Golden Pearls was designed in celebration of Annoushka's 25th year of jewellery design, a collection steeped in meaning and history. Discover the story behind the collection and why it means so much to her.
Pearls are so simply, so beautifully iconic. Redolent of bygone eras and always utterly contemporary, I adore them. Unlike other precious gemstones which are cut and polished, pearls are worn in their natural state, each one with a lustre and colour of its own. Coco Chanel wore ropes of them. Audrey Hepburn dazzled in them. Eras have glowed with them. Pearls are ageless, timeless and perfectly chic.
I have always loved working with pearls. I began designing with them twenty five years ago when I started collaborating with a small group of master goldsmiths in the Philippines.
The country, and its artisanal craftspeople, have a special place in my heart. Pearls are abundant in the crystal clear waters around the islands.
The Philippines are also home to the most precious pearl of all; the fruit of the Pinctada Maxima oyster which is found in the Iloilo region of the country. I had always longed to create a collection around them.
Returning to my beginnings and making them anew has always been a lodestar for me. The subsequent creation of my Golden Pearls collection has a pleasing circularity. The journey began when I learned of the devastation caused by typhoons Haiyan and Hagupit, which jeopardised the livelihoods of pearl farmers in the area. I wanted to find a way of working together to help them recover from the physical devastation they had suffered, and to encourage them to create more sustainable, profitable businesses. It meant by—passing the traditional structure of buying pearls by auction and instead purchasing direct from the pearl farmers themselves. They could then sell their pearls at an appropriate price, rather than receive a fraction of the proceeds from the auction houses.
"When I’m working with a gem, there is nothing more satisfying than seeing the material in its original habitat, and my new relationship with the Iloilo pearl farmers gave me a brilliant opportunity to do just that. I travelled to Iloilo to accompany them as they worked, and to learn how the golden pearls are seeded and harvested."
In Iloilo, I went out to sea with the pearl farmers in their traditional dugouts to witness first-hand a process that has barely changed in centuries. The boats are narrow and swift, and increasingly powered by outboard motors as well as traditional sails. The farmers dive for the oysters which are found on the sea bed. They are carefully prised open and seeded (it takes ten years to learn to do this properly) and the oysters are then returned to the water, held safe in coarse-fibred, individually-pocketed nets. Each oyster—and there are thousands—will be inspected twice a month, each shell scrubbed meticulously in white-gloved hands so that it is clean of barnacles, of algae, or anything which could contaminate the pearl’s gestation. It is a process of meticulous husbandry. The colour of the developing pearl takes its hue from the colour of the oyster’s rim. As Federico Fellini noted ‘All art is autobiographical; the pearl is the oyster’s autobiography.’ Each pearl is unique, in gorgeous shimmering shades of gold, champagne and straw. The rich, golden lip of the Pinctada Maxima oyster showed why.
The gleaming lustre of golden pearls is extraordinary; the skill, dedication and fastidiousness of those who nurture and harvest them equally so. My ambition—affirmed as we moved between nets, cleaning and checking their content—was to do creative justice to both.
The Golden Pearls Collection was a labour of love. It began in a swift boat on turquoise waters, watching people whose practice of their craft is awe-inspiring. It gained momentum in a new way of working together which is fairer and more fruitful. It resulted in six beautiful pieces which have brought my involvement with Filipino goldsmiths full circle.
In the collection, earrings are made from exquisite golden pearls, which extend like flower heads from diamond and black rhodium petals. The jewelled petals are intricately articulated to move and flutter around them. A pendant pearl spins from a double thread diamond chain. Five pearls cascade like water in a diamond and pearl necklace. In all of the pieces, the organic relationship between the pearls and the natural world which produced them is evident.
The Golden Pearl Collection is lustrous, luxurious and lambent and I am hugely proud of it.