Veteran pearl lover Sarah Canizzaro of Kojima Pearl turned a childhood passion for making jewelry into a career with deep roots in fine pearls. As a young adult, Canizzaro shifted course from designer to pearl stringer for local stores. By her early twenties, she was sourcing pearls in Asia and the South Pacific. Today, as the force behind Kojima, she creates whimsical pearl jewelry from her base in San Rafael, Calif. Canizzaro designs every piece and has assistance from inhouse assemblers and a bench jeweler for higher-end settings. Pieces are cast, strung, or fabricated in sterling silver and 14k and 18k gold, and every jewel features a pearl. Retail prices start at $90 in silver and $400 in gold.
“Pearls literally draw the eyes, while illuminating the grace and warmth of the person wearing them,” she explains. “They are the most ancient of gems, and they are also the only gem in the world that is good for the environment!”
What is your best pearl memory?
There are many but getting to visit the Museum of Natural History in New York City to see a necklace of Japan Kasumi pearls on display that I constructed and strung is up there. It was 2001 and it was in the exhibit called Pearls, which toured around the world for the next decade. I was 24 years old—I was walking on air!
Who is/was your pearl mentor?
First and foremost, Fuji Voll (cofounder of Pacific Pearl), and his family. I feel it would be wrong to not mention pearl expert Elisabeth Strack, Gina Latendresse of American Pearl Company, and the hundreds of farmers and brokers worldwide who have so generously taught and encouraged me.
What was your first break in the pearl business?
I had already been working behind the scenes with Pacific Pearls around 1996, the first time I was exhibiting in Tucson, and I offered to teach a fellow dealer how to string and knot pearls at her hotel room after a long day working a show. I could tell within the first few minutes that she would probably never get it, but I stayed with her as she practiced. To my great surprise, the next day she bought our most expensive set of pearls. I’m not sure if it was my first “break,” but I remember it as the day that I changed from being a stringer to being an indispensable member of our company in Fuji's eyes. The lesson: you will always be rewarded for having generosity of spirit.
What would you have done if you didn’t work in the pearl industry?
I would live on a small island, spending my mornings collecting seashells and tiny natural objects, making jewelry to sell or trade with locals and tourists. I may or may not be still moving toward this alternative life. Must they be exclusive?
What pearl was the hardest for you to sell?
There was a perfect pair of natural wild-found abalone pearls that we set in high-karat gold. They were about an inch and a half long and they were so colorful. I think I had them for about six months. I had a photo of them on my website despite not having a shopping cart at the time. A woman called to buy them, and I honestly thought it was a scam. She still loves them and is still a customer. Those were so rare and I’m glad they went to a good home.
Dogs or cats?
Type of pearl?
Japan Kasumi pearls—because the love with which they are grown is infectious.
Wine or whiskey?
Piece of pearl jewelry?
My friend made me a golden tiara of natural pearls, coral branches, and gemstones, and I treasure it beyond words.
Ocean or lake?
Dreaming of a better world.
Winter or summer?
Party or party of two?
Party, depending on the people.