PEARLS OF WISDOM
With three generations of family, Paspaley defines luxury heritage in Australia. Christine Salter, the brand’s creative director and granddaughter of the founder, embraces the beauty of pearls.
Paspaley creative director Christine Salter embraces the beauty of pearls.
With a twist and a pull, the strand of pearls is broken. Only momentarily – Christine Salter, Paspaley’s creative director, pieces it back together, transforming the single strand from a single necklace into bracelets and shorter necklaces to layer, twisting them for effect. The Rhapsody Strand, at more than two metres long, is a landmark piece in the Paspaley history, made up of pearls in various shapes and sizes with unique convertibility. The knots between each pearl are invisible, a secret technique of the Paspaley company. But perhaps I might be looking for something more subtle, more everyday? Turning, she’s assessing my hair, my skin tone, what I’m wearing. “Pink-toned, with the best lustre, 12 millimetres,” she determines, describing what she has in mind.
Her own style is discerning and chic: silk separates elegantly offset her one-can-feasibly-imagine sizeable pearl collection (“I wear cream in summer, black in winter!” she says, laughing). “I love pearls – when you hold them, put them against your neck, you see the light that comes from pearls makes your complexion glow. It brings more light to your face.”
Pearls are a test of patience, with one strand taking up to 10 years to perfect. She tells of a particular bespoke piece, an opera-length necklace strand of perfectly uniform 17-millimetre pearls that took years to complete. “That size is extremely rare, so in order to find a whole set of 17-millimetre rounds that also matched in colour, lustre and surface complexion proved to be nearly impossible,” explains Salter. “We ended up having to undo other strands to take the 17-millimetre centre pieces out of those, and it meant that for the next few years we couldn’t complete other strands. This is the kind of rarity you’re talking about with South Sea pearls.”
The rarity and beauty of pearls has long been espoused. But beyond their mystical allure – the only natural gems that are produced by a living creature – it was the adventure that intrigued Salter and encouraged her to join the family company. Her grandfather, Nicholas Paspalis, had fled Greece as a young child with his family to settle in Australia after World War I. By 19 he owned his own pearling lugger and became an expert in the Australian pearling industry. His sister, Mary Dakas, Salter’s greataunt, was Western Australia’s first pearl lugger. After finishing high school, Salter herself spent time on the company’s pearling ships as a deckhand. It was a family tradition, as her brothers and cousin had done the same before. “It was so beautiful out there, and good to feel a part of the crew,” she says of her experience on the ships, which travel from Darwin to Broome and in between. “I suppose my only regret is not having spent more time working on the ships; I wish I could have done it for another year.” The excursions involved being out at sea for as long as a month, harvesting, X-raying and transporting the precious goods back to be graded.
Now, when Salter returns to the Kimberleys, she brings special clients from around the world. “They can’t access this area; the only way you could get there is if you have your own boat or by seaplane.” Years of working with these special clients has equipped her with a sound knowledge of Paspaley pearl wearers. “It taught me about what customers want and don’t want,” she says, pointing out that in one instance Sydney clients selected rose gold and morganite colourways, whereas in Melbourne the preference was black and white. After eight years of working with clients, her cousin – James Paspaley, now CEO – suggested she became involved in design. “Each of the roles I have been asked to do are based on my strengths,” she says of the appointment. “It’s my family and they understand me.”
She recognises that the challenge of pearls is to upturn preconceived notions. “Our designs have always been adventurous, even before I started,” she says, telling me about the Lavalier necklace, designed so that the pearl can remain undrilled and delicately suspended in a net of gemstone dbe speckled gold .“Jewellery isn’t a status symbol anymore, and women want versatility.”
Salter brings me to one part of the Paspaley offices set beneath Sydney’s Martin Place store, revealing a large treasure box of rare pearls that have been found by the Paspaleys, from pearls that have a particularly luminosity, unique colours, unusual shapes or extreme sizes. One of these pearls can only be removed if another worthy selection takes its place. The company prides itself on lustre, selecting only the best for its collections – the remaining 98 per cent is wholesaled to jewellery brands, including Tiffany & Co., Cartier, Harry Winston and more. “A pearl could be any shape, but if it doesn’t have lustre it’s not a beautiful object. Even a child would be inclined to reach across the table and pick out the pearl with the most lustre, because that is the most beautiful,” says Salter, holding up pearls and recalling her memories of them. The pearls in the box have such a glow and shine that we can see our warped reflections. “That’s the thing about pearls. You don’t need a loupe to grade their beauty – it’s all done by eye.”
“MY ONLY REGRET IS NOT HAVING SPENT MORE TIME WORKING ON THE SHIPS”