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Assael (Est. 1919) In the 1960s, the Assael brand became known for procuring and selling the most desired pearls in the world. Five decades before that, James Assael, a diamond dealer based in Milan, founded the company, then known as Assael-Ventura in Italy and Europe. Before the onset of WWII, James moved the family to the United States. His son, Salvador, served with in the U.S. Army in Europe, then returned home to work with his father and learn the jewelry trade.
Salvador embraced adventure and opportunity. His business acumen and penchant for perfection eventually led to his love affair with pearls. Salvador would travel throughout Southeast Asia and Australia seeking to acquire the very finest specimens.
When he died in 2011, his obituary in The New York Times stated, “Salvador Assael, a titan of the cultured pearl business whose wares were prized for their size, hue and luminosity, died on April 1 in Manhattan. He was 88.
“Mr. Assael (pronounced ah-sigh-YELL) was known in particular for creating the modern market for black pearls, which had traditionally languished in the shadow of their brilliant white cousins.
“At his death he was the chairman of Assael International, a pearl importer and producer based in New York.”
At the time of his death, the brand’s pearls were carried by the world’s best-known jewelers, including Tiffany & Company, Cartier and Harry Winston. Salvador’s personal clients included Elizabeth Taylor, Margaret Thatcher, Nancy Reagan, and Brooke Astor.
Natural pearls — rare finds subject to the whims of nature — had always been prohibitively expensive, thus cultured pearls proved far more accessible. But by the mid-20th century, the cultured white pearl had become ubiquitous.
Its dominance remained unchallenged until the 1970s, when Salvador, almost single-handedly, popularized cultured Tahitian black pearls through a combination of business savvy, sheer force of personality and his uncanny ability to be in the right place at the right time.
Cultured pearls result from a delicate collaboration between man and oyster. In a process perfected in Japan in the early 20th century, an object — often a round bead — is inserted into an oyster, along with a piece of tissue from a donor oyster. Together, these induce the host oyster to begin coating the bead with nacre.
Once seeded, the oyster is submerged for two years or more, after which the pearl is carefully removed. At a typical pearl farm most often located throughout Asia, Australia and Polynesia, hundreds of thousands of oysters are at work at any given time, each building a single pearl.
The journalist Stephen G. Bloom has said, “What Assael did that’s so interesting is to turn what had been considered junk pearls into designer pearls that for a moment in history, women who were wealthy had to have. A strand could easily sell for over a hundred thousand dollars. Individual pearls could sell for ten thousand dollars apiece.”
Salvador became an active trader in white pearls and toward the end of his career was known for white South Sea pearls of enormous size, some approaching 20 millimeters in circumference. Before long, he concluded that his earning capacity lay in owning the means of production, i.e., the pearl farms and having hordes of irritated oysters do his bidding.
In the early 1970s, Assael heard about the black-lipped oyster found in Polynesian waters, which produces black-hued pearls. In the mid-’70s, he brought about half a dozen black strands from his first successful crop to Harry Winston in New York, where they were incorporated into lush pieces of jewelry. Displayed in the shop’s window, they sold at once.
Over time, Salvador developed what is estimated to be a multimillion-dollar business, with interests in various pearl farms in French Polynesia.
Today, his wife and widow, Christina Lang Assael, oversees all aspects of the company. On the brand’s official website, Christina writes, “I was privileged to share his life, to travel the world with him and learn from him. Salvador was a giant in the pearl world. He lived and breathed pearls – he loved them with a deep and contagious passion. When he passed away, Salvador gave me the reins of the business – an incredible gift and a huge responsibility. We … continue to offer the finest, highest quality jewelry that this company is famous for.”
The brand is noted for creating necklaces, pendants, earrings, rings, bracelets, and brooches. Collections include Akoya, Color of Pearls, Classic Assael, Contemporary Pearls, Bubble, Bridal, Bespoke, and Beyond Rare plus collaborations with Angela Cummings, Reho Concepts, Julie Parker, and Sean Gilson.
The Akoya Essentials, Classics, and Contemporary collections claim to offer “everyday elegance” and the perfect pieces for starting a lifelong pearl jewelry wardrobe. Akoya Pearls, with their delicate soft pink hue, illuminate any skin tone and bring essential light to the eyes and face.
Assael Akoya Essentials includes stud earrings, strands, bracelets and rings that are said to be appropriate for special occasion gifts and weddings.
In the Classic Assael collection buyers find what Assael deems the world’s most magnificent pearls, the best of the best, insuring that this collection befits the most memorable moments of a lifetime.
Assael’s Contemporary Collection features new pearl designs that a woman can make part of her signature style, rather than reserved for special occasions. From multi-strand Akoya Pearl necklaces to innovative pearl-and-gold bangles, cuffs, hoops and rings, these are youthful, modern jewels.
The Bubble Collection by Sean Gilson for Assael features rare South Sea, Akoya, and Tahitian Pearls—and now Gem Sardinian Coral—floating “like the bubbles in a glass of champagne.” Introduced in mid-2017, these designs captured the attention of top jewelry editors, influencers, and customers.
The Contemporary South Sea and Akoya Pearl Large Bubble Ring won the Luster Award at the 2017-2018 International Pearl Design Competition sponsored by the Cultured Pearl Association of America, Inc.
The Assael Bridal collection, created with lustrous white South Sea and Akoya Pearls, includes an array of pearl necklaces, bracelets, earrings and rings, designed to appeal to the modern bride.
Assael’s Bespoke Collection features one-of-a-kind high jewelry pieces that showcase the artistic range, unparalleled craftsmanship, and extraordinary design of the brand.
The Beyond Rare pieces feature the Melo Pearl; the rarest pearl in the world. Its surface shimmers with flame or swirling patterns in the light. The most beautiful Melo, Orange Melo, comes from off the coast of Vietnam.
Other rare pearls like the Conch Natural Pearl and Natural Angel Skin Coral, the palest or lightest color coral are incorporated into the pieces included in the Beyond Rare collection.
In a July 2018 Blog that appears on the brand’s website, Jennifer Heebner wrote that, “… at the upscale trade-only Couture jewelry show held at the Wynn Las Vegas Hotel from May 31 to June 4 … the Assael team unveiled some polychromatic delights alongside its lovely pearls.
“… this year, they opted to highlight the natural color undertones in the pearls themselves, pairing up gemstones with complementary colors of pearls. … (T)heir latest collection featuring aquamarines, spinel, precious topaz, jade and a multitude of green garnets, among others, [are] set with South Sea, Fijian, and natural-color Tahitian gem pearls.
“[In addition] the Bubble collection [has expanded to include] Tahitian pearls, with their range of hues from “eggplant and magenta to light green and peacock varieties [plus] rich deep red Sardinian gem coral. Styles are consistent with original designs, including bracelets, earrings, rings, and necklaces.”
Assael also claims a newfound passion for freeform and lustrous keshi pearls. The new keshis are offered in gold and in rainbow varieties that are unique to Fijian Pearls, which are grown in a sub-class of the Pinctada Margaritifera oyster known as Typica.
Assael recently cemented a new relationship with the renowned pearl farmer J. Hunter because of the astonishing variety of colors available. “I just inhaled them,” Christina Assael gushed during the Couture show. “Pearls needn’t be perfect to be beautiful.”
Today, the New York-based pearl brand applies sustainable practices to its bright red Sardinian coral and ultra-rare Angel Skin coral, whose color ranges from deep to blush pink with cloud-like marbling. Sardinian coral earring start at around $3,000 and multi-strand necklaces can garner up to half a million dollars. Prices for a pair of Angel Skin earrings start around $7,500 and can reach upwards of $2 million.Sell Assael All Artists
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