Personalities

Meet Shahana Kimiangatau of Shahana Jewels, a New Zealand–Based Tahitian Pearl Design Firm That Empowers Women to Provide for Themselves

Auckland, New Zealand. Feb. 3, 2021. Ten-year-old Shahana Jewels is more than just another maker of pretty Tahitian pearl jewelry. Founder Shahana Kimiangatau debuted her business 10 years ago. She had always been encouraged by the strong women in her family to be financially independent, but that message became an even greater priority after her mom died of cancer at the young age of 42. The family had moved to New Zealand from Fiji, where she grew up, not long before her mom was diagnosed. At that point, Kimiangatau felt a sense of urgency to pursue her dream.

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Jewelry was an obvious choice given that Kimiangatau’s Chinese, Italian, and Indian heritage instilled in her an affinity for it. Plus, women from the Pacific islands have a natural inclination to loving pearls.

“Pearls are like our diamonds,” she says, with myriad South Sea pearl farms in Fiji, the Cook Islands, New Zealand, and French Polynesia in mind.

And through a vacation property her family owned on the Cook Islands, she met a pearl farmer who gave her an invaluable education. Kimiangatau realized that pearls, particularly Tahitian pearls, could be her business. Also important? Lifting up as many other women as possible through employment that she hoped would pave the way to self-sufficiency.

Eliko Pearl has specialty pearls of all types, including Maki-e mosaic pearls, faceted pearls, and blue akoyas.

“Many women in the islands are poor,” she says. “I wanted to help them move forward to support themselves and gain financial freedom. I wanted to give them choices.”

Her staff grew along with her business. Kimiangatau employs four women in New Zealand, 15 women in India, and others in South Africa, Malaysia, Vancouver, Canada, and even Buffalo, N.Y. One of Kimiangatau’s staffers in India managed to buy a flat with her earnings and help provide a meaningful income to her family—including sending her child to school.

But jobs at Shahana Jewels are just one part of paying it forward. Kimiangatau helps even more women through Kiva.org, which provides microloans to women in underserved communities. To date, she has helped fund 55 women in the South Pacific who started their own businesses. “Five percent of my monthly sales go to Kiva,” she says. She doesn’t allow recipients to repay the funds. “I just give them the money,” she says.

As for her jewelry, Kimiangatau’s pieces are made in Jaipur through CAD and the lost wax process. “Pieces are mostly made in CAD because I like that I can scale the design and see how costly it is to produce; this way I can stick to my sweet spot in pricing,” she explains.

Upon completion, jewels are shipped to New Zealand, where they’re set with Tahitian pearls. Her metals are recycled gold and silver sourced from Hoover & Strong and Stuller, and her pearls come from a farm in Rikitea, French Polynesia. The designs reflect Polynesian themes and celebrate the beauty of the pearls.

“All the jewelry relates to my clients’ dreams—to empower them and share their stories,” she says. “Women who buy from me are smart, confident, and hardworking and often forget to appreciate themselves. I love talking to my customers! Eighty percent of the time you reach out to Shahana Jewels, it’s me answering on the other end. My customers love that personal service; it’s authentic to my brand.”

And though her mother is always with her in spirit, Kimiangatau has made some moves to help other women avoid the cancer her mother succumbed to, which could have been detected sooner had the family lived in a bigger metropolitan area with more resources.

Four years ago, Kimiangatau started making donations to cancer research in the South Pacific. She began with jewelry to sell, with proceeds earmarked for a cancer charity, but the idea has evolved into providing practical items for women battling the disease. Last year, her team manufactured mastectomy bras, and this year she’ll donate wigs to survivors. “It’s hard to get things like these on the islands,” she says.

“When my mom got sick 15 years ago, doctors couldn’t diagnose her. Her nose kept bleeding, and the doctor just said it was the heat. But my mother grew up in the heat of Fiji. We knew something was wrong but couldn’t get a proper diagnosis until we moved to New Zealand. So I’m big on raising awareness. Lots of island women hide issues and live in fear of not wanting to stress their families. There’s no free healthcare on the islands. That’s why we try to share the stories of as many women as possible; how else will others know?”

Reach Kimiangatau at info@shahanajewels.com.

Shahana Kimiangatau, founder of Shahana Jewels

Shahana Kimiangatau, founder of Shahana Jewels

An annual dinner that Shahana Kimiangatau, founder of Shahana Jewels, holds for her top customers. “This is only half of them,” she laughs. “Our tribe has grown so big. I love that everyone can put a face to a name at this dinner.”

An annual dinner that Shahana Kimiangatau, founder of Shahana Jewels, holds for her top customers. “This is only half of them,” she laughs. “Our tribe has grown so big. I love that everyone can put a face to a name at this dinner.”

Marama ring in gold fill with Tahitian pearls, $450 NZD; available online at Shahana Jewels

Marama ring in gold fill with Tahitian pearls, $450 NZD; available online at Shahana Jewels

Moana hoop earrings in gold fill with Tahitian pearls, $680 NZD; available online at Shahana Jewels

Moana hoop earrings in gold fill with Tahitian pearls, $680 NZD; available online at Shahana Jewels


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Personalities

Pearl-Rich Jewelry Line LexiMazz Nabs Designer Deal with Zales

New York City. Feb. 3, 2021. Four-year-old jewelry brand LexiMazz Collection has earned a place in Zales’ first-ever Designer Spotlight Program, an initiative aimed at giving talented artists a platform to share their creations on Zales.com. Alexis Mazza, the force behind LexiMazz, features a healthy number of fresh-looking pearl jewelry designs in her line out of a love of both whimsical and classic design.

“I love using traditional materials in playful ways, such as my pearl hoops,” she explains. “Pearls are timeless but look even more unique, fun, and dramatic in styles like chokers.”

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Zales opened the competition over the summer in an effort to inspire makers from diverse backgrounds to leverage Zales’ e-commerce platform in a way that works within the confines of the global COVID-19 pandemic. The result was the selection of four designers with compelling aesthetics: Sarah Graham of the eponymous firm, Alexis Mazza, Jessica Elliot and Jennifer Young of Elliot Young, and Azra Mehdi of Au Xchange.

“Our customers are like diamonds—fiercely individual, and we want to help them celebrate their personal style with trend-right items from a diverse array of designers,” explained Jamie Singleton, president of Zales, Kay Jewelers, and Peoples, to the press at the start of the competition. “Our customer is a bold statement maker who plays with style and craves new finds to create their look.”

Eliko Pearl has specialty pearls of all types, including Maki-e mosaic pearls, faceted pearls, and blue akoyas.

A 12-person panel consisting of Zales merchants, marketers, and store associates chose the winning artists, whose creations are featured on Zales.com throughout the Fall/Winter 2020 season.

A selection of 38 of Mazza’s pieces are posted on Zales.com, with Mazza drop-shipping orders to buyers. (All of the artists’ works in the Designer Spotlight Program were offered for sale online, not in stores.) Items listed for sale include a variety of jewels, such as chic pearl threader earrings in 14k yellow gold, that speak to the Zales.com demographic and their affinity for contemporary styling. Zales calls Mazza’s piece “Distinctly unique, thoroughly modern,” a statement Mazza appreciates. “They liked the fact that with LexiMazz pieces, you have the capability to layer, stack, and be on trend.”

Mazza’s love of fashion, jewelry degree from the Fashion Institute of Technology, and history in jewelry (her parents own a jewelry store in Islip, N.Y., and are partners in The Mazza Company, a seasoned maker of Italian-inspired designs) have helped shape her signature style, which she describes as classic-meets-contemporary in largely yellow gold. Best sellers include her pearl hoops, including her Diana’s Love heart-shape hoop earrings featuring white freshwater pearls. These took the Luster Award in the 2019 International Pearl Design Competition from the Cultured Pearl Association of America (for which this author works part time). And while Mazza’s Zale contract ends in May, there’s a chance it could be extended. As for what sold best among shoppers, she’s still waiting for the merchant to share sales data.

Future pearl designs for Mazza include pearl huggie hoops, cuffs, open rings, and a deeper dive into contemporary looks. Reach Mazza at Alexis@leximazzdesigns.com.


Ring in 14k rose gold with a 4 mm cultured white freshwater pearl and a diamond accent, $650; available online at Zales.com

Ring in 14k rose gold with a 4 mm cultured white freshwater pearl and a diamond accent, $650; available online at Zales.com

Diana chandelier earrings in 14k yellow gold with cultured white freshwater pearls, $1,060; available online at LexiMazz Designs

Diana chandelier earrings in 14k yellow gold with cultured white freshwater pearls, $1,060; available online at LexiMazz Designs

Tilted Heart necklace in 14k yellow gold with 6.5 mm cultured white freshwater pearls, $1,570; available online at Zales.com

Tilted Heart necklace in 14k yellow gold with 6.5 mm cultured white freshwater pearls, $1,570; available online at Zales.com


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Personalities

Collector Obsession: A Jewelry Lover Dishes on a Lifelong Love of Pearls Initiated by Her Dad

Lehigh Valley, Pa. Feb. 2, 2021. Cathy is a retired businesswoman whose love of pearls was established early in life by her father, who, as a child, found natural freshwater pearls in mollusks in the streams surrounding his Schuylkill County, Pennsylvania, home.

“For years, the family had a baby food jar full of pearls that they intended to make their mother a necklace out of,” she recollects.

This early curiosity about pearls sparked the same interest in his daughter, who has gone on to collect so many pieces that it’s hard for her to inventory them all.

As most collections do, Cathy’s started out modestly. Her mom bought her a rice pearl necklace with lovely rainbow reflections and a nice orient from a department store in Reading, Pa., and when she entered the workforce, she bought her own cultured white akoya earrings. With each purchase, her curiosity grew. “I like to know the ‘how’ and ‘why,’” she says. Of course, the beauty of pearls themselves inspired Cathy to keep collecting, too.

So, when she inherited a small sum more than 20 years ago, she and husband Walter decided to spend some of it on a vintage cultured akoya pearl strand with a platinum clasp featuring diamonds. Around the same time, she bought two pieces of freshwater pearl jewelry from Honora—a necklace and a bracelet—because she saw founder Joel Schechter (now retired) on QVC talking about the pieces. The bracelet had a keshi pearl, an all-nacre pearl that is a byproduct of the culturing process. Cathy was mesmerized. “I thought those were the most beautiful things I had ever seen, and they weren’t the perfect little round grandmother’s pearl that you typically see,” she says.

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She started reading everything she could about keshi pearls, searching the Internet and online chat rooms. In the process, she met Cindy, another pearl fan, who introduced her to pearlguide.com, a premiere destination for pearl information. Once Cathy joined pearlguide.com and was surrounded by new friends and collectors who shared her passion for pearls, her habit took a dramatic turn. (Cathy even has the appropriate online moniker CathyKeshi!)

From this point on, Cathy was in deep. She bought keshi pearl strands and enlisted Hisano Shepherd, co-owner of PearlParadise.com and founder of little h. jewelry, renowned for her pearl geode styles, to make custom pieces. She soaked up the vast knowledge that her new friends, including Jeremy Shepherd, PearlParadise.com founder, generously shared.
“Pearls had given me this whole new world of friends who shared my curiosity and asked the same questions I did,” says Cathy. Something else she learned? “Pearls are for everyone—not just movie stars or millionaires.”

Eliko Pearl has specialty pearls of all types, including Maki-e mosaic pearls, faceted pearls, and blue akoyas.

After nine years of online exchanges, Cathy’s friend Cindy encouraged her to attend her first-ever Pearl Ruckus, a private three-day event hosted by PearlParadise.com for their top collectors. The Ruckus was equal parts shopping (with Pearl Paradise and other pearl dealers) and education, and Cathy saved up, intent on buying even better-quality pearls than she’d purchased to date. Tahitian pearls were top of mind.


As soon as she arrived, she made a beeline to see Kamoka Pearl. The proprietors of the family-run Tahitian pearl farm lived stateside, making trips to and from the farm while creating pearl jewelry in between. Their booth was packed! They asked her to come back. So Cathy moved on to see Sarah Canizzaro of Kojima Pearl, who consistently carries unusual pearls and pearl jewelry. Canizzaro had something unusual: a strand of Pteria Penguin pearls, a species of marine bivalve mollusk in the Pteriidae family that is found in the Indo-Pacific region. They were white, cream, rose, pink, and silver pearls, a soft-looking beautiful variety that Canizzaro told her were difficult to culture. Cathy was smitten. “I picked them up and never put them down,” she says.

Not long after, Douglas McLaurin, a longtime pearl educator and one of the aquaculture experts who helped bring the Sea of Cortez oyster back to fruition in Mexico, showed Cathy some Sea of Cortez keshi pearls. They were undrilled and in two little bags, and Cathy ended up buying both. Canizzaro brought them back to her workshop and set them in a high-karat gold necklace with tiny diamond beads, a style that Cathy and dealer friends call the Fairy Princess necklace.

On the third day of the Ruckus—a day set aside for shopping at the Pearl Paradise office—Cathy was ready to finally get some Tahitians! She wanted a strand of circles for their interesting shape and vibrant colors of nacre that pool in the rings, but as she got lost in the depth of inventory in the vault, she ended up going home with not one, but two Tahitian strands. (Eventually, she did buy Tahitian pearls from Kamoka as well.)

Since that time, Cathy has added a strand of white South Sea pearls, a natural pistachio-color strand of Vietnamese-origin akoya pearls, a mixed strand of white and golden South Sea baroque pearls, silver-blue Tahitians, multicolor round Tahitians, metallic freshwater pearls, Fiji pearls, and more—much more.

“There’s a whole world of pearls out there that are not in stores,” she says. “I’m continually amazed at what nature can create, that a living animal can create such objects of art.”

The Pteria Penguin pearl strand Cathy bought from Kojima Pearl

The Pteria Penguin pearl strand Cathy bought from Kojima Pearl

The “Four Musketeers,” from left to right, youngest to oldest: Jim, Cletus (Cathy's Dad), Leo, and Charlie. Cathy’s uncles and dad would collect mussels and freshwater pearls from the Pennsylvania mountain streams surrounding their home in the 1930s when they were kids.

The “Four Musketeers,” from left to right, youngest to oldest: Jim, Cletus (Cathy’s Dad), Leo, and Charlie. Cathy’s uncles and dad would collect mussels and freshwater pearls from the Pennsylvania mountain streams surrounding their home in the 1930s when they were kids.

The Fairy Princess necklace in high-karat gold featuring Sea of Cortez keshi pearls and diamond beads. The piece was made by Kojima Pearl.

The Fairy Princess necklace in high-karat gold featuring Sea of Cortez keshi pearls and diamond beads. The piece was made by Kojima Pearl.

White South Sea pearl strand with a karat-gold nautical clasp purchased from PearlParadise.com

White South Sea pearl strand with a karat-gold nautical clasp purchased from PearlParadise.com

A circle strand of Tahitian pearls purchased from PearlParadise.com. Early on in Cathy’s pearl collecting days, she thought she might only purchase one strand of Tahitians. Ha ha—rookie mistake! Today, she’s lost count of how many she owns.

A circle strand of Tahitian pearls purchased from PearlParadise.com. Early on in Cathy’s pearl collecting days, she thought she might only purchase one strand of Tahitians. Ha ha—rookie mistake! Today, she’s lost count of how many she owns.


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Personalities

Meet Kristin Ohmstede of Kristin Ohmstede Jewelry and Her Whimsically Literal Jewelry Designs

Los Angeles, Calif. Jan. 4, 2021. Kristin Ohmstede’s idyllic childhood in Texas was joyful, eclectic, and full of happy days riding horses and playing with the sheep and bunnies her parents adopted for her personal petting zoo. It sounds like a farm, though Ohmstede insists it wasn’t, but her own unique childhood utopia did inspire her present-day eponymous Kristin Ohmstede Fine Art Jewelry line.

“I grew up on a normal street with a giant yard, but my parents were real free spirited,” she says. “I had mallard ducks in the backyard. My mom was unconventional and super fun.”

Education & Training

At university, Ohmstede studied art, design, and textiles and snagged a post working with a Parisian clothing designer. She took more design classes at Central Saint Martin’s, in London, and eventually moved to Los Angeles, where she took jewelry-design classes at Otis College of Art and Design. It was there her lightbulb moment occurred, and all of her fashion and design education, fashion work experience, and charming and worldly upbringing (Ohmstede’s mom took her to Europe several times) paved the way for the whimsical, cosmopolitan, and animal-inspired aesthetic now evident in her eponymous jewelry line. Her very first creation? A wide-eye bird, a version of which is in the collection today.

Signature Style

“My style is whimsical, playful, poetic, and personified by animals in motion,” she continues. “Birds, bunnies, and ponies are the primary animals I feature, while diagonal stripes in ​champlevé​ enamel is another signature design element. The love and connection between people and animals is my DNA.”

Not surprisingly, some specific horses from her life have a home in her body of work, given that the horse was her second design.

Inspiration

“When I started riding, I got into Andalusians and lived in Madrid for a year and a half,” she says. “I bought a horse named Iman in Seville and took him home to Austin and learned dressage on him. He was the horse of my life! I ended up losing him to colic after six years. Afterwards, I bought three colts in the Netherlands as a way of healing. The horse you see cantering in my collection is one of those foals, Formel Eins.”

Still, Ohmstede’s charmed life inspired her to add clouds and bows to the design mix. For sure, her charmed life and influences built a foundation for this lighthearted signature style, which applies a whimsical eye to literal symbols.

What’s Next?

What’s next? Likely dogs—a Russell Terrier, to be exact. “If I were not in L.A., I would have a dog—I see one in my future,” she notes.

Ohmstede sketches designs for master craftsmen to bring to life. Many components, such as French wires on earrings, are custom made. Pieces are both cast and fabricated, the latter from gold bars. All jewelry is made in Los Angeles in 18k gold (though some hair jewels are executed in silver). Diamonds add a hard-to-beat level of sparkle while vibrant colored gems like sapphires and tourmalines “add an aspect of joy and whimsy,” says the artist. Retail prices for her work start at $850.

Earrings in 18k yellow gold with French wires and 0.0035 ct. t.w.–0.025 ct. t.w. diamonds by Kristin Ohmstede, $1,250 apiece; email ko@kristinohmstede.com for purchase

Earrings in 18k yellow gold with French wires and 0.0035 ct. t.w.–0.025 ct. t.w. diamonds by Kristin Ohmstede, $1,250 apiece; email ko@kristinohmstede.com for purchase

Rainbow collection Bird, Bunny, and Pony pendant necklaces in 18k yellow gold with champlevé enamel stripes and 0.03 ct. t.w. diamonds on a 14k yellow gold chain by Kristin Ohmstede; retail prices start at $3,100; email ko@kristinohmstede.com for purchase

Rainbow collection Bird, Bunny, and Pony pendant necklaces in 18k yellow gold with champlevé ​enamel​ stripes and 0.03 ct. t.w. diamonds on a 14k yellow gold chain by Kristin Ohmstede; retail prices start at $3,100; email ko@kristinohmstede.com for purchase

Signet ring in 18k yellow gold with white champlevé enamel and 0.28 ct. t.w. diamonds by Kristin Ohmstede; $8,495, email ko@kristinohmstede.com for purchase

Signet ring in 18k yellow gold with white champlevé​ enamel and 0.28 ct. t.w. diamonds by Kristin Ohmstede; $8,495, email ko@kristinohmstede.com for purchase

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