LONDON — Earlier than her profitable, if considerably area of interest, profession, the Hungarian-born pearl stringer Renata Terjeki was by no means a fan of pearls.
“I by no means wished to string,” mentioned Ms. Terjeki, 47, in a latest video interview from her small, windowless, lamp-lit workshop, tucked within the basement of the luxurious vintage jeweler Bentley & Skinner on London’s bustling Piccadilly.
To her thoughts, pearl necklaces had been the protect of individuals over 80, and stringing was a simple pursuit: “I assumed all they do is simply chuck the pearls on a string, tie it someway, and that’s it,” she mentioned.
Right this moment, Ms. Terjeki is entrusted with a number of the world’s most beautiful pearl jewellery, to be restrung, repaired and sometimes redesigned.
Discretion “is an unstated rule within the commerce,” mentioned Ms. Terjeki, who is usually required to signal confidentiality agreements when engaged on high-end items. However purchasers she will title embody the public sale homes Bonhams and Sotheby’s, and the jewellery emporiums Moussaieff and Bentley & Skinner. Personal purchasers 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.
Nearly all discover her by way of phrase of mouth.
In 2015, Ms. Terjeki, opened an Instagram account beneath the moniker @stringing_along. She wished to appropriate the misconceptions round pearl stringing that she herself had harbored. Among the many works on show there are woven pearl watch straps, black diamond idler tassels, gemstone curtain ornaments and an vintage Cartier bag lined in tiny pearls.
Opposite to what one would possibly count on, valuable and semiprecious stone beads, and sometimes even coral, make up an estimated 35 to 40 p.c of Ms. Terjeki’s work, she mentioned. (“It’s the identical approach,” she mentioned. “Only a completely different materials.”) And even ribbon is a part of her repertoire. It’s historically a pearl stringer’s job to wind velvet, hair-colored ribbons concerning the frames of some tiaras, she mentioned.
Up to now, her Instagram feed has greater than 17,000 followers, some little doubt drawn by the occupation’s uncommon nature: Skilled pearl stringers are laborious to come back by.
“She is one in all a dwindling variety of unbiased practitioners protecting alive this helpful ability,” mentioned Emily Barber, director of jewellery at Bonhams UK — an public sale home that has labored with Ms. Terjeki for 12 years. (“Renata is the doyenne of pearl stringers,” she mentioned.)
Ms. Terjeki estimates there are solely a handful of high-level pearl stringers left in London.
This shortage is probably going the results of a shift away from the common carrying of pricey, pure pearls, mentioned Kristian Spofforth, head of division, Sotheby’s jewellery, London. Within the early twentieth century, when pure pearls had been at their peak, “it’s one thing you bought finished usually,” he mentioned. At the present time, he mentioned, extra individuals are carrying cultured pearls or much less helpful pearls.
“Perfecting it and doing it properly is remarkably troublesome,” he mentioned of the work.
Ms. Terjeki stumbled on the occupation by probability, when a veteran stringer supplied her an apprenticeship, and partly credit her success to her background as a goldsmith.
In Budapest, she studied beneath a grasp goldsmith, Rezso Ludvig, an artist well-known inside Hungarian jewellery circles for restoring the Hungarian crown jewels, she mentioned. His insistence that each one college students be taught to craft all the pieces by hand utilizing solely essentially the most primary instruments could be seen in her work right now.
Although specialist instruments exist, her personal are easy. And, aside from her drill and model, all match right into a wood field she carries along with her when the worth of a chunk means she’s required to string elsewhere.
Among the many few objects organized inside, mentioned Ms. Terjeki, could be discovered a “gimp” — a tiny coil of steel that stops the pearl from rubbing towards the clasp, a 0.23-millimeter needle — the slimmest accessible — for threading, and a piece of a purple cotton desk runner introduced from a housewares retailer. (The colour permits her to see the pearls clearly, and the material “has little grooves, which stops the pearls rolling,” she mentioned.) Knots are tied with an “odd” needle that slots right into a rounded wood deal with, she mentioned. And as for her thread, although some use silk, Ms. Terjeki favors nylon: In contrast to silk, nylon “is sturdy, so the knot stays good and neat,” she mentioned.
Although she declined to provide a base value due to the numerous variables (principally whether or not the consumer is commerce or personal, the worth of the piece and the time it can take), her work ranges broadly in value and complexity.
At one finish of the size are single-row necklaces. On the different are plaited sautoirs — the French title for lengthy necklaces shaped of woven ropes of pearls with wires crisscrossing inside that usually culminate in a number of tassels. Because the work can require as much as 10 hours a day of full focus for 3 weeks to a month, she mentioned, the associated fee can rise to a couple thousand kilos.
Along with its intricacy, the time spent on a sautoir can rely upon the dimensions of its pearls.
“Typically the pearl gap, and the pearl itself, is so tiny even my thinnest needle received’t undergo,” Ms. Terjeki mentioned.
Her answer: Break up the nylon thread into its element strands and, taking the slimmest, harden it with a minuscule dab of robust glue and slide it by means of the pearls like a needle. That’s why she is nearsighted, she mentioned. “I don’t want glasses for work, however I do want glasses for driving, watching a film, as a result of I stare at all the pieces so shut all day lengthy.”
Time restrictions and the worth of a chunk can add to the someday high-pressure nature of her job, mentioned Ms. Terjeki, who was as soon as required to finish a five-row pure pearl necklace value over £1 million in solely two hours whereas seated beside a bodyguard within the SSEF pearl lab in Zurich.
“With a Seventeenth-century necklace, I can’t simply go and get one other one,” she mentioned.
However this offers the job its attraction.
“I like challenges,” mentioned Ms. Terjeki, whose maxim is “nothing is not possible” and who has no plans to retire.
Right this moment, pearl stringing is her ardour, she mentioned. “I don’t know if I may reside with out it.”