Unique in the World of Gems
By Jana Soeldner Danger
The birth of a pearl is like the birth of a child. Each produces something precious and unique. So says Michael Hakimian, CEO of Yoko London, a company that designs one-of-a-kind pearl jewelry. “Every pearl has its own look, its own beauty, its own color and luster. Man has very little to do with what the final product looks like.”
With pearls, there’s no need for processing. “Pearls are the only gems that come straight out of nature, beautiful just as they are,” Hakimian continues. ”A diamond comes out of the earth as a lump of rock and is put through cutting and polishing to make it shine. With a pearl, the beauty is either there, or it’s not.”
Putting the Pearl First
Yoko approaches jewelry design differently than most high-end brands, Hakimian says. “Other designers start with the gold, and the pearl is the last thing — it fills a hole. With our jewelry, we start with the pearl and design around it.”
Members of Hakimian’s family have been involved with precious stones since 1740, when the Shah of Persia asked them to guard his treasury of jewels. The current brand began
in 1973, when Michael’s father, already sensing the dark political undercurrents that led to the Iranian revolution in 1979, moved his family to London. He dealt in both pearls and gemstones until Michael joined the company and the focus turned exclusively
Yoko is a Japanese word meaning “child of the ocean,” a reminder that pearls are born in the sea. Originally, the gems were harvested by free divers who risked their lives descending as deep as 100 feet under water on a single breath of air in search of natural pearls. And even after completing this dangerous undertaking, there was only a small chance that an oyster brought to the surface would contain a pearl. These free divers were diving for natural pearls, and this practice only took place until the creation of cultured (farmed) pearls.
Today, almost all pearls are cultured. The process begins with nurturing the oysters in shallow water until they are large enough to insert a tiny mother-of-pearl bead or bit of mantle tissue into each one, a process called nucleation. The nucleus is an irritant, and the oyster’s response is to secrete a substance around it, layer after layer, until it becomes a pearl. Pearl farms need to be in very clean water, Hakimian says. “The cleaner the environment, the better the pearls you get, so many of the farms are in some very remote areas of the world.”
A few pearls grow to be very large. Yoko acquired one in 2003 the size of a hen’s egg. “An abnormally large pearl has the same rarity as a seven-foot basketball player,” Hakimian says. “It’s not something you can order.”
Not all pearls are white. They come in a wide variety of hues: cream, yellow, gold, pink, rose, blue, lavender and black. “The color depends on the pigmentation of the oyster, and the minerals and nutrients in the water,” Hakimian explains. “Different parts of the world produce different color tones.”
After pearls are harvested, they are graded by color, luster, blemishes, and other characteristics before auction. Hakimian likens an invitation to a South Seas pearl auction to being invited to join an exclusive club. “It’s an exciting event, where you’re bidding against others,” he says. “The larger the parcel, the more opportunity you have to create beautiful pieces of jewelry. And if you want something magnificent, you have to buy it when it’s offered. You won’t get a second chance.”
It’s an exciting time at Yoko when a shipment comes in. “Creativity starts to flow, and sometimes there are arguments over what to do with a particular pearl,” Hakimian says.He loves designs that combine different colors and pieces in which the pearls are as perfectly matched as possible. But creating a necklace of 30 or more matched pearls, or even a pair of earrings, can require patience. “If we don’t have the right pearl, we have to wait until the next season to try to find it,” Hakimian says. “A one-of-a-kind necklace might take three seasons to complete. You can’t dictate nature to do what you want it to do.”
Although some people buy Yoko pearls as investments, there is usually another reason. “My passionate wish is that every piece gives happiness to whoever wears it,” Hakimian says. “Before you buy a pearl, you should look deep within it and see if it speaks to you. It should give you joy.”
Yoko London is available at Morays Jewelers, 50 NE 2nd Ave, Miami. www.yokolondon.com.