Houston-based Jeweler Jan Forrester Specializes in Pearls

In the final installment of October’s month-long blog series on retailers selling pearl jewelry, Retail Details will highlight the pearl proficiency that comes from a one-woman shop. For Jan Forrester, owner of JD Designs, pearl jewelry makes up one-third of her overall sales. The Houston-based jeweler specializes in price-point-friendly freshwater pearls, South Sea pearls, and Tahitian baroques.

Forrester’s love affair with pearls started at an early age. Her grandmother wore a lot of fashion jewelry, much of it pearls. As a young girl, she liked the lustrous quality and natural beauty of pearls. Later in life, Forrester worked in the family jewelry store with her father and brother. With her background in fashion design, the store’s custom jewelry specialty was a natural fit.  

Jan Forrester

Jan Forrester, owner of JD Designs

In taking jewelry designs from conception to creation, Forrester worked closely with her family’s bench jewelers, paying close attention to production techniques and quality control. The combined experience of working with customers on the showroom and bench jewelers in the backroom formed the foundation of skills needed to go from a part-time staffer in her twenties to an equal partner in the family business with her father and brother in her thirties.

One of her first responsibilities was working with the custom design clients and doing a portion of the buying. Forrester not only designed custom pieces for customers, she also collaborated with her father to design jewelry to help fill the display cases of the family store. “At that time, I designed a lot of funky rice pearl bracelets and long multi-strand Akoya baroque necklaces,” says Forrester

Her interests in baroque pearls lead to establishing blister and mabe pearls as other early-career favorites. Forrester made a number of pendant designs using these pearl types. When the freshwater pearl wave reached theUSmarket, Forrester was quick to incorporate these new varieties in her pearl repertoire, including off-rounds and baroques.

Eventually Forrester’s father retired from the family business. With the partnership dissolved, she opened her own custom shop 10 years ago. Today Forrester is known for her custom design work, redesigning old jewelry, and carrying a number of pearl varieties, but specializing baroque and freshwater pearls.  

Roughly 50 percent of her inventory is pearl jewelry. Of that percentage, freshwater pearls weigh in at 45 to 50 percent of her pearl stock. She works mainly with 7 mm to 12 mm goods in strands as well as single pearls from 10 mm to 15 mm.

white gold earrings featuring South Sea baroque pearls and pearl accents

Jan Forrester’s white gold earrings featuring South Sea baroque pearls and diamond accents

Forrester prefers to work with near-round freshwater pearls of better quality that, “give the look of smallerSouthSeapearl necklaces,” says Forrester. “Better quality dyed black freshwater baroque pearls often have a good Tahitian look to them.”

Of the dyed freshwater pearls, bronze and steel colors sell well for Forrester. Freshwater pastel colors in pink, beige, and cream, make up a large portion of her freshwater pearl multicolor strands that are steady sellers in her shop.

Akoyas make up about 2 to 3 percent of Forrester’s pearl inventory. Finer strands and high quality single pearls are a small part of this percentage, with a majority of her Akoya inventory dedicated to high quality baroques.

Loose Tahitian andSouthSeapearls make up about 10 percent of her pearl inventory, which work well in her custom and redesign business model. And, the remaining 20 to 30 percent of her pearl inventory is inexpensive long strands of price-point-friendly freshwater.

When working with custom and redesign customers, Forrester works pearl choices in to a number of designs. Pearls as center stones or a dominant design element can be a cost-efficient way of creating or repurposing jewelry within budget. In recent years, more baby boomers and Gen X’ers have been visiting her shop to redesign their own old jewelry or jewelry inherited from family members.

A ring featuring golden and Tahitian pearls

A ring Jan Forrester created using golden and Tahitian pearls

She even works with hand-me-down, traditional strands of pearls to create entirely new designs. A recent creation involved taking a triple strand pearl necklace that once belonged to a customer’s mother, converting the pearls in to a multi-strand casual bracelet, then laser welding a large clasp to a wide sterling silver cuff bracelet. “She loves it and wears it all the time,” says Forrester.        

Another customer demographic for Forrester’s pearl creations is the bridal market. Forrester shares her retail space with a dress maker. “We often refer clients to each other,” says Forrester.

Like most jewelry store owners, Forrester is also taking her store to the masses as part of her promotional efforts. In the past, she used to give pearl lectures based on materials from the Cultured Pearl Association of America. She’s currently updating the CPAA’s PowerPoint presentation with new information and designs. She’ll be back on the speakers’ circuit in 2012.

JCK magazine would like to thank the Cultured Pearl Association of America for their role in helping with this month-long blog series on retailers and pearls.