By  on December 5, 2011

Theresa Bruno was itching to do something out of the ordinary with pearls.

After experimenting with diamond and quartz slices in her year-old fine jewelry collection, Jordan Alexander, the designer wanted to try the same with a pearl. Her vision was to sever one in half to reveal the inside portions — and create pieces with each slice as the focal point — but was told by a craftsman that the nucleation of a pearl wouldn’t be able to withstand such a process. Bruno didn’t let this dissuade her.

That was in August. Just four months later, the Birmingham-based designer has created a 38-piece collection inspired by the idea. Her “Pearl Slice” line has necklaces, bangles, cuffs, earrings and rings that feature either the top (exterior) or underside (interior) of the pearls. Retail prices range from $3,500 for a darkened silver ring with an interior pearl slice surrounded by diamonds to $11,000 for a silver chain necklace with five diamond-bordered exterior Tahitian pearl slices and a double-sided pavé diamond clasp.

“Once we perfected the technique, we began slicing pearls in all shapes and colors. The interior of each one was completely unique and stable,” Bruno said. “Everybody is so afraid of a pearl being delicate. It’s a harder material than we give it credit for.”

She uses Tahitian and baroque pearls in white, champagne, navy and gray, offset with white, brown and raspberry-hued diamonds set in gold (yellow or rose) or silver. Bruno revealed that plans are already in the works to expand the line to include colored sapphires, black diamonds and additional metal colors — as well as more approachable price points. Think pearl slices on leather cords or chains, sans diamonds, that will retail for well under $1,000.

“At first I was just filling up a bowl with these pearls,” Bruno said of the 40 to 50 pearls required to get one that has a really beautiful interior. But she soon realized that she could “recover” these, and is working on pouring different metals and placing stones where there are empty spaces. “When it grows in the oyster, it doesn’t always fill in on the inside. It’s like a tray, it makes layers and layers, and when you cut into it, it isn’t always filled in the middle so I’d love to fill it with silver or rose gold, or even place some little rose-cut diamonds inside.”

Although she’s evolving with innovative handiwork centered around the pearl, Bruno will continue to stay true to the materials her line is based upon: diamonds and leather.

“Even though it’s fine jewelry, I love slamming it together with something that’s unexpected and youthful and organic, such as leather or an unusual thread. I don’t ever put it on ribbons because that makes it prissy,” Bruno said.

It’s helped the emerging designer that Michelle Obama is a fan — she’s been photographed wearing Jordan Alexander on numerous occasions, the first of which was during a trip to Santiago, Chile in March where she wore a string of navy pearls and a pair of pavé diamond earrings to an official dinner with Chilean president Sebastián Piñera and his wife. She chose the designer again on May 25, donning a stack of beaded, stretch pearl, diamond, jasper and turquoise bracelets while serving military families in the U.K. She’s been spotted in these several times since.

In January, the main line — which starts at $115 for a pyrite bracelet adorned with a pearl and $270 for a wood beaded bracelet with a pearl and two diamond rondelles — was picked up by two retailers. A year later, Bruno’s offerings are carried at 40 doors throughout the U.S. and Canada, including London Jewelers, Marissa Collections in Naples, Fla. and Rubaiyat in Calgary, Canada.

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