Pearls reborn

The warm weather is on its way and the dormant things in our garden are beginning to show new growth. It seems to have been colder this year, and it is so nice to feel the warmth of the sun. So many people have had bad colds, viruses and flu, so hopefully the warmer weather will help everybody who has suffered this winter.

I thought I would talk this month about a part of my remodelling skill that I have specialised in for a long time, but tend not to discuss as much. It is the pearl and gemstone necklace make-overs:

Amethyst and pearl necklace.

Amethyst and pearl necklace.

It all began in the ’80s when a client came into my store at Fullarton Village, and said she was bored with her strand of small, graduated Mikimoto Akoya pearls. Akoyas are the classic smaller pearls, mostly round, originating in Japan, and the only quality cultured pearls available for many years until South Sea pearls were developed and farmed. The customer’s pearls were a lovely quality, and she didn’t want them changed if it was going to the damage them in any way. She just wanted to wear them, because she was given them for her 21st birthday by her parents and loved them because of their lustre and their colour. She felt the graduated look was a bit young for her as she had reached her mid-40s, and she thought the size and style was also a bit dated.

Graduated Akoya pearls

Graduated Akoya pearls

Graduated pearls were the sort of strands worn with the classic twin set: a twin set consisted of a close fitting, finely knitted round neck jumper with a matching cardigan over the top, and the pearls sat neatly over the neckline of the jumper with the cardigan worn open. The pearls often graded in size from around 3mm at the back increasing gradually to 6 or 7mm at the centre front and they were normally round shape.

I immediately launched into ideas, which I could see working, and how the very largest pearl could be altered to a single pearl pendant by adding a gold wire through it and then attaching a loop on top making it possible to wear it on a chain necklace or a fine omega necklet:

Akoya pearl pendant

Akoya pearl pendant

The rest of the pearls could be mixed up (no longer graduating evenly in size) with semi-precious beads of different colours and sizes at random and the necklace could be threaded much longer in length and long enough to go around twice. She loved the idea, especially as I mentioned that if ever she wanted the pearls rethreaded back the way they were as a graduated strand, they certainly could be. We would also knot between each pearl and bead so they didn’t rub together. To give the look more volume, I suggested adding some larger cultured baroque pearls because the shape is more free form and this would give contrast to her round pearls, and then I convinced her to add small pink fresh water pearls, with larger turquoise, aquamarine and faceted yellow citrine quartz beads. When it was completed the finished look was fresh and very versatile but unfortunately it was before I photographed my pieces so I have included a sketch:

IMG_3534 (1)

This started a rush of customers all wanting to change their pearls to more exciting styles and I know some clients are still wearing them today because we get them in for rethreading. As we have learnt, if the strands are worn often it is wise to have them rethreaded frequently as it saves the loss of any pearls or beads should they break and it also helps to keep the colour of white pearls from yellowing. This discolouration happens when the pearl thread takes dirt and contaminants into the centre of the pearl where the pearl is more porous. Once stained, the yellowing is unfortunately permanent.

To give some examples of the sorts of combinations I’ve designed I’ve included the colours of the pearls and gemstones we use most. These gemstones and pearls are either rounded or free form shapes as predominantly I am asked to add to the client’s smaller cultured pearls to give them a more modern larger look.

One of my favourite stones to use are opaque black onyx, either faceted or polished and either shiny or matte finish, obsidian (natural black glass), and black spinel. Sometimes I add in darker grey beads such as haematite which give an opaque high gloss metallic look, or grey banded and lace agate, and sometimes any of the black and white banded agates which have a stripy appearance:

Onyx and agate.

Onyx and agate.


Onyx beads, freshwater pearls and Akoya pearls.

Onyx beads, freshwater pearls and Akoya pearls.

There are a vast range of beautiful colour tones – blue and green turquoise, lapis lazuli (dark blue), blue sapphires (a cheaper, more opaque quality than the material used for faceting larger clear gems), iolite (grey/blue), blue/green aquamarines, both clear,  translucent and opaque, blue apatite (a rich strong mid blue colour), blue agate, fluorite (this tends to have hints of purple and green as well):

Apatite, aquamarine and turquoise.

Apatite, aquamarine and turquoise.


There is amethyst of course from dark to light purple, and as mentioned above, fluorite.

G76133 necklet

I also love using earthy, natural gemstones like agates (plain and patterned), jasper, amber, smoky quartz, citrine, tiger eye, lemon quartz, and yellow quartz.


Amber, orange agate, freshwater pearls.

In bright colours, pink tourmaline, rose quartz, pink/lilac amethyst, red coral, ruby beads (the opaque version), red agate (banded), orange agate, and garnets from lighter pink to darker red:

Rose quartz, garnet, ruby and coral.

Rose quartz, tourmaline, garnet, ruby and coral.

Added to all of these colour options there are dyed fresh water pearls of varying colours and if you really want to go all out I use gold and silver beads mixed in with the colours:

Freshwater pearls, silver and gold beads.

Freshwater pearls, silver and gold beads.

Depending on how large you want the necklaces to be, I often thread in at random a couple of much larger baroque pearls or beads to give the final look a bit more volume:

Freshwater pearls, smokey quartz, and gold beads.

Freshwater pearls, smokey quartz, and gold beads.

In 2008, Helen and I visited the Basel Fair in Switzerland where we found a supplier based in Germany who has the largest range of coloured strands we have ever seen. The walls were hanging in colour groupings and included every size, shape and shade of colour you can imagine. It was so hard to choose what to order as we loved so much of their stock. It certainly opened my scope for introducing interest to a simple pearl strand. I also put together combinations of beads with pearls as a minor component which can also look amazing.

I have included some photos of the sorts of pieces I’ve put together over the years  – see them here, so I hope they may inspire you to have something done with your pearls especially if they are sitting, stored away, and not enjoyed. Let me give them a make-over!

See you soon,

Love Nicholas x

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