LONDON — Before 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 current video interview from her small, windowless, lamp-lit workshop, tucked within the basement of the posh vintage jeweler Bentley & Skinner on London’s bustling Piccadilly.
To her thoughts, pearl necklaces have 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.
Today, Ms. Terjeki is entrusted with a few 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 commonly required to signal confidentiality agreements when engaged on high-end items. But purchasers she will be able to identify embody the public sale homes Bonhams and Sotheby’s, and the jewellery emporiums Moussaieff and Bentley & Skinner. Private 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.
Almost all discover her by way of phrase of mouth.
In 2015, Ms. Terjeki, opened an Instagram account below the moniker @stringing_along. She wished to right the misconceptions round pearl stringing that she herself had harbored. Among the 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.
Contrary to what one may anticipate, treasured 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. “Just a special materials.”) And even ribbon is a part of her repertoire. It is historically a pearl stringer’s job to wind velvet, hair-colored ribbons in regards to the frames of some tiaras, she mentioned.
To date, her Instagram feed has greater than 17,000 followers, some little doubt drawn by the career’s uncommon nature: Expert pearl stringers are laborious to come back by.
“She is one in all a dwindling variety of impartial practitioners retaining alive this priceless talent,” mentioned Emily Barber, director of bijou 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 sporting of pricy, pure pearls, mentioned Kristian Spofforth, head of division, Sotheby’s jewellery, London. In the early twentieth century, when pure pearls have been at their peak, “it’s one thing you bought accomplished commonly,” he mentioned. In this point in time, he mentioned, extra persons are sporting cultured pearls or much less priceless pearls.
“Perfecting it and doing it effectively is remarkably troublesome,” he mentioned of the work.
Ms. Terjeki stumbled on the career by probability, when a veteran stringer provided her an apprenticeship, and partially credit her success to her background as a goldsmith.
In Budapest, she studied below a grasp goldsmith, Rezso Ludvig, an artist well-known inside Hungarian jewellery circles for restoring the Hungarian crown jewels, she mentioned. His insistence that every one college students be taught to craft all the pieces by hand utilizing solely probably the most primary instruments could be seen in her work at present.
Though specialist instruments exist, her personal are easy. And, aside from her drill and model, all match right into a picket field she carries along with her when the worth of a chunk means she’s required to string elsewhere.
Among the few gadgets 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 out there — 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 “peculiar” needle that slots right into a rounded picket deal with, she mentioned. And as for her thread, although some use silk, Ms. Terjeki favors nylon: Unlike silk, nylon “is sturdy, so the knot stays good and neat,” she mentioned.
Though 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’s going to take), her work ranges extensively in price and complexity.
At one finish of the size are single-row necklaces. At the opposite are plaited sautoirs — the French identify for lengthy necklaces fashioned of woven ropes of pearls with wires crisscrossing inside that usually culminate in a number of tassels. As 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.
In addition to its intricacy, the time spent on a sautoir can rely on the scale of its pearls.
“Sometimes the pearl gap, and the pearl itself, is so tiny even my thinnest needle gained’t undergo,” Ms. Terjeki mentioned.
Her resolution: Split the nylon thread into its element strands and, taking the slimmest, harden it with a minuscule dab of sturdy glue and slide it by way 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.
But this offers the job its attraction.
“I like challenges,” mentioned Ms. Terjeki, whose maxim is “nothing is inconceivable” and who has no plans to retire.
Today, pearl stringing is her ardour, she mentioned. “I don’t know if I might reside with out it.”