelry stores’ inventory, so I had very little visual knowledge before leaving, except for photos on the internet.  We shopped everywhere on Moorea then traveled by ferry over to Papette, Tahiti, window shopping for my perfect pearl. While walking the very curvy streets, we saw many well-dressed French women in dresses and high heels wearing HUGE stud earrings and strands.  It was truly amazing.  The shops we went into were filled with every size, color and shape of Tahitian pearls, from loose to finished jewelry. Then sticker shock set in when we inquired about the prices for these amazing pearls.  My friend bought a navy blue round Tahitian pendant and I purchased this 11 x 13 mm drop. I fell for the hint of cherry on the green pearl. Little did I know that this purchase would change the direction of my jewelry collection and start my love of pearls.

What is your most recent addition to your collection?

 I think the readers will see I am a self-confessed Cherry Tahitian addict.  That first pearl I just showed you started the love of pearls, but I am drawn to Cherry Tahitians.  My best friend Cynde Newberry shops at Pearl Paradise many times during the year.  When I can’t go there myself, she is my eyes on the ground.  I trust Cynde and Jeremy Shepherd to be my personal shoppers when she tours “The Vault”.  Well, Jeremy had gone shopping and posted this photo on your Facebook page.

Cherry Tahitians

Cherry Tahitians

As you can imagine, I was very excited for Cynde to head up to look at the new merchandise.  For quite a while now, Cynde and Jeremy have been doing phone chats with me while she shops so I can also see the merchandise and they buy my new pieces.

Jeremy was talking about buying new stock and poured a sack of loose pearls out on the big table in your lobby.  Cynde spotted that large 12mm Cherry Tahitian featured on the shell photo and as quick as a lizard’s tongue snatched it up off the table.  My anniversary is in December and I didn’t have a Cherry Tahitian pendant, so I talked to Hisano Shepherd about making a custom pendant necklace out of this special pearl.  We used your Orion diamond pendant finding and Hisano had her custom jeweler create a bezel set, diamonds by the yard necklace using the same size diamonds that are in the pendant’s bale in yellow gold.  It is adjustable in the back with O rings for different necklines.  It feels special when worn and it coordinates perfectly with the Cherry Eternal dangle earrings Cynde had selected for me from the trip before.

Custom Cherry Tahitian Pendant

Custom Cherry Tahitian Pendant

Cherry Tahitian Eternal Dangles

Cherry Tahitian Eternal Dangles

2. You are a well-respected expert in the pearl community. How did you get started in your love of pearls? Did the women in your family own and wear pearls?

 I am a connoisseur collector of pearls who is always learning new things, which makes buying pearls always fresh and new.  My mother always worked when I was growing up.  Ladies in the 1950 and 60′s wore dresses and heels to work. My mother almost always wore the same earrings each day.  When I was in 1st grade the teacher asked us to write something about our mothers.  My response was: “My mother wears pearl earrings.”  When she saw this assignment she laughed, I didn’t know why she reacted this way.  She said, “Wendy, these are not real pearls.”

I am a custom picture framer.  After she and my father passed away I found some photos of them together at a much earlier time.  I also found the items in the photos so I added them and made a shadow box. As you can see she is wearing her “Pearl Earrings” and small akoya high school graduation strand. This hangs in my bathroom. I look at them every day, it always makes me smile.

Beautifully framed pearl memories

Beautifully framed pearl memories

3. We know how much you love cherry Tahitians! How have those pearls influenced the direction that your pearl collection has taken?

 Four years ago Cynde Newberry convinced me that I had to attend the Pearl-Guide Ruckus in Los Angeles.  I asked my husband if I could have this gift as my birthday present/anniversary gift and anything else I could think of.  He agreed – if he could come too.  This was a very unexpected surprise that he would want to come too, and I said great!  Because this was my first trip to the Pearl Paradise vault, Cynde advised me to have some idea of what I was interested in, or the sheer amount of loose pearls and finished merchandise would be overwhelming. Before we left I scoured the website and jotted down item numbers that I wanted to see.

At that time you had quite a selection of Cherry Tahitian strands in stock.  Previously I had purchased 5 loose Cherry Tahitians on the internet from someone else and the thought of getting a matching necklace to go with them was an exciting prospect.  Once we got there I asked to see all the Cherry strands, and as luck would have it, two actually matched each other.  I had to buy them then both or regret it forever. After I got them home, I used my caliper and added all the largest pearls into one necklace and made the smallest pearls into a choker. They have identical clasps so they can be worn alone, as a double strand, or as a rope. 

tahitianset1 (640x494)

Wendy’s Cherry strand collection

Now, I am continually looking for larger pearls that can be added into the front of the strand. Because of this very different color, Cherry with a green halo, larger pearls are very difficult to find.  I was able to get the new large middle of the strand pearl from Josh Humbert from his Kamoka pearl farm two years ago at the Malibu ruckus. The search continues…

4. Do you have a favorite piece in your collection and is there a story behind it?

 In  August of 2009 Jeremy happened onto some huge 11mm exotic metallic freshwater pearls.  What made them special besides the fact that they were huge and metallic, was that they were earring grade, perfectly round 8-way rollers.  He posted cards of matched pairs and I was crazy about them. 

I selected 4 pairs. Two I gave away to special women in my life and two I kept, copper/pink color-shift and golden/clear. The golden pair was the most special of the 4 pairs.  It exhibited a soap bubble effect: like layers of clear lacquer. You can almost see all the way into the pearl and it’s quite an illusion.

Exotic pairs

Exotic pairs

My husband traveled quite a bit for work and I had to mow our 3 acre yard with 300 limbed pine trees on a riding mower.  Every week as I traveled in hundreds of circles around the yard, all I could think about was how wonderful these pearls were and how could I get enough of these pearls to make a tin cup or necklace to go with my earrings.  Since my 35th anniversary was less than 6 months away, I called Pearl Paradise and talked to Jeremy to see if this was even feasible or if he had some extra unmatched pearls to sell me to make this necklace?   Jeremy told me in the lot of pearls, there were enough matching pearls to make one necklace, and it was the same color as my soap bubble earrings.

Before...

Before…

After!

After!

It was a very special Anniversary in more ways than one, adding this necklace to my collection.  I couldn’t believe my luck, it was like one of those once-in-a-lifetime, the-stars-were-aligned-just-for-you experiences. I wore it at the Vulcan Mansion Ruckus.  Here I am with it on with my best friend Cynde at the ruckus..

Wendy and Cynde

Wendy and Cynde

To be continued next week!

Chic Mom’s Pearl Style Guide

In honor of the upcoming holiday, we’ve put together four pearly outfits for our lovely moms!

For all of our moms that love feminine dresses, pearl strands are must have items for effortless elegance. We made a double strand necklace with our highest quality Freshwater pearls. Adding a second strand to a pearl necklace uplifts to a refined sophistication. The versatile silver charm bracelet is perfect for moms who love to collect charms from kids’ memorable moments, various vacation destinations and other proud moments in life. The versatile links have built in hinges in every other link to allow the charms to hang easily without taking them to jewelers to get attached. It can be easily moved around as the collection grows. Dangle style earrings are another staple item for chic elegance. The Duet dangles have just the right amount of diamonds that shimmer pleasantly as it showcases the pearls.

Feminine Mom-3This style was inspired from moms who play hard with her kids and work hard! This is a great polished look matched with White South Sea pearls. Our Radiance pendant is a clever way to sharpen your look for the day. South sea studs give the bold and confident statement on its own. Add a South Sea vixen ring or the classic ring and the outfit is complete.

Pro Mom 3This layout is for the work at home or the full time moms that love the relaxed casual outfits but wants a little glam. Pink Freshadama pearls bring a soft color palate to the otherwise neutral attire. Our Lux earrings are light and sleek, great for running errands and going about busy schedule. The Desire pendant is also an easy way to add a sparkle to the neckline without being over the top. For moms that want a little more glow, our Always ring will not disappoint!

Casual Mom-3For our moms that love bold colors there’s nothing more fitting than the Tahitian Baroques. The vivid colors of green and pink tones with supple shapes of Tahitian baroque strands give so much character. A complete set of necklace and matching earrings is a great gift for moms starting their pearl collection.

Colorful Mom 2_1

Two special pearl commissions

Most of the pearl pieces we make on a daily basis are to us somewhat routine. We know the most popular sizes, lengths and styles and these account for probably 95% of what we ship on a weekly basis. But those that really know us also know that we love to create special pieces. Lately these have been pieces created from unique pearls Hisano and I find while pearl hunting in Asia, but often they are pieces that are a new take on the traditional.

This week we received two such commissions. The first was for a special Tahitian pearl strand and the second was for a very particular style of white South Sea.

This Tahitian strand is special. The request was 36 inches, AAA quality, straight-sized without graduation, exotic colors and matched across as closely as possible – the latter being the most difficult part of all, and one we called upon friends in Tahiti for a bit of assistance. Matching exotic colors across is the near equivalent of 36 inches of paired, exotic Tahitians.

36 inches of exotic Tahitian pearls

The result is one dramatic strand of incredibly exotic Tahitian pearls.  These colors are the reason I love working with Tahitians.

An exotic Tahitian pearl rope

36 inches of exotic, 11-12 mm Tahitian pearls

The second special strand is one that I handled personally this week. A customer in Australia asked our assistance in creating a special white South Sea strand for his 25th anniversary. He wanted the piece to be very special, so we decided to create a strand out of our loose pearl inventory – the pearls we set aside for rings, earrings and pendants. As I blogged about last year, this is the way to create the perfect strand.

But simply matching a South Sea strand out of loose grade pearls is not something terribly out of the ordinary for us. What makes this strand so different is the graduation.

We were discussing possible graduations (going minimum or dramatic) and I mentioned how dramatic the graduation was in the necklace featured in The Dark Man Rises. I remembered Ashley of Pure Pearls recently blogged about one, combining freshwater pearls with white South Sea. We decided to give it a shot – using only white South Sea pearls.

The resulting strand is a perfect 8.5 to 13.1 mm strand of top-grade selected pearls. We finished the necklace with a gold clasp engraved with a special, 25th anniversary message and it’s now headed over the pond tonight.

graduated white South Sea strand

A perfect strand of graduated white South Sea pearls

Soufflé Pearls: Some things I bet you didn’t know

One of the most popular types of pearl that we’ve been bringing in over the past year have been those lightweight, hollowed out pearls popularly known as soufflé. The name, coined by friend and fellow pearl expert Jack Lynch of Sea Hunt Pearls, conjures up the image of the namesake puffy French desert.

Colorful Souffle Pearls

But what is a soufflé pearl? Is it the product of brilliant pearl farmer innovation or something else?

The name soufflé comes from the French verb souffler, which in English translates to blow or to inflate. Although this may not have factored in to the coining of the term, it’s actually even more accurate than most could have ever guessed.

Soufflé pearls are grown by inserting a substance into an existing pearl sac that looks much like some sort of earthen material – it sort of looks like mud. When the pearls are harvested, they are drilled, cleaned and voilà – a lightweight, hollow pearl.

two-toned souffle pearls

A few two-toned pearls

But guess what? That was not the original intention.

The earthen material that is inserted into the existing pearl sac – a nacre-producing pouch inside a freshwater mussel from which a pearl was already harvested – is inserted to “souffler” the pearl sac. The material, which starts out dry, soaks up the surrounding moisture and begins to expand. As the material expands, the pearl sac also expands. The pearl sac continues to deposit nacre over this now-much-larger nucleus – the birth of a soufflé pearl.

giant souffle pearls

Soufflé pearls tend to be grow quite large

After harvesting this pearl, the farmer now has a mussel with a pearl sac much larger than usual. In this pearl sac he is then able to place a large bead – the pearl sac must be large enough to envelope the entire bead – and grow a large, bead-nucleated pearl. Those large, bead-nucleated pearls go by names such as giant fireballs, ripples, Ming Pearls and Edisons.

In China, pearls are sold by weight, so some of the earliest soufflé pearls were harvested as quickly as possible to mostly be discarded, although some have made the way into the uber-low-end market (check out this disturbing image). When the pearls were cleaned out, they lost the value. Or so they thought! The soufflé pearls that were left in the shells long enough to attain a thick coating of nacre exhibit some of the strongest, most iridescent colors we’ve ever seen in freshwater pearls and now command a premium in the wholesale trade.

colorful souffle pearls

More colorful soufflé pearls

One of the most common questions I hear about soufflé pearls is whether or not they are durable – they are hollow so some worry that if the pearls are dropped, they might break. To answer that question, we cut a large, 34 mm soufflé pearl in half this week. The nacre thickness (pictured below) is more than 2 mm in the thinnest areas and more than 4 mm in the thickest – thicker than the nacre found on almost any beaded pearl produced today. It would take one part hammer and two parts intention to smash one of these beauties.

33 mm souffle pearl sawn in half

A giant, 34 mm soufflé pearl sawn in half