In the 18th and early 19th centuries, pearl jewelry was composed of natural or early cultured pearls, usually strung on horsehair. But because horsehair eventually breaks and disintegrates, 18th- and 19th-century estate pearl pieces usually need to be rewoven, which requires the services of a pearl weaver.
Marina J. Feldman specializes in pearl weaving. She can reweave an antique or estate pearl collar, watchband, necklace, bracelet, or earrings. And she does the job so well that some antique dealers and experts can’t tell a piece has been restored.
Ken Klenner, an estate jeweler and sales representative in Beverly Hills, wishes he’d known about Feldman 10 years ago, when he and his partner were contacted by a Southern California auction house and given the opportunity to bid on jewelry from a Pasadena/San Marino estate. Among the pieces was a vintage natural pearl, diamond, and platinum choker. “It was very delicate and intricately woven—all original and classic Victorian,” Klenner says. “The choker was truly beautiful, but it was torn and damaged beyond repair. No one in town—or anywhere else, as far as we knew—could do that kind of restoration.” Klenner passed on the purchase.
“I found out later that a very prominent estate jewelry dealer bought the choker,” Klenner says, noting that the dealer paid a substantial price for it. Klenner couldn’t understand why. “Later, I found out Marina had restored the entire piece and, subsequently, the choker resold for a very handsome profit.”
Such restoration now has become an important part of Feldman’s business. She has restored or redesigned many pieces for numerous clients on both sides of the ocean, using antique centerpieces. Some have been sold or auctioned at many times their initial value.
Old and new. Marina J. Feldman (known by most simply as Marina), whose business is located in Beverly Hills, has perfected her weaving techniques through countless restorations of vintage items for major auction houses and estate jewelers, especially in Europe. For restorations, the only improvements she makes on the techniques of the past are the use of new special glues, better needles, better lighting, better scissors, and better “string.”
Today the pearl trade uses mostly special thread—silks and nylons. For most traditional pearl stringing, silk has been the thread of choice since the 1950s. It’s strong, and strands are knotted between each pearl to guard against losing any pearls if the strand breaks. Knots also protect the pearls from rubbing against each other and damaging the nacre. This is the Japanese style for single-strand pearls. But according to Hiroko Ikeda, owner of Shinju Pearl, Los Angeles—an expert with more than 25 years in the field—even simple traditional Japanese stringing is a dying art. Ikeda, like Feldman, offers unknotted weaves, reproductions, and restorations. For traditional stringing, Ikeda uses silk and offers double knots as well as single knots.
Feldman uses neither horsehair nor silk. She’s found a material that’s stronger than silk, but it’s her trade secret. As she points out, while tradition is important, longevity is more so. Feldman, like Hiroko, uses four threads through each pearl drill hole, making her work almost impossible to break.
Feldman also uses her knowledge and skill to design recreations and to fashion new pearl necklaces and bracelets of intricate pearl patterns woven around an antique or vintage one-of-a-kind pin or pendant. These hybrid creations, which Feldman calls the Museum Collection, are designed to enhance the beauty of the centerpiece. They’re a way to infuse an old estate piece with new life while maintaining the classic style of the original piece.
Feldman’s Web site, www.marinaj.com, displays her collection of pearl jewelry in six different lines, including the Museum Collection. Another line, Marina’s Watch Collection, comprises old wristwatches that Feldman resurrected by adding woven pearl and precious-stone bands.