Living West

Living West

For thousands of years, pearls have been a coveted and treasured accessory for women around the world. These wearable heirlooms easily captivate our attention and evoke our fondest memories. 

“Every woman that's been in any form of leadership — whether from royalty, to politicians, to corporate CEOs — is photographed wearing pearls. If a woman walks in a room wearing pearls, all heads turn,” says Shari Turpin, founder of Pearls by Shari, a fine pearl jewelry purveyor. As classic and impressive as pearls are, the power of pearls is also personal: “Most people have a very warm memory of someone that they love that wore pearls,” Turpin says. “It’s a very engaging gem. It’s a very ‘statement’ gem.” 

The mesmerizing effect that pearls have on people captured the heart of Turpin herself as a young woman and an emerging jewelry designer. Growing up outside of Vancouver, Canada, she was an outdoors-loving adventurer, inspired by the natural world around her. When she got married, became a mother, and began making her own jewelry, Turpin’s frequent world travels furthered that awe of nature and influenced her work. 

The more she grew to love the rarity and intrinsic perfection of pearls, the more Turpin incorporated them into her jewelry designs until they were the primary gem she worked with. “I like designing things that are very specific to my taste,” she says. “I tend to be a very tailored person, but I want what I wear to be extraordinary and lovely — but practical. I just started making things that I would enjoy wearing and that would be functional at that time as a young mother and an outdoors person. Then it just turned into a jewelry business as I found out that a lot of other people enjoyed the same thing,” Turpin says.

The business began in Jackson, Wyoming, almost 40 years ago. Turpin’s expertise in grading and negotiating prices, as well as maintaining quality relationships with suppliers who share her love of the gem, has allowed Pearls by Shari to offer the top 10 percent of the world’s quality-grade pearls to her customers. 

The fact that a pearl is the only gem created by a living creature, not able to be customized by man, is profound to Turpin. You can’t special order, cut, or alter a pearl like a diamond or other stone, she explains. You can only receive what Creation has provided.

The search for the rarest and finest pearls in the world is an adventure, says Turpin, who travels four to five months out of every year to hand-curate the pearls herself. Different types of precious pearls — Tahitian, White South Sea, Akoya, freshwater, and Golden South Sea pearl varieties — make their way back to Jackson to be designed into jaw-dropping necklaces, bracelets, and earrings, or be paired with other beautiful materials like gold chains, turquoise stones, diamonds, and leather for everything from pearl lariats to Teton-mountaineering-inspired bracelets.  

The result has been so successful that Turpin now oversees bustling stores in Jackson, as well as Park City, Utah, and a newly opened Manhattan, New York, location, along with a robust online shopping presence. Having brick-and-mortar stores in some of the country’s most beautiful and exciting vacation destinations adds to the richness of the customer experience and the relationships that are formed between shoppers and Pearls by Shari staff, Turpin says. 

“Business is booming. We are doing extraordinarily well. I think when you are passionate about your product — every aspect of it, from sourcing well to designing well to providing an excellent customer experience — people tend to gravitate to that,” she says. As they have since Turpin first went into business, customers also quickly become passionate about the product and, Turpin says, are constantly imploring her to open stores in additional locations. She credits the level of customer service by her entire team of staff, from the behind-the-scenes support to the salesfloor, with helping to spur that fervor. 

“I think it’s a compliment to all of our staff that do such an incredible job, not only being knowledgeable about the pearls, but in actually caring about the customer,” Turpin says. “We’re not here to sell pearls — we’re here to help someone who’s looking for pearls find the very best design to fit their lifestyle. We are trying to find something that will thrill the people that walk into our stores, and we’re very good at it. Whether [customers] go to a Park City store or Jackson or New York, they’re going to find that same care, love, and commitment.” 

That level of service perfectly complements the beauty of the products. And the pearls perfectly complement the lives of customers. 

“We carry the rarest pearls in the world, but you can horseback ride in them,” Turpin says. “You can wear them every day. You can just live everyday life, and you can wear extraordinary jewelry at the same time.” In fact, the best care for pearls is to wear them often, says Turpin, explaining that the oils in our skin help pearls maintain their luster. 

Ultimately, what makes a pearl so special is how it metaphorically mirrors our own lives, Turpin says. It’s something that reinforces her own faith. 

I think that the process of the oyster is one of pain and suffering and perseverance. When the oyster is producing that pearl, it’s suffering. It’s got an irritant in it, but I believe that the process of the oyster mirrors humanity perfectly. All of us are old enough to have pain in our lives, but ultimately, we can bring that to our Creator, and He can make something beautiful out of it. And so I believe that the pearl is the gem of hope.”