I’ve always loved jewelry and the history of jewelry, but my real journey began some twenty five years ago when the clasp pulled off a crystal necklace.
I took it to a bench jeweler I’d used for other repairs but when it was returned to me, I saw something I hadn’t even realized I’d known.Without knots between those crystals, they would rub against one another and the beads would be scratched. The “repair” was unacceptable.
The jeweler was huffy about redoing the necklace and I had the then really startling thought that I could do this, that I could learn to string pearls and beads.
My first step was a local bead shop which offered a class in stringing pearls and beads. The class began and ended with using crimps, important knowledge, of course, but limited.
I then found my way to the Gemological Institute of America which back then offered a course in pearl and bead stringing. I took the course and was hooked. I went on to take most of the courses required for a degree as a graduate gemologist. I also earned the pearl certification from GIA. (My undergraduate degree is from Columbia and my master’s is from Northwestern.) Simultaneously, I began to learn metalsmithing.
I took local courses in gem setting, molding, casting, and soldering. I also studied at the Richmond Institute and took a number of courses at the Revere Institute in San Francisco, studying with, among others, Harold O’Connor, who I consider to be one of the finest studio jewelers working today.
All of this opened my eyes to the wonderful work being done today by metalsmiths and pearl and bead stringers and I opened a small gallery in Houston to show studio jewelry. The gallery grew and I moved it to “Gallery Row” in Houston where I showed work by Harold O’Connor, Cynthia Eid, Sydney Lynch and others. I also showed work by Judith Ubick who is one of the most talented and creative bead stringers working today.
While operating the gallery, I discovered there was a demand for a pearl and bead stringing course, a real one, not one that stopped short with crimps or one that failed to teach the more complex finishing techniques. The demand came from metalsmiths, designers and serious amateurs. The Professional Pearl and Bead Stringing course is built directly upon this course which I taught dozens of times and for which I charged $300.
Pearl and bead stringing isn’t just technique, of course. It means knowing your materials, understanding design and, when necessary, borrowing from other crafts to enhance your own work. (In this respect, macrame, kumihimo, and various fisherman’s and oriental knots come to mind.)
However, developing the basic professional skills in the niche is the critical first step. Once that is taken, other skills and knowledge can be acquired productively as a design vision is developed.
For me, manufacturing jewelry and knowing as much as I can about it is a never ending source of pleasure.
I hope it is for you as well.