Tahitian Harvest Strands

Two months ago I received the first request for a Tahitian “Harvest” strand. It’s something we’ve been encouraged to make for some time, but there are usually so many different things I “want” to work on and I rarely get to them all.

It was decided by the team that we would make a few of these strands for the September Connoisseur event, so when a request came in for something special in July, I decided to take the reigns personally. Fast-forward two months later and I believe we’ve made a total of 22 strands, and I’ve personally made most of them.

What is trending as a “harvest strand” is a strand of pearls that represents what one would expect to find in a real pearl harvest. When you can appreciate the beauty of one of these strands, it’s even easier to appreciate the effort put in to grow these pearls and match them into graded strands.

Three-row Tahitian pearl harvest strand Sep 11 2014 lp copy

Finding a three-strand clasp that would work for something this massive is not an easy task so we did the only thing we could – make a clasp from scratch. On a good note, however, this gave us the ability to customize it and add an extender so the strand can be worn short or long with all the pearls showing. You probably noticed the space between the strands above as well. This is so when the strand is being worn long, the inner strands don’t overtake the outer and overlap.

Three-row Tahitian harvest

And just for fun, I made one “harvest” strand of freshwater pearls just to see how it would come out. I used a lot of really special keshi, metallics, ripples and even souffle pearls in this one. It was a fun piece.

Freshwater Harvest Strand

I am thinking of hanging up the harvest strand hat for a while, but my good friend Josh Humbert of Kamoka Pearls had a good idea when he was here last month — a vault strand. Now that could get dangerous!

Hisano and I are hopping on a plane to Hong Kong and should be airborne within the hour!

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

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!