Every year, high-end jewelers and designers anxiously await their chance to lay their hands on Nick Paspaley’s harvest of South Sea pearls, widely regarded as the world’s finest. Before they can do so, most must wait until the pearls are sorted and distributed through a network of dealers. However, David Yurman and his wife and business partner, Sybil, recently journeyed to Paspaley’s farm in a secluded, untamed region on the Australian coast between Broome and Darwin to have the first pick from this year’s crop.
South Sea pearls—the rarest and most expensive pearls—are known for their large size and exceptionally thick nacre, which gives them their luminous and lustrous quality. Yurman’s recent fascination with Australian South Sea pearls culminated in a new collection of one-of-a-kind jewelry designs featuring Paspaley’s gems. The 40 pieces debuted in the designer’s boutiques and in some Neiman Marcus stores in August.
Yurman’s intention of expanding his pearl collection prompted his recent Australian excursion; he wanted to learn about the cultivation process and secure his own stockpile of exceptional-quality pearls for next year’s designs. The Yurmans traveled more than 24 hours to reach their destination, braving waters populated by crocodiles and sharks, all for the opportunity to observe the pearls being extracted from their oyster shells and to select a cache even before the natural gems reached the shore. “I like to get as close as possible to the source of the materials that I use,” explains Yurman, who was a sculptor before starting his jewelry company in 1979. “It’s inspiring to see things from their inception and experience the process firsthand.”
Paspaley’s farm is located in a region distinguished by its turquoise blue seas and lagoons and its scores of small deserted islands. This pristine environment provides the optimal conditions to breed Paspaley’s Australian Pinctada Maxima oysters, which are harvested at depths of 60 to 120 feet and produce the coveted South Sea pearls. “I’m inspired by the natural pearl,” says Yurman. “Paspaley’s pearls are not treated or dyed; they are the result of nature and their surroundings.”
Yurman’s pearl designs are intended to enhance the natural, individual beauty of each pearl. He prefers unusual, organic shapes to perfectly symmetrical rounds, and he favors nontraditional shades of pink, purple, and silver. Among the standout designs in his current collection is a strand of multicolor pearls in shades of cream, gray, chocolate brown, lavender, and green, with a bold and colorful gemstone-set clasp.
“Pearls are an American classic,” says Yurman. “They conjure up images of Jackie O and Grace Kelly. Our pearl designs are classic yet reflect our own style that represents relaxed American luxury.”