From Volume I of the 2023 issue of #thisispearl digital magazine
After a successful career in environmental remediation, Michelle “Shelly” Buettner took up a more serious interest in the pearls she fell in love with as a little girl. A young Shelly became enamored with her grandmother’s jewelry, including a brooch with a beautiful faux pearl, and a strand of white pearls she was gifted on her eighth grade graduation. Upon entry into the workforce, her first purchase was a pearl ring from Kay’s Jewelers that she still has. So, when she wanted to shift professional gears, pearls were already part of many happy memories that she wanted to add to. Buettner started making pearl jewelry and writing about it in 2005, taking the GIA pearls course a year later. And when Pearls As One debuted in 2018, Buettner didn’t miss the opportunity to earn her certificate in May that year.
Why are pearls important do you? I just fell in love with pearls as a little girl and was always drawn to pearl jewelry. I’ve always liked the things that look different and beautiful. Before I took the pearl diploma course at GIA, I thought pearls were just all white! After my GIA course, I started noticing more pearl jewelry. I used to read Modern Jeweler magazine when it was published, and that’s where I found so much inspiration, designers, and trends. When I took the pearl lab class in Carlsbad, Calif., I got to hold Tahitian pearls for the first time for grading. The instructor joked with me that I was being a little harsh, that just because a pearl has flaws doesn’t mean it needs to be thrown out with the trash!
How did you learn about PAO? I learned about PAO when I started visiting pearl-guide.com, an online pearl-lover community for education and networking. I started following Hisano Shepherd of Little h. and watching videos with her husband, Jeremy Shepherd of pearlparadise.com. I remember one video when Jeremy visited French Polynesia and a dealer there had a whole closet of Tahitian pearls that needed to be destroyed or crushed for cosmetics because they weren’t a high enough quality for export. I remember thinking, ‘What a shame—I’ll take them’! I learned more when I took PAO, which dove into how pearls fit into today’s jewelry world, from sustainable farming methods to getting them to market.
What is your favorite type of pearl and why? Tahitian pearls and Sea of Cortez pearls are my favorites. I like Tahitians because they can have such a wide range of colors, and I particularly like the lighter blue. And Sea of Cortez pearls remind me of the sun setting on the Sea of Cortez—I see blue and silver hues with pink and orange. That’s exactly what the water looks like when the sun goes down. I’m always telling friends that pearls don’t have to be stuffy!
What pearl jewelry do you own? I have a lot of necklaces that I have made, including one with a freshwater fireball pearl that I wear often. I also have a bunch of freshwater pearls that I had made into station necklaces. My favorite piece is from my son; when he was about 10, he bought me a strand of white freshwater baroque pearls with his own money. Those pearls mean more to me than anything.
What is the most iconic look in pearls? The double strand of pearls that Jackie Kennedy wore and Barbara Bush’s pearls. I also think of Liz Taylor in black pearls and Coco Chanel with her long ropes. Mixed colors and shapes of Tahitian strands are also striking. I would like to see people’s mindsets change about pearls, given the sustainability aspect of them, the wide range of locations where they grow, and how beautiful they are. They also fit well with other gems in designs. Pearls deserve lot more spotlight than they currently have. There is a pearl for everybody!