Preparing to celebrate its 90th year in business, Mastoloni has experienced the evolution of the pearl as no other jeweler has. The New York–based company was founded by Frank Mastoloni Sr. and his brothers in the mid 1920s and is now run by a third generation of the family.
Current partner Ray Mastoloni Jr., who’s followed in his father‘s footsteps, has certainly seen his share of changes in the pearl industry. On topics ranging from the most in-demand pearl types to the public perception of pearls, Ray Jr. answers our nine questions—one for each decade of Mastoloni.
You grew up in the pearl trade. What’s your earliest memory of working with pearls?
Both my cousin and I were introduced to the world of pearl trading from a very young age. Our fathers, Raymond and Frank Mastoloni, were deeply involved and passionate about the pearl industry. We used to accompany them on their trips to the office in New York from Westchester. While there, our “help” typically involved hours spent in the back of the office, attaching earring backs to earrings. Meanwhile, our fathers were busy sourcing and selling pearls.
Between freshwater, akoya, South Sea, and Tahitian, which variety of pearl is your favorite and why?
Ah, well, that’s quite a challenging question. You see, it’s a bit like inquiring about your favorite child—there really aren’t any favorites. Every pearl is truly remarkable. Just like children, each one possesses its own distinctive and special characteristics. I love them all.
What has been your experience when visiting a pearl farm?
I’ve been fortunate and privileged to visit a pearl farm, and much like the pearls it produces, each farm possesses its unique qualities. However, there’s one unchanging aspect that resonates across all of them: the remarkable commitment, dedication, and pride that each farmer invests in caring for their oyster beds. This process unfolds slowly, with a delicate and soulful touch from these dedicated individuals. It’s genuinely captivating to observe a harmonious convergence of human nurture and natural processes. Man initiates the journey, and with devoted care, the enchanting magic of pearl cultivation takes its course.
During your time in the pearl business, what is the single biggest change you’ve witnessed?
Over the course of the five decades I’ve been involved in the pearl industry, the most significant transformation I’ve witnessed revolved around the growth and evolution of pearls. Back in the 1940s and 1950s, the pearl world was primarily dominated by akoya pearls, with these pearls taking the spotlight as the main characters on center stage. However, in the 1970s and 1980s, South Sea and Tahitian pearls made their debut, and in the late 1980s and 1990s, freshwater pearls entered the scene. This, in conjunction with the fact that pearls were traditionally celebrated and worn in the simplest classic strands, has given way to a new era in which, while strands remain a timeless choice, pearls have also found their place in the world of fashion jewelry, transforming the show.
How does the wave of popularity the pearl market has been riding over the past three to five years differ from past waves?
In recent years, pearls have undeniably been experiencing a significant surge in popularity and have consistently remained at the forefront of trends in both fine and fashion jewelry. Fashion, it seems, is playing a leading role in shaping this trend. The fashion runways are no longer limited to showcasing clothing alone; instead, jewelry has become an integral component of the fashion wardrobe. Fortunately for us, pearls have been a prominent and essential element of these fashionable statements.
Do you have a favorite piece in the men’s collection that Mastoloni recently debuted?
History reveals that men have embraced jewelry as an essential adornment since ancient times. Surprisingly, it was men who adopted jewelry before women. From Renaissance nobility to modern-day celebrities and athletes, men have viewed jewelry and timepieces as a potent means of self-expression. It was with this historical backdrop, and today’s pop culture, that Mastoloni made the decision to introduce our inaugural men’s collection, featuring a captivating array of bracelets and necklaces that artfully blend Tahitian pearls with sterling silver or yellow gold and woven leather, creating an opulent, yet edgy aesthetic. Among these designs, my personal favorite showcases a sterling silver Byzantine chain embellished with a single Tahitian pearl.
Of all the pearl jewels Mastoloni has created, which is the best seller ever?
Throughout our nearly 90 years in business, pinpointing a single bestselling item is a challenging task due to the sheer diversity and volume of our offerings. Undoubtedly, classic pieces like the traditional pearl stud and strand have consistently endured the test of time as perennial favorites.
However, over the years we’ve witnessed numerous standout pieces from our various collections, such as Signature, Sorrento, and the Gifts of the Sea collection. Some noteworthy additions include items from our Bezel, Links, Pave, and our recently launched Cultured Couple collections. These unique pieces have all made their mark in our journey through the decades.
What is the public’s biggest misconception about pearls?
The most common misconception held by the public about pearls is the notion that they are not for everyone. I hold a different perspective: Just as every pearl is distinct, so is the individual. There exists a pearl for every person, and I believe that everyone should own and wear one—preferably many!
What can we expect from Mastoloni in 2024?
We eagerly anticipate the promising year ahead in 2024 and beyond. Currently, we are actively engaged in crafting fresh collections and enhancing existing ones, with a special focus on the expansion of our men’s collection. Keep your eyes open for what’s to come.
With additional reporting by Victoria Gomelsky
Top: Pavé clasp necklace with 15–18 mm South Sea baroque pearls and 5.55 cts. t.w. diamonds, $150,000; MastoloniFollow JCK on Instagram: @jckmagazine
Follow JCK on Twitter: @jckmagazine
Follow JCK on Facebook: @jckmagazine