In the Studio with Nancy, Volume 15 Volume 15 November 2020

Nancy L.T. Hamilton

Welcome to In the Studio with Nancy
Newsletter Volume 15
Pearls, Updates, and Other Stuff

Updated 11/11/23

  (Kate Cathey, Winter Birch Bracelet)

I’m including images of jewelry with pearls, throughout this newsletter, to inspire you!  Get lost in the rabbit hole that is Pinterest for a few hours and fire up your inspiration!
Visit my Pinterest site while you are there!  My Gallery is located here.

  (By Bolin, Empress Alexandra Feodorovna of Russia’s Drop Pearl Kokoshnik)

    COVID-19, looming environmental dangers, and worldwide social and political unrest have plopped a Pandora’s Box of uncertainty on our doorsteps. How we approach and (hopefully) address and overcome these challenges, defines who we are as humans.  Whatever we do, whatever the outcome, we are all in this together. I hope we retain our humanity, sense of humor, joy, and wonder in this beautiful, complicated, and challenging world. May you all live long and prosper!

In the following paragraphs, I discuss another type of challenge that many face. This is my response to an email from a struggling, new jeweler.  She has become so discouraged that she avoids her studio and no longer creates.  She is not alone.

(Unknown artist, Lover’s Eye Brooch)

“When I started metalsmithing, I expected to catch on immediately.  I was in a hurry to afford all those tools and materials, and I also assumed it wouldn’t take very long to learn because I had hand-eye coordination as an artist. But I didn’t “catch on” right away.  I “caught” the understanding that metalsmithing was hard, really hard, multifaceted, and complex, and I was further complicating things by being judgy, critical, and impatient.

It was a scary, unpleasant time in my life because I really, really wanted this career move to work! But over time, I realized that I needed to start over and let go of any and all expectations. That was not easy.

I had to ask my bitchy, little critic to vacate the premises. You’ve probably met her – she’s the one that says that your work stinks, that you’ll never be any good, that everyone else is better than you. Interestingly, after I let her go and bent my hands and mind to the work, I made more art, took more chances, and, most importantly, found my voice. Adiós chica!

  (Lady Gaga’s custom pearl shoes by A-Morir ) 

Eventually, I taught my brain that failing was okay and necessary. I decided to stop trying for perfection and settled on creating something, anything. Perfection was a goal, but it was not the reason.

I looked at my failures and critically analyzed what didn’t work. If pieces didn’t fit correctly, I repeatedly cut out test shapes until they did.  I soldered (and melted) metal over and over again. My work became mastering a technique, not producing a product.

To put an image in your head, you might want to think of learning this craft as a hike, or, more poetically, as a journey.  You can choose a hike where you are berated, judged, and beaten along with a stick. Or you can have an adventure where your curiosity is allowed to roam, where mistakes are merely steps, and where your mind is free to explore.  I don’t need to ask which you’d choose!

(Pearl Cuff by Nancy LT Hamilton)

Honestly, the failures don’t stop coming.  Even when you are familiar with the processes, comfortable with techniques, etc., there is still the occasional meltdown or, among many other pratfalls, a new design that doesn’t work (yet).  Each new technique acquired and challenge you take on is fraught with missteps.  But, if you look at it as a scientist, discoverer, or adventurer, it’s no longer considered a failure but, just part and parcel of the process.

Today, I see jewelry-making as a series of problems that need solving.  I start with an idea; if it doesn’t work, I try to figure out why.  My first answer may not work, or my second or even my third.  Sure, I sometimes get frustrated, but usually, the learning process makes my brain stretch, and my ideas become free to travel without censure.  I’ve come to love the challenges inherent in this craft because of the “failures” and how they make me push myself.  It’s a long road, so I might as well make it an enjoyable journey!  Bring snacks; you’ll get hungry!”

  (Wedding necklace, Nancy LT Hamilton)


  My video on using thermoplastics to create punches and blocks went up on YouTube.  Check it out!

I finished editing my Easy to Make Tubing video, and it’s on the Tube!

Learn how to use that tubing to make a magnetic clasp – the Magnetic Clasp Video is here!

Make a Decorated Tube Bead

  (Sushi Necklace, Nancy LT Hamilton)

I like adding information on a topic to give you something to think about.  In this newsletter volume, I briefly flutter over the topic of Pearls.  I hope it inspires you to learn more.  I might even finish my massive web page on pearls, someday…Here’s the link to the unfinished page:  A Pearl Primer.  Also, visit Questions & Answers: Pearls.  Yet more pearl information in my Pearls:  Types, Locations, and Characteristics chart.

Places to visit:

YouTube, Nancy LT Hamilton 


   (Abalone pearl)  Un-technically, a pearl is a hard, shiny thing that grows within the shell of a mollusk (Mollusca). The pearl is coated with a product that the mollusk makes in its mantle, called “nacre.”

Pearls DO NOT start with a grain of sand.  Sand has never been found in the nucleus of a pearl.   If pearls had sand as a nucleus, you can bet that every mollusk would contain pearls!

“Many natural pearls grow as a result of tapeworm larvae…”

   A natural pearl is simply a response by the mollusk, to a foreign body, damage, or disease.  Examples of occurrences that can cause pearls to form are a parasite, like a sea worm, an autoimmune disease, or some form of damage to the shell.   Many natural pearls grow due to tapeworm larvae, inadvertently being filtered. Yuck! Other instances are when an oyster is injured – by a fish bite, getting stepped on, falling rocks, etc.  A bit of the shell can protrude into the mollusk and then get dislodged into the mantle.

Once an invader – either a piece of shell, a parasite, or other disruptive elements, enters the mantle area, the mantle produces a substance called nacre (nacre is only present in saltwater pearl oysters, freshwater pearl oysters, and abalone.).  The mantle applies layer after layer onto the intruder and continues covering it with nacre.  The nacre protects the mollusk against further damage and smooths and rounds the foreign material.

Natural pearls are rare.  Top-quality natural pearls are even rarer!  Raw (Australia) notes: “Only 1 in about 10,000 wild oysters will yield a pearl, and of those, only a small percentage achieve the size, shape, and colour (sic) desirable to the jewellery (sic) industry.”

A cultured pearl is simply one wherein a nucleus, of various materials, is inserted into the sexual organ of the mollusk (the gonad), by a human.  Instead of layer upon layer of nacre emanating from the core, the cultured pearl’s nacre develops over the nucleus, creating a pearl within a year or two.

(Range of Golden South Sea Pearls.  Image Credit:  Pure Pearls)

Due to the longevity of the South Sea oyster (up to 40 years), they can produce very large, lustrous pearls.  The nacre is made up of very large aragonite crystals; on average, their nacre is the thickest of all pearls.

Kokichi Mikimoto and his wife, Ume Mikimoto, worked together to create the cultured pearl.  He discovered that round nuclei cut from US mussel shells created the best pearls.  Most cultured pearls today are made from these mussel shells. A note on Ume:  She supported, experimented, and worked alongside her husband until her early death at age 32.  She did not live long enough to see the cultivation of the round pearl, which occurred 11 years after her death.  Mikimoto never remarried, and after Ume’s death, he immersed himself in his work.

Nacre/Mother of Pearl

 Abalone    Black Lipped (Rainbow)
  Akoya    Gold Lipped

Nacre is the same material that creates the shell’s inside and outside (mother-of-pearl) and the material that coats pearls.

Pearl Classifications

The first classification of pearls is whether they are Natural or Cultivated.  Next, there are four main types of pearls: freshwater pearls, Akoya pearls, South Sea pearls (white and golden), and Tahitian pearls. Sub-types are round and baroque Pearls.  Round pearls are considered traditional, and every other shape is considered baroque.  But, under the heading of baroque, are a wide variety of shapes.

  (Baroque pearls – just a few of the shapes available)

“Abalone are hemophiliacs.”

Interesting mollusk facts:  

  • Many types of molluscas change sex.   Most start life as males and then switch to females.  Some change back to male, if there are ladies present.
  • Abalone cannot be used for cultured pearl production because they are hemophiliacs.  Their bodies are incapable of clotting, and any puncture or laceration will kill them.

(Abalone shell)

  • Several species of Mollusk have extraordinary lifespans!  The Geoduck can live for over 160 years, the Freshwater Pearl Mussel 190 years, and the longest lifespan winner is the Ocean Quohog at over 400 years!   Credit:  Hans Hillewaert/Wiki Commons/CC License

For historical information on Pearls, please see the following pages: 

Well, that’s it!  As usual, my emails are novels!  I hope you read some of it.  Maybe this is why it takes me so long to put out an email!!!  I should think about changing the format.  Be well and happy creating my friends.  Nancy

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