Pearl by Pearl, She Built a Jewelry Career
The stringing, repair and redesign of pearls are a deeply held passion for Renata Terjeki, one of the few remaining artists of her kind.
LONDON — Before her successful, if somewhat niche, career, the Hungarian-born pearl stringer Renata Terjeki was never a fan of pearls.
“I never wanted to string,” said Ms. Terjeki, 47, in a recent video interview from her small, windowless, lamp-lit workshop, tucked in the basement of the luxury antique jeweler Bentley & Skinner on London’s bustling Piccadilly.
To her mind, pearl necklaces were the preserve of people over 80, and stringing was an easy pursuit: “I assumed all they do is just chuck the pearls on a string, tie it somehow, and that’s it,” she said.
But the variety and complexity of her work over her 15-year career has proved otherwise.
Today, Ms. Terjeki is entrusted with some of the world’s most exquisite pearl jewelry, to be restrung, repaired and occasionally redesigned.
Discretion “is an unspoken rule in the trade,” said Ms. Terjeki, who is often required to sign confidentiality agreements when working on high-end pieces. But clients she can name include the auction houses Bonhams and Sotheby’s, and the jewelry emporiums Moussaieff and Bentley & Skinner. Private clients have included a daughter of the Russian president, Vladimir V. Putin, (for whom she strung a prayer-bead-like gold and pearl necklace one Christmas), and European royalty.
Almost all find her via word of mouth.
In 2015, Ms. Terjeki, opened an Instagram account under the moniker @stringing_along. She wanted to correct the misconceptions around pearl stringing that she herself had harbored. Among the works on display there are woven pearl watch straps, black diamond loafer tassels, gemstone curtain ornaments and an antique Cartier bag covered in tiny pearls.
Contrary to what one might expect, precious and semiprecious stone beads, and occasionally even coral, make up an estimated 35 to 40 percent of Ms. Terjeki’s work, she said. (“It’s the same technique,” she said. “Just a different material.”) And even ribbon is part of her repertoire. It is traditionally a pearl stringer’s job to wind velvet, hair-colored ribbons about the frames of some tiaras, she said.
To date, her Instagram feed has more than 17,000 followers, some no doubt drawn by the profession’s unusual nature: Expert pearl stringers are hard to come by.
“She is one of a dwindling number of independent practitioners keeping alive this valuable skill,” said Emily Barber, director of jewelry at Bonhams UK — an auction house that has worked with Ms. Terjeki for 12 years. (“Renata is the doyenne of pearl stringers,” she said.)
Ms. Terjeki estimates there are only a handful of high-level pearl stringers left in London.
This scarcity is likely the result of a shift away from the regular wearing of expensive, natural pearls, said Kristian Spofforth, head of department, Sotheby’s jewelry, London. In the early 20th century, when natural pearls were at their peak, “it’s something you got done regularly,” he said. In this day and age, he said, more people are wearing cultured pearls or less valuable pearls.
“Perfecting it and doing it well is remarkably difficult,” he said of the work.
Ms. Terjeki came upon the profession by chance, when a veteran stringer offered her an apprenticeship, and in part credits her success to her background as a goldsmith.