MASTERS AT WORK
Birks bolsters the enduring magic of Tahitian pearls by pairing expert craftsmanship with forward-thinking design.
Encouraged by the success of that line, there is renewed focus on freshwater pearls within the company. Indeed, the cork mood boards in the design studio the day I visit are covered with multiple renderings of the Birks Rock & Pearl collection. A tray of gray wax prototypes of edgy pearl-and-silver pieces, created using a 3D printer, sits on a nearby table. Not all will make it to the selling floor.
Of the 20 new designs, only 10 will make it into production, explains Frigon as I linger to ogle. There are statement necklaces, two-finger rings and bangles, all on the drawing board.
Working with pearls isn’t like working with any other kind of gem, she says. They’re softer in texture; they can get scratched when used in combination with other stones and elements.
The team is equally careful while daring to work on Birks’ most beloved trademarks, such as the chic clasp used on their topdrawer strands of pearls. When the popularity of pearls soared in the 1980s, Birks started featuring the company logo on this clasp, adding diamonds and two sapphires. The clasps are made by a 300-year-old German company that serves royal dynasties and the European elite.
“We are working on a reengineering of the clasps to make them more modern,” says Frigon. “We want them to become integrated into the strand itself, so they look less separate.” (Purists have no fear: the clasps will still be made by the same manufacturer.)
Meanwhile, the team is preoccupied with a pressing creative mission: Birks is creating a dazzling one-of-a-kind layered necklace in pearls and diamonds that will debut on the neck of a Canadian celebrity. In its last stages of production, the design is still morphing, with stones added to ensure a complete “wow” effect.
It will be the newest iteration of a remarkable pearl odyssey, one which starts inside an oyster shell, travels to auction in Japan, passes through the hands of experts and finally lands on the red carpet for the world to see.
“This is the most exciting time to be in the pearl business,” says Akkelian. “It’s a new world.”