The passionate lapidarist combines instinct and extraordinary stones to craft luxurious statement pieces rooted in her love of color
If you have even the tiniest bit of “rock hound” in you—the term Pamela Huizenga often uses to describe herself—then the designer’s Palm Beach, Fla., workshop will feel like a gemstone mecca.
In a designated stone room, baking racks line the walls. They contain trays of specimens, from little Herkimer diamonds to awe-inspiring Paraiba tourmalines. A museum-worthy collection of ancient artifacts commingles with plastic bins of candy-colored melee. Down the hall, lapidary tools sit alongside opals in various stages of soaking and drying before being set.
“Very rarely do I sketch out a design first,” Huizenga says. “My desk is covered with stones, and I’m putting together colors and shapes and textures, and I see what I like together. I might know I want to accomplish a certain look, but I don’t know what shape that will take until the stones come together. I love depth: It could be color, pattern, texture, shape. It’s just got to have a certain something funky.”
Welcome to the one-of-a-kind world of Huizenga, whose 6-year-old line of extravagant jewelry is known for its saturated colors, rare and unusual gemstones, and big, bold scale. While the collection often features spectacular, high-value stones (mainly in smooth-as-silk cabochons)—including rubellite, emerald, and, Huizenga’s signature, opals—the designer is also known for earthy minerals with a ton of personality: agate, fossilized coral, and chalcedony among them.
18k gold pendant with 114.94 ct. carved jade, 0.43 ct. t.w. tsavorites, and 1.33 cts. t.w. diamonds; $26,000; Pamela Huizenga Jewelry, NYC; 646-528-8299; pamelahuizengajewelry.com
18k gold pendant with 78.95 ct. hydrogrossular garnet, 0.39 ct. t.w. padparadscha sapphires, and 0.55 ct. t.w. diamonds on green sapphire beaded necklace with 1.14 cts. t.w. diamond accents; $18,000
Mining Her Retail Roots
All hand-produced in the United States, with many of the pieces made on-site by her dedicated bench jeweler, Huizenga’s jewelry is a labor of love that has roots in her teenage summers spent in Linville, N.C. Bored and saddled with nothing but time, Huizenga hung out at a gem mine in nearby Little Switzerland, helping tourists sort through found pebbles to determine what was worth taking home. When she was 16, wanting to learn more about stones, she signed up for an extensive five-week course with noted gem cutter Jerry Call that earned her a certificate in faceting.
During college at Miami’s Barry University, her focus turned to retail when she started working part-time in a jeweler’s exchange sorting emerald and sapphire melee. “It’s how I learned memo,” Huizenga says. “I resold a piece from another dealer, made $100, and thought I was living large.”
Her experience led her to form Convenient Jewelry Consultants, a company that organized trunk show–type parties, where she resold jewelry from dealers she met through the exchange. “Ladies would have a little luncheon, and I’d put out a table of gorgeous jewelry and I’d make some money,” she says. After graduation, Huizenga opened her own jewelry boutique in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., selling jewelry she sourced from dealers and manufacturers. But the store lasted only a year. (“Built some relationships there, but really hated being stuck in one place,” she explains.) For the next 14 years, Huizenga focused on selling to private clients.
18k gold ring with 24.88 ct. dendrite agate and 0.14 ct. t.w. diamonds; $8,000
18k gold earrings with 39.35 cts. t.w. fossilized Sequoia and 1.31 cts. t.w. diamonds; $17,400
Cutting and Faceting
In 2008, stonecutting came back into her life. Summering in North Carolina again, this time with her older daughters, Huizenga began hitting some of her old gemstone haunts. “My daughter really wanted a crystal specimen, and I saw some crazy-looking boulder opal rough, so I purchased a few pieces and I ended up buying a little Pixie cabochon machine,” Huizenga says. “I had never done it before, but I thought I could teach myself. All of a sudden, I realized I really missed working with stones. I started creating cabochons and slices and sold a few of my stones to a local jeweler, who said, ‘If you ever set anything, I’d love to see it.’ I had always wanted to have my own line, but never thought of myself as a jewelry designer.”
Working at first in silver, Huizenga based her stone layouts on her other hobby: mosaics. Using a piece of duct tape, she developed a process of laying down organically shaped stones in eye-catching designs, then setting them together to create mixed-material bracelets and pendants with a bold, bohemian vibe. Today, her pieces are almost exclusively created in 18k gold, often accented with diamonds and paired with leather accents.
Although her only formal gemstone education was the faceting class she took all those years ago, Huizenga opted at this stage of her career to focus on cabochons, finding the school of shaping and polishing more in line with her aesthetic. “The reason I didn’t get back into faceting was because it was very restricting,” Huizenga says. “To facet a stone, you are going to force it to become a shape you want it to be. There are a lot of factors involved, but ultimately it was too strict for my taste. So that’s why I learned how to cabochon: I wanted to listen to the stone, especially when you work with opals. That has really translated and remained a constant in my design.”
Huizenga’s instinct-driven style of creation was an instant hit with high-end stores looking for colorful ways to engage seasoned collectors. Working with only a handful of retailers including Neiman Marcus, Marissa Collections, and, for online trunk shows, Moda Operandi, she has developed a wholesale strategy founded on her one-of-a-kind approach. Producing about 30 pieces a month—all in the United States, and many in her own workshop—Huizenga oversees every finished jewel. Her collection retails from $4,800 to $150,000.
“We look for stores that really get the jewelry and understand it,” Huizenga says. “They have to want to understand the nuances of the pieces, such as where we source things and the subtleties of materials like fossilized coral or wood.” Of utmost importance is being able to verify where all of her stones are from so both the retailer and end consumer are educated about the process. “When you are selling for high-dollar amounts and to stores that have great reputations, you have a responsibility to know what you are selling,” Huizenga says. “I qualify my dealers as much as I can, and then share that provenance with everyone in the chain.”
18k gold Silver Lining necklace with medium size lapis cloud and 0.34 ct. t.w. diamond frame; $12,600
18k gold earrings with 11.19 cts. t.w. blue zircon in 3.25 cts. t.w. rose-cut diamond frame with removable 49.9 cts. t.w. Sleeping Beauty turquoise drops; $42,400
Digging for Treasures
While Huizenga still sinks her teeth into the polishing process, her growing output means she’s often on the road, sourcing the unusual specimens that make up the line. She can always count on the gem shows in Tucson, Ariz., for unique finds, but she also frequents smaller gem shows, where she can be found digging through boxes and bins. Her secret source, however, is eBay. “I’m a searcher,” Huizenga admits. “There are some very qualified sellers who throw things up on eBay just to get their name out there. I’ve found some great antiquities dealers that way.”
In fact, Huizenga has been collecting ancient artifacts like fishing hooks and spearheads for years, cataloging everything in her workshop alongside the growing gem collection. Relics like an Egyptian amulet, which she plans to pair with chrysoprase and transform into a pendant, share shelf space with treasures such as a Tibetan prayer box strung on spessartite beads and accented with gold and diamonds.
“I’ve done pieces like this since the very beginning, and they seem to always sell immediately,” she says. “They speak to people through their energy, and that’s what it’s all about for me.”
Top: 18k yellow gold Sting Ray brooch with 14.56 ct. Mexican fire opal, 0.24 ct. t.w. sapphire eyes, and 3.94 cts. t.w. pavé diamond body, $28,000; 18k gold ring with 21.12 ct. rectangle Dragon’s Blood hematoid quartz and 0.65 ct. t.w. diamond frame, $14,800