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Pearls are a staple in every jewellery box, echoing a woman’s femininity and elegance and complementing just about every outfit. While perfectly round, white or cream Akoya and freshwater pearls have long been a favourite of many a stylish woman, other colours and shapes have come to make a recurrent appearance in the top drawer. Baroque pearls, for instance, are prized for their irregularity, since no two are the same, although they are also the most affordable. Tahitian pearls, cultivated in the South Pacific’s warm tropical lagoons, are naturally dark, with colours ranging from black, grey and silver to a rare greenish-black. But despite their unique qualities, none can hold a candle to South Sea pearls, which are the finest and most valuable of them all. Grown in waters around Australia, Indonesia and the Philippines, they are produced from the pinctada maxima, the largest and most rare pearl oyster in the world. We bring you the top four pearl jewellery designers, in no particular order.
1. Yoko London
The Hakimian family established Yoko London in 1973. Since then, they have travelled the world in search of the finest pearls in unique natural colours and exceptional sizes. In 2003, the company acquired a 35mm silver-white pearl, but later sold it to a renowned Bond St jeweller. In 2005, Yoko London began designing jewellery using rare and exquisite pearls from its vast collection. Each pearl is handpicked for every design, and in fact, the team has been known to spend up to one year locating just one pearl to complete a particular design.
2. Robert Wan
An interest in the cultured pearl industry led Robert Wan to Japan in 1974. The Tahitian-born Chinese entrepreneur was privileged enough to meet Kokichi Mikimoto’s grandson, who promised Wan that, if the latter could produce enough Tahitian black pearls of a consistently high quality, he would forever be a loyal customer. Three years later, the pair sealed the seal when Wan produced a small but successful pearl harvest. Over the last four decades, Wan, who came to be known as the “Pearl Emperor of Tahiti", has perfected the cultivation of Tahitian pearls, which have been accredited by the Gemological Institute of America as a fully-fledged gem. These pearls are grown in some of the purest lagoons in Tahiti, and loose pieces are sold through private, “by invitation only" auctions held in Hong Kong.
In 1893, Kokichi Mikimoto created the world’s first cultured pearl, and Mikimoto Pearls was born. Growing up in Toba on Japan’s Shima peninsula, the young Mikimoto took an interest in his town’s most famous export — Ise pearls. As these pearls were in high demand, Mikimoto was concerned about the extinction of the pearl-producing oysters, and so he sought to cultivate his own gems in protected oyster beds. He was successful, and in 1896, he received his first patent for cultured pearls. These lustrous spheres rivalled natural pearls in their beauty, and, over the following decades, Mikimoto continued to advance the science of pearl cultivation. Today, the company produces fine jewellery made from various types of cultured pearls, including Akoya, Black South Sea, Golden South Sea, Baroque, and Conch.
4. Jewelmer Joaillerie
French pearl farmer Jacques Branellec and Filipino entrepreneur Manuel Cojuangco founded Jewelmer Joaillerie in 1979. The company specialises in fine jewellery made from South Sea pearls grown in a pristine, state-of-the-art farm in southern Palawan, the Philippines’ “last frontier". What is unique about the Philippine South Sea pearl is its rich, natural golden hue. The pearls come from specially bred, hatchery-born, gold-lipped Pinctada maxima oysters, and each pearl requires four to five years of cultivation before it is ready to be harvested. Jewelmer’s jewellery collections range from the simple to the intricate, but all their designs have these remarkable golden pearls as their centrepiece.