The pearl earrings above, created by Los Angeles–based designer Hisano Shepherd of little h, were honored with a WJA Gem Diva Award at last week’s 2019 AGTA Spectrum Awards editor preview. The design was originally submitted for the Business/Daywear category, which falls in line with Shepherd’s take on pearls—that the classic gem can perfectly, effortlessly be transformed into a statement jewel with a provocative contemporary edge.
As one of the leaders in what I like to call the radical pearls movement, her perspective was most valuable to me as I did research for a forthcoming JCK article on the history of pearls in America. When I saw her award-winning Tahitians, I was reminded of our conversation.
Shepherd told me that from where she sits, the cultured pearl industry is thriving. Here’s why:
“To many, pearls begin and end with classic round whites, but that means they miss the rainbow of available colors, shapes, and sizes that excite pearl lovers like myself,” says Shepherd, who worked as a buyer in her family’s pearl-importing business before launching her designer line.
“So education has been a heavy focus with the Cultured Pearl Association of America (CPAA), and its Pearls As One course was created to educate retailers and jewelry store staff on the variety of pearls available on the market. This knowledge creates excitement, which has begun to permeate tradition.
“Also there are more and more artists, fashion designers, and jewelry designers who are working with pearls in innovative ways, breaking with tradition and creating new markets in the minds of younger consumers. Have you seen the catwalks covered in pearl-studded fashions? Pearls are sizzling hot right now. We even see historically traditional Japanese pearl companies such as Tasaki working with designers to create unique, fashion-forward, and inspiring designs.
“Each type of cultured pearl has a rich history and entire communities sustained by their development. You can’t love pearls without loving the people and the beauty from which they’re sourced. Knowing and appreciating this makes every piece of pearl jewelry even more special and intrinsically more beautiful.”
Shepherd’s newest pieces incorporate a variety of pearl types mixed with colored gemstones such as blue topaz, turquoise, and pink tourmaline but most notably rely on her signature soufflé pearls, which appear in all their imperfect glory, often hollowed out and reimagined as geodes.
Below, a peek at her latest innovations.
Top: Earrings with Tahitian cultured pearls accented with 14 cts. t.w. black diamonds in 14k yellow gold, price on request; little h by Hisano Shepherd
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