"Growing up in Fiji, the women in my family loved jewellery. In fact, my mother began buying me jewellery from the time I was five years old, and believed wearing diamonds or gold bangles on a daily basis was important.
I remember tearing jewellery apart, changing everything around and putting it together again. So it’s no surprise I’ve become a jewellery designer, designing and manufacturing my own range of pearl jewellery for Shahana Pearls.
My father is Indian and my mother Chinese-Italian, and I use this rich heritage to inspire my designs. I moved to New Zealand when I was 20, and 10 yearsa go I fell in love with my husband Ben (42), while we were both working for an airline.
We share a passion for travel and have the same sense of humour. Although Ben was born and raised in Auckland, his family are from the Cook Islands and are pearl farmers on the remote atoll of Manihiki. It was a match made in heaven! Ben’s family farm is where we harvest the pearls for our jewellery.
Although we still have full-time jobs – my husband is a cabin crew manager for an airline and I work as an accommodation manager in Auckland – it’s jewellery that is our passion.
I’ve learned a lot about pearl farming from Ben’s family. Most people think of very traditional pearls – white strands or creamy pearl earrings. But we promote the pearls of the Cook Islands. His family’s farm still harvests the pearls using the old methods passed down through generations.
Each oyster makes just one pearl. The farmers hang black ropes in the water and, as the currents come through, the baby oysters stick onto the ropes, where they spawn for about three years. They are then taken back to land, cleaned and drilled. A technician then inserts this little bead – it’s done in a very short space of time, otherwise the oyster will die. The oyster is put back into the lagoon for a further 18 months and then a pearl is produced.
Our business is about empowering women, so we have a female pearl farmer, who is also a technician – she’s one of the only women on the island to have this kind of role.
Manihiki is very remote with only 200 people living there. The island has no running water and it costs $3000 return to fly there from Aitutaki! I feel like it is untouched by the modern world. If you want food, you’ve got to catch it – the running joke is that the diet is either fish and rice or rice and fish.
Ben and I will travel there each year to oversee what’s happening on the farm and to set up child sponsorships in the area; we are already sponsoring a young girl from the island to study on the mainland so she can pursue her dream of becoming a teacher.
Starting up your first business is hard – especially while working full-time – but there are many rewards. When I see people wearing my pearls, and receive positive feedback, I know it’s all worth it.
I really love pearls. They are rare and unique. I don’t like the big round ones like most people do. I admire the pearls that are misshapen, because they have lots of character, just like me!”
For more information on Shahana Pearls, see shahanapearls.com
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