It always starts with the shiny things. Children’s pockets full of interesting bits, collected throughout a day: stones, fossils, crystals. Like magpies, we’re drawn to the treasure hunt.
For Pamela Huizenga, her fascination with color and gemstones began this way, innocently enough. Pamela’s family recognized this interest, and nurtured it with trips from their home in Florida to North Carolina where they mined their own gemstones. Pamela collected and eventually began cutting those gemstones herself at the age of sixteen. And so began a tendency towards
The first thing you notice about Pamela Huizenga’s jewelry is the color. A shifting kaleidoscope; a mosaic of hues. A savant with color, somehow the gradients, the nuances, even (especially?) the imperfections are just right. She makes color sing.
She is known for her bracelets, cobblestone affairs studded with gems, each stone an individual addendum to a masterful montage. Equally impressive are pendants, which are anchored with a frontispiece, but the accents nearly steal the show. Earrings make you wonder how so many gemstones are painstakingly matched or contrasted. No wonder Pamela inspires some seriously devoted collectors around the country.
If you are attending the Couture Jewelry Event in Las Vegas in 2014, you can say hello to Pamela and see her designs at Salon 1101.
Pamela Huizenga Interview
I really enjoyed getting to know Pamela, her designs, and inspirations better. I interviewed Pamela for the Contemporary Jewelry Design Group, where she is a member and I am an editor of their website at www.cjdgjewelers.org. You can read the full conversation here on the CJDG website.
idazzle.com: You’ve been in jewelry for a long time. Is it true that you started cutting gemstones at age sixteen?
Pamela Huizenga: I have always loved rocks and stones. My mom recalls me coming home with pockets full of fossils and stones as a child. If it was sparkly, shiny or interesting, it came home with me! As a teenager, I became really fascinated with minerals and gems. Starting when I was about twelve, our family would vacation in North Carolina. I loved going to the mine-your-own gemstone places there.
I got to know the family at one of these places, and actually went to work there one summer when I was old enough. Jerry Call was the owner, and is a world-renowned gem cutter who cut a notable gemstone that is in the Smithsonian. At sixteen, I asked if I could take his gem cutting course. It’s an intensive 5 week course, 5 days a week, from 9 to 5 each day. It was in the local newspapers when I received my certification—I was the youngest person to enroll in his course!
So that was high school, when most of us are concerned with reading War and Peace for AP English! How did you transition into jewelry as a career?
When I was in college I went to the local jewelry exchange, an assortment of wholesalers, to try and sell the stones I had cut. I’m not sure I sold any of the stones, but I ended up with a part time job, sorting calibrated rubies, emeralds and sapphires for an East Indian stone dealer. An experience helping my father with a diamond bracelet for an anniversary led to me helping friends and family with private client jewelry projects. I eventually teamed up with a goldsmith and helped people with custom jewelry projects, involving some really major jewelry pieces. It was fun, but I eventually had children, and ended up with a ceramic business; an interesting retail/experience hybrid. Whatever I did was always around an artistic endeavor.
So what led you back to jewelry again?
My own daughter developed an interest in mineral specimens as a teenager!
It seems the chip doesn’t fall far from the cutting wheel, eh?
Yes! I was trolling the Internet, looking for specimens for her and Boulder Opal started really catching my eye. I started buying this really interesting Ethiopian Opal from a dealer on eBay. In 2009, I was cutting these rough opals, and a friend who is a jewelry retailer, Susan Hardin, bought a few loose gems from me, and casually mentioned that if I ever set them to let her know.
So the seed was planted…
So I started exploring the idea of setting the opals. I had a background in laying out mosaics in ceramics, so I used duct tape and started doing layouts. Once I had the gemstone design patterns established, I started looking for someone who would do the gold bezel settings I envisioned. So, I put out a Facebook query, sort of a “hey stone lovers, know anyone who could do this project for me?”
Wait–you used social media to help launch this thing?
Ha, yes! Because these would be unique, one-of-a-kind pieces of jewelry, anyone I talked to wanted a small fortune to produce them. I ended up finding someone to make that first collection. He was a gemstone dealer in India who helped me a lot with logistics and all of the decision-making that goes into a prototype launch.
So it was Pamela Huizenga version 1.0…
Yes, so I waited with baited breath for them to be finished, and met him in New York City at a restaurant to see the finished pieces.
They were amazing! I was SO excited!
How do you feel that your jewelry has changed since that first collection?
Well, I still have a relationship with the stone dealer in India, but I no longer have my pieces made there. I have an in-house goldsmith that does most of my gold work, with a few things done in California and New York, but everything is made in the United States. My silver collection is made in Bali.
ALL of your designs are one-of-a-kind?
Yes, due to the nature of the individual gemstones and the fact that each layout is completely unique in the way it unfolds, each design is hand-made around that particular gem arrangement. No two are exactly alike.
That is very remarkable. Do you touch every piece?
Yes, I am responsible for the layout of the stones in every piece. Each one is made with intention. A piece of me goes into each one.
Do you still cut stones yourself?
Technically, I can, but I can’t cut everything that I need. It is so much easier to buy it from someone else. I do cut the opals. In fact, I’m going to start cutting opals for another designer! I’m so excited about that! I love to share information, about my stone sources, about everything, really. I feel like we are all better off when we pool our resources and cooperate.
Do you just “feel” the color combinations?
Most of the time, I try to start with an overall concept or category, like a bracelet or pendant. It starts with the stone, then the design builds around the stone. I “see” the design when I see the gemstone, often in the first ten seconds: I can often picture the entire collection at that moment.
Do you still use duct tape to do your layouts?
Yes!! My studio is filled with bakery sheets and all kinds of duct tape!
I’m guessing that you have a fondness for a specific gemstone or material—um, let me see—Opal?
Ha ha, yes opal is where it all began for me, and I still come back to it as my primary muse. Particularly Ethiopian Opal. I just finished a bracelet of all Ethiopian Opal and Tsavorite garnets.
Yum, Tsavorites! Can’t wait to see that in Las Vegas in a few days! What else should we expect to see at Couture?
I have some new…wait for it…opal pendants that are major. Actually, the hoarding of the opals had gotten a little out of hand, so I started making more opal pieces for Couture.
What is next for Pamela Huizenga?
Growing! Adding collections! I’m building out a turquoise collection right now that I’m very excited about. Lots of gems. Multi-stone; more color; rose-cut diamonds. And growing my silver line.
Great, so more people can become Pamela Huizenga collectors?
Hmmm…yes, I like the sound of that!
Thank you, Pamela! If you’re lucky enough to attend the Couture Jewelry Show, Pamela will be in Salon 1101. If you’d like to see her jewelry in person, you can check out this list of retailers on her webpage here. Follow Pamela on Facebook or Instagram to see gorgeous photos of her new creations, hot off the jewelry bench.