Melanie Georgacopoulos of Tasaki on the enduring appeal of pearls

The birthstone of June is the pearl and in honour of that we spoke to pearl expert and designer of Tasaki Melanie Georgacopoulos about her many inspirations and why she believes the future of pearl jewellery lies in breaking with the status quo

9 June 2022

By Kim Parker

In honour of June’s lustrous birthstone, the pearl, we caught up with the jewellery designer and pearl expert, Melanie Georgacopoulos. Georgacopoulos founded her eponymous brand in 2010, and is also currently celebrating a decade of designing for Tasaki (under the label M/G Tasaki) with three new collections for the luxury Japanese house. Here, she discusses her many inspirations (including sculpture and soap bubbles) and why she believes the future of pearl jewellery lies in breaking with the status quo.

How did you get your start in the jewellery industry?

I’m extremely lucky, because I knew from about the age of 15 that I wanted to get into jewellery. My mother was an interior decorator and my brother studied industrial design, so I think there’s definitely a creative streak in my family. As a kid, I was always making things using whatever was lying around, even microchips from the motherboards of old computers, turning them into little earrings and accessories to wear. I’m sure I looked ‘interesting’ at school!

When it came to choosing what to study at university, I didn’t have to think twice. I studied in Athens for three years, mostly the technical side of jewellery making, then travelled to Scotland to learn sculpture. I thought it would open up my mind and keep me ‘making things’ on a larger scale. But after a couple of years, I knew it wasn’t the right fit for me – sculpture is one of those vocations that, if you’re not 5000% into it, you’re just not going to be happy. So I applied to the Royal College of Art in London and finally felt everything come together – all of my technical training in Greece, my designer’s eye from studying sculpture, it all magically merged. I’m still in love with jewellery. I am still learning and trying new things. There’s always much more to do.

What keeps your passion for the jewellery industry alive?

Jewellery is a worldwide industry that connects people. Everyone has a memory, a story, a piece that has been passed on, which carries feelings and memories for them.  It’s also something that transcends time and simultaneously represents the time in which it’s made. You can always trace jewellery designs to the social, political, and economic environment they were made in. They aren’t disconnected from what’s really happening around the world. I feel this is something that we’re going to experience in the jewellery world again now, for example, with the price of gold going up. I think it will open makers up to other materials, because gold will be much more expensive to work with. Jewellery is also very diverse industry – it’s personal and universal at the same time. Pearls, especially, are something that everyone can connect with. They’re natural, organic, living gems. 

Best of all, jewellery is an ever-changing, evolving thing. I have clients that bring me old necklaces that haven’t been worn in forever, and we transform them. The gold and gemstones can be used over and over. That’s true of the whole industry. It’s constantly mutating and changing. The moment you think you’ve figured it out, it transforms again. That’s fascinating. 

Why specialise in pearls?

When I was at the RCA, I started slicing pearls to integrate them into a design for my degree show and thought, ‘okay, this is interesting. I’ve never seen that done before.’ After graduating, I worked as a jewellery designer but kept doing a few of my own pearl pieces on the side as well. The interest in those pieces just kept growing.  Perhaps it was my sculptural background – I learned to think of pearls and mother-of-pearl as a material which can be shaped, rather than intact things which can’t be changed. I wasn’t afraid to facet them or cut them up, which meant I could come at my designs from a fresh perspective, without being bound by tradition. I found my niche and I’ve made it my own, with strong, recognisable designs. I’m really proud of that. 

From a jeweller’s point of view, I understand others’ hesitation to ‘mess’ with pearls, because they are beautiful and rare and expensive. But I’m also hoping there’s going to be another wave of new pearl designers emerging in the future because right now, pearls are at the forefront of the industry. They have a huge potential for sustainability, which is a very good reason to carry on working with them. Of course there are unethical suppliers, as in any industry, but if you buy good pearls from a reputable, responsible supplier, then there’s the potential to do much more good than if you buy other gemstones. That’s something that the pearl industry is trying to communicate better.

How did your collaboration with Tasaki first come about?

I had started my brand in 2010 and was doing wholesale in large stores. Tasaki saw some pieces that I had created in Dover Street Market in London and emailed me, asking me to meet them in Japan. I researched some of the pieces that [fashion designer] Thakoon had designed for them and thought they were amazing, so off I went. Over the course of a week, I visited Tasaki’s pearl farm in Nagasaki, their design offices, and their Tokyo flagship store in Ginza and was blown away by what they were making and how they made it all with such integrity. At the end of the trip, they offered to collaborate with me. My first collection for M/G Tasaki, with sliced pearls, launched in 2012. It’s a lovely, organic relationship – I know everyone on the team and they allow me to design pieces that I would want to wear myself.  

Who or what inspires you?

My aim is always to design something that hasn’t been seen or done before. I want to create pieces that will appeal to all kinds of clients – people that know and love pearl jewellery, and those that are new to it and just want great design. Sometimes, after developing an idea or a structure, I’ll design wave after wave of collections which evolve from each other. And then other times, I’ll start a design and put it away for a while. I tend to follow my own instincts more than anything else. 

I’ve just launched the ‘Hexad’ collection for my own brand, for example, which is a more affordable, everyday collection with geometric-set pearls for a younger customer. I like appealing to new audiences and getting them interested in wearing pearls. At the same time, I’m designing pieces for Tasaki that are a bit more sculptural, and then also creating some one-off, super experimental pieces for the PAD Art fair in London this coming autumn. I’m currently making some bangles with pearls that look like frothy soap bubbles. All very different inspirations.

What can you tell us about your latest M/G Tasaki collections?

The pieces from all three new lines are all quite technical in terms of design, which is something Tasaki excels at. The ‘Square Leaf’ collection is all about a new way to connect a pearl to a chain or to a fastening. I wanted explore a unique, effortless-looking way of connecting a sphere to a square, so it became about nestling a pearl in a square sheet of gold. The ‘Wedge’ designs are super technical – it’s extremely difficult to slice a wedge from a pearl without ruining it. We even made a feature of each ‘missing’ pearl slice by covering it in gold, like a facet, so it reflects the light. Then, the ‘Triple Pearl’ line is about celebrating colourful pearls, set one within the other. We actually found a way to drill into the larger pearls in order to set another pearl inside them, like a gemstone setting.

Having cut, sliced and even caged pearls in the past, what’s next?

I’ve designed the pieces for my next Tasaki collection already. There will be more of an exploration of the ‘Triple Pearl’ concept, because it was such an intriguing idea. The eternal puzzle of just what can be done with the round, or roundish, shape of a pearl keeps me energised. I’m all for celebrating their incredible preciousness and beauty, but at the same time I always think, why can’t I facet a pearl like a diamond? Or set them in unusual ways? I want to be able to keep offering something new and exciting.

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