Seattle jeweler Gina Pankowski often uses pearls in her jewelry to symbolize seeds or eggs embedded in silver pods or protective shells. Sometimes these pearls are tiny and delicate, sometimes head-turningly large. To her, pearls represent contained life.
Her Pearl Orbit series began in 2000 when she was first thinking about starting a family. (She now has an 8-year-old.) “A pearl is an intrusion in the mollusk,” she explains, “and from that intrusion, that irritation, they create something so beautiful.”
Pankowski prefers natural pearls to dyed. “There are so many soft, lustrous, feminine colors available in natural pearls,” she says. This sometimes means paying a premium, especially for her favorite: the chartreuse-green South Seas pearls known as ‘pistachio,’ which she likes to combine with 18kt green gold.
“I’m really into green. I’m an avid gardener and I love looking into the small layers of growing things,” says Pankowski, who studied botany and astronomy in college and worked for a while in a greenhouse. “A lot of my work reflects that.”
In her Pearl Orbit series, she takes the examination of “small, growing things” a step further, so that you’re looking not at them, but inside them – as through a microscope. “The pieces, in their finished phase, can be like looking at botanical cells, the pearl being the nucleus of the cell.”
Pearls make the most dramatic impact worn on the neck, in Pankowski’s opinion. She makes dramatic earrings, rings and bracelets – and not just with pearls – but she prefers to design pendants and necklaces.
“I do a lot of one-of-a-kind neckpieces. I find they make great performance pieces,” she says. “Given the scale of some of my pieces, you can’t avoid being transformed. You are the ultimate public art. When you’re walking around wearing a great piece of jewelry, people stop to look.”