Nontraditional Tahitian pearl pairing that works

Baroque Tahitian pearls are among my favorites. The best tend to have colors and combinations of colors within individual pearls that are nearly impossible to achieve with traditional rounds. The uniqueness of each pearl means that a full strand can never be perfectly duplicated (hence the need for individual photographs) and pairs are very difficult to make.

A good customer reached out to me earlier in the month and asked me to find a pair of Tahitians on the smaller side that had amazing colors. While I could have selected something extra special from the rounds, my first thought was to suggest a pair of drops or baroques. We had just finished separating a large lot of Tahitian pearls for the holiday season and I had set a few special lots aside.

Baroque Tahitian pearls with intense colors

My suggestion of using colorful baroque pearls was well-received but created a dilemma; she only wore stud earrings and drops and circled pearls are traditionally set onto dangle settings. We decided to try something more nontraditional and find pairs that would work set as studs.

An intense blue-green pair and a super-peacock pair.

Blue Green and Super Peacock Tahitian pearl baroque pairs

A pair with color so intense, the oil-slick effect is visible on the pearls

Oil slick peacock colors on a Tahitian pearl

I ended up matching a couple of pairs of drops too, and while the colors were striking, I had to recommend going with one of the less symmetrical pairs.

Given that her two favorite colors are blue and green she opted for the first pair. I love the result.

Baroque Tahitian pearls set as traditional stud earrings

From a Rubber Mold to a Finished Piece of Pearl Jewelry

The majority of the jewelry you see in the retail market is made using rubber molds. A rubber mold is what jewelers and jewelry manufacturers usually use to duplicate a piece of jewelry. The original piece of jewelry that is to be duplicated, would have been carved by hand, or created using computer-aided design (CAD) software and computer-aided manufacturing (CAM), like a 3D wax printer. We are proud to be able to say that the vast majority of Pearl Paradise’s jewelry (if not all), was originally carved by hand. There is a tangible difference between jewelry that is hand-carved by an artisan, and jewelry that is created on a computer by a technician. While hand-carved jewelry may not be mathematically perfect, the contours tend to feel softer and more fluid, while jewelry created using a computer seems to have a cold and more mechanical feel to it.

My name is John, and I started hand-carving wax models for jewelry, casting and making rubber molds 20 years ago. Over the years, I’ve created an extensive assortment of designs that I’ve captured and added to my rubber mold collection. When I joined Pearl Paradise, I brought over 3000 rubber molds with me. Today, on a daily basis, Hisano and I go through these rubber molds to hand-select which designs can be modified, if needed, to hold a pearl to add to Pearl Paradise’s online collection. After we select a design which we want to add to the collection, and make any necessary alterations, we then begin the process of creating jewelry from a rubber mold.

Above is a typical rubber mold. It was made with a device called a vulcanizer, which compresses and heats several layers of a special type of soft rubber, inside of which, the piece of jewelry you want to recreate is placed. The compressing effect of the vulcanizer squeezes the rubber around and into the crevices of the jewelry, capturing all of its details. The heating first makes the rubber soft, allowing it to flow seamlessly around the jewelry, and then the heat vulcanizes the mold rubber, making it firm. The mold is then hand-cut open to remove the original piece of jewelry. What is left is a three dimensional impression, ready for wax to be injected.

Step One: Injecting wax into the rubber mold.

Doing this step correctly is crucial to having your finished piece of turn out properly. The two key factors are wax temperature and air pressure. If the wax isn’t heated to an adequate temperature, it won’t flow correctly and will not completely fill the rubber mold. If the wax is too hot, it can create air bubbles, which result in your finished piece having porosity.

The melted wax inside of the wax injector is pressurized to force it into the rubber mold. If the pressure is too low, the liquid wax will not flow correctly and will not completely fill the rubber mold, similar to when the wax is too cold. [This is shown with the wax on the left.]

Conversely, if the air pressure is too high, it could result in visible mold lines and/or “flashing”. Flashing is when wax overflows the rubber mold’s design, resulting in extra wax on the injected wax model. [This is shown with the wax in the middle.]

When all of the variables are correct, the result is an injected wax model that is an exact duplicate of the original piece of jewelry. [This is shown with the wax on the right.]

Step Two: Sprue and invest the wax model.

In the photos of the wax injections, you can see a wax stick attached to the jewelry model. This is what is called the sprue. The sprue is basically the pathway for the liquid wax to get from the outside of the rubber mold, to the impression of the jewelry design in the center. Casting the piece in gold or silver is essentially the same process, but with different materials. Instead of injecting liquid wax into a rubber mold, you pour molten gold or silver into a plaster mold.

The first step in this part of the process is to attach the sprue of the wax model onto a rubber sprue-base.

You then slide a metal cylinder, referred to as a flask, over your wax model and onto the sprue-base forming a tight seal.

The next step is to mix a very fine plaster, called investment, and pour it into the flask. Before and after you pour the mixed investment, you have to put the mixture into a vacuum chamber which pulls all of the tiny air bubbles out of the mixture, and off of the wax model. If you left the bubbles in the investment mixture, your casting would have tiny metal bubbles attached to it where the bubbles were touching the wax model.

After the plaster solidifies, you gently pull off the rubber sprue-base, giving you access to the end of the sprue.

Step Three: Casting the piece of jewelry.

You’re now ready to put the flask into the casting furnace to harden the plaster and “burn out” the wax model, leaving an empty cavity that is the exact shape of the wax model. After all of the wax has burned out, and while the flask is still hot (between 800-1200 degrees Fahrenheit -depending on the metal and the design), you pour in your molten gold or silver into the hole where the end of the sprue was once visible. You always have to pour more metal than you need for the piece of jewelry you are casting. This is because the extra metal pushes the primary metal into the empty cavity where the wax model was, filling all of the fine details completely. The glowing metal you can see in the photo is referred to as the “button”.

Step Four: Cleaning and polishing the casting

After the flask cools for a little while, you submerge it in water, or “quench” it. This rapid cooling hardens the metal making it more durable and easier to work with. The rapid cooling also makes the plaster break away from the cast piece of jewelry in the center, referred to as the casting. After you clean off any remaining plaster, you cut your casting off of the metal sprue. If done correctly, your casting will have the exact same shape as your original wax model.

Your casting is now ready to be tumbled clean, then filed and sanded into shape.  Your next step would be to solder together the components if needed, in my case, the bezel and post are attached to the top of the pendant with the jump-ring. After the piece is assembled, you would then set the diamond. Finally, the piece is ready to be polished.

Not done yet! Now my favorite part… Selecting the pearl!!!

Step Five: Setting the pearl.

After the pearl is selected, it is drilled and attached to the mounting and …

 

We are currently creating a minimum of 12 new pearl pieces per month, one of which is posted weekly on Facebook for our “First Look Friday” promotion – One New Pearl Jewelry Design a Week.

I really hope you all enjoy the new pieces as they are produced!

Pearl Paradise Lookbook Fall/Winter 2013

Twice a year I go into hiding (primarily in my office) for about three and a half weeks. I take very minimal custom orders, take very short breaks to eat and go home very late. Excluding the November to December holiday season, it’s the busiest time for me and the creative team. We create Lookbooks; catalogs filled with new jewelry designs for the upcoming season. These lookbooks are aimed for semi0-annual events that our PR team holds in New York. We call it the “Editorial Event” and the team holds numerous appointments with stylists, bloggers and editors from magazines like Martha Stewart Weddings, O, Elle, and so on. Through these appointments our jewelry gets pulled for photo shoots and styling celebrities. We’ve been lucky to have our pearls on Angelina Jolie, First Lady Michelle Obama, Taylor Swift and Olivia Wilde to name a few.

When I go to Hong Kong for our buying trip, or to the Tucson Gem Shows, I am always on the lookout for unique finds that can be featured. We create 4-6 collections for Pearl Paradise for each lookbook. Fall/Winter 2013 we created 5 collections: Grand, Petite, Carved, Gray and Essential Collections.

On one of our Hong Kong trips we bought a loose lot of very large Tahitian baroque pearls and were able to create large strands that were up to 16 mm in size. We paired the pearls with findings that were black rhodium plated to give a dark edgier look – the Grand Collection.


Following the Grand Collection (and for my affinity for tiny pearls) I created the Petite Collection.
This collection was particularly a “win” for us. The Empress necklace was featured in Martha Stewart Wedding magazine recently. This piece was a challenge in all levels. It took me hours to knot and nest the strands and we had to re-shoot many times to lay the piece for photo. Angela spent a lot of time retouching the photo as well but worth all the hard work!

We introduced the Galatea carved pearls in our Carved Collection. We had never bought Galatea pearls before and we wanted to see what the reaction would be. Our PR team loved it, and they are currently working on some press coverage. I personally love the necklace with different carved designs on each pearl with a hidden magnetic clasp.


The Gray Collection is something very different from a standard Pearl Paradise items. We like to have pearls that are in natural colors (except for black Freshwater, black Akoyas and chocolate Tahitians) but when I saw these dyed gray fireballs I wanted to give it a try. I designed it with white gold and diamond link components to mix the organic curvy shape of pearls with geometric lines.


We are constantly getting “pull requests” for classic pearl styles. Through the years of creating these lookbooks, we’ve become sort of the go-to company for pearls. The Essential Collection shows our most popular classic styles and some with a little twist of imagination.

Our best seller Freshadama necklace in 7.5-8 mm


All of these styles are designed, made, photographed and cataloged in a short amount of time along with 10-15 collections that we make for our sister site Pearl Collective. We now have a team of five that work around the clock (while also working on the day-to-day Pearl Paradise operations!) to make this happen. It’s an exhausting project but always an exhilarating one!

One New Pearl Jewelry Design a Week

Last week’s new design

Those of you following our blog last month may have see the live broadcast we did with two of our friends, Cynde and Wendy, the day we launched the Pearl Connoisseur Sale. During the broadcast, Wendy interviewed one of our newest team members John, who showed off the new production studio where we are now making our own jewelry designs completely from scratch.

From this point forward, we will be introducing at least one new design per week and posting the new design to our Facebook page where it will be introduced and be on sale for the following week at a minimum of 20% off. This way our friends and customers can decide whether or not they like the new design, which will determine whether or not we keep it (of course)!

So if you would like to follow along, be sure to check out our Facebook page every Friday and let us know what you think!

How to Create a Perfect South Sea Strand

Pearl auctions happen several times each year, primarily in places such as Hong Kong, Japan and French Polynesia. For the most part, these auctions offer pearls in what are known as “lots.” Lots are parcels of undrilled pearls that can be separated into specific sizes, grades or colors, or they may be “mixed lots,” with an assortment of grades and sizes.

The majority of lots offered at any given auction are commercial lots, or lots in the lower quality range. On the A-D scale, these lots are typically in the C-D range. These lots tend to be the largest and bidding can be quite competitive because these are the lots used to make strands of Tahitian and South Sea pearls for the wholesale market. This is why it is very difficult, in fact almost impossible, to find strands of true AAA quality at jewelry shows. The A and A/B graded lots aren’t used in strands. They are sold for things such as earring, rings and pendants. In order to make what I consider a fine grade strand, it needs to be made from one of those top-graded lots.

I received a special request for a custom, 17-inch, 8.5-9 mm white South Sea strand last week. This is definitely small in the South Sea pearl range, but it’s a great opportunity for me to write about the steps in creating the perfect piece.

Step One: start with a fine lot of small South Sea pearls

A large lot of white South Sea pearls

Fine Quality 8-9 mm White South Sea Pearls

 

 Step Two: sort the pearls for color and luster

Sorting the South Sea pearls by color

Sorting the Pearls into Similar, Smaller Lots

The Final Selection of Pearls for the Strand

After the pearls have been sorted and the size needed (8.5-9 mm) selected, they need to be matched in size order. Typically this is something I will do by sight and confirm and correct using a digital caliper. This particular project, however, had almost no graduation. I used a digital caliper to precisely order them into a long strand.

Step Three: create a longer-than-needed strand

Two rows just over 12 inches would knot to more than 27 inches

I like to go a lot longer than needed when making a strand. This gives me the option of removing pearls that just don’t work as well as others or pearls that aren’t quite good enough (dull spots, too many blemishes, etc.) to be in the strand.

Step Four: remove pearls until reaching the desired length

The stage above is just before drilling and if it is a custom strand, this is the stage I will usually take a quick photo and send it to our customer for confirmation.

When drilling, it’s vitally important to choose the perfect drill point. Most pearls will have at least one obvious drill point, but some pearls have only the smallest of pin-prick blemishes. I find it’s easiest to examine the pearls under magnification prior to drilling. Once the drilling starts, there is no turning back.

Step Five: find the perfect drill point … and drill!

Preparing to drill one of the pearls

Finding the perfect point on a pearl to drill is paramount

Drilling a South Sea pearl

Once the pearls are drilled, I will usually string them onto a temporary thread. This serves two purposes; it helps remove the pearl dust still in the drill holes and keeps the pearls together before they are knotted.

Step Six: knotting the pearls

Knotting the Pearls

A knot is placed between every pearl in the strand

After the strand has been knotted we take one final photo to capture the true beauty of the finished piece before sending the strand of pearls on its way.

The Result: a perfect strand of South Sea pearls

One perfect strand of white South Sea pearls

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