Pearl Carving as an Art Form

Tahitian Arched Metal rings with swirl motif carvings.


One craft that is becoming the signature of TVRRINI is the art of pearl carving. Every day, we live and breathe craft as part of our livelihood. After becoming aware of this technique as a rare craft, we desired to explore it in our own collections. Ultimately, in having this as part of our repertoire, we hope that it will inspire, enrich, and endure for our clients. It is inspiring a new way of transforming the gem’s natural beauty. There is an element of play. We believe that jewellery should last a lifetime of being adored, and the pearl especially reflects a person's internal elegance.

Workers carving mother of pearl

Workers carving mother-of-pearl in Jerusalem, c. 1898-1914.

Look through books and exhibitions about jewellery history, and you can readily find mother-of-pearl used in various ways for ornamental purposes. In late Ayutthaya and early Bangkok, artisans embraced it as an inlay medium on royal food containers, boxes, furniture, musical instruments, and Buddhist artifacts. It can be found carved on Chinese snuff bottles to portray immortal figures. What’s more, it has long been used in cameo reliefs in European jewellery. The surface gives an opalescent, bluish-grey colour, best suited with silver or white gold to complete the design. 

Another important movement was the abundance of larger sculptural pieces. Fine and bigger carved shells were generally rarer and more expensive, finding use in dioramas and gospel depictions, due to its connotations of purity, femininity, and divine power. As far back as the fourth-century, highly-skilled people portrayed biblical scenes or icons with great detail using hand-tools onto the precious material. Among found examples, inscriptions provided details about the work, often made in Jerusalem or Bethlehem, sometimes including the recipient’s name.

Orchidae carved pearl ring side detail

The Orchidae Ring with a carved Tahitian pearl.

Let us now transport to the current scene of pearls in jewellery. The historical context of carved mother-of-pearl in religious artifacts and noble gifts makes the craft rather heavy to appeal to the twenty-first-century jewellery lover. Instead, the opalescent colours are a major reason why they remain so attractive to today’s designers, and not just in single bead strands. We find the natural glow romantic, while the high durability means that fine details will stay with you for decades. 

The studio picks stunning Tahitian, South Sea, and freshwater pearls to include in its collections. They are preferably cultured for at least three years with a thick nacre to yield beautiful carvings. Meticulous work by hand reveals the notable layers, tones, and colours that are initially hidden due to the thick nacre (or layers) on the surface. With a growing scarcity of pearls, it is also important that each carving meets our standard of perfection.

Orchidae floral pattern on ring

The Orchidae Ring.

Some of the pieces closely follow patterns found in Polynesia, mostly with a variance of flowers, spirals, triangles, and wavy curves. Some have Southeast Asian influences: you will find glimpses of regional plants or arch motifs that were present in our upbringings in Hong Kong.

Think of it rather like a tiny, three-dimensional canvas. There are myriad possibilities for carving and we are just getting started on the journey ahead. 


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