Pearls are the perfect metaphor for life, according to Shari Turpin, owner, pearl buyer, and designer for Pearls By Shari. Her shop, located just off the Jackson Town Square, has specialized in selling high-quality pearls for 25 years.
“Pearls form because of pain,” Turpin says. “A nucleus is grafted into an oyster’s membrane, and the oyster responds by coating it with layer after layer of nacre until it creates a pearl. The oyster shows us how to make something precious out of pain and suffering. It’s such a perfect parallel for life.”
The metaphor of the pearl’s creation story guides Turpin in her work and throughout her life. Like the oyster, she strives to help create something beautiful through her work, and it’s not just her jewelry that manifests that goal. The success of her business has allowed her to support efforts to help people struggling to survive.
“I’ve always been passionate about people, especially people who cannot help themselves,” Turpin says. “Searching for pearls has afforded me opportunities to be in a lot of countries and to be involved in helping others.”
Turpin and her husband support a number of programs throughout the world, particularly in Southeast Asia where they spend as much as four months a year sourcing pearls, traveling, and assisting with humanitarian causes.
They support programs ranging from a birthing center in the Philippines, to orphanages in China, and Christian ministries in Nepal. Turpin says her work also helps the pearl farmers she does business with—often families who have cultivated pearl oysters for generations—make a living in places where there are few economic opportunities. Turpin believes the link between pearls and her humanitarian work is founded in her faith and says God led her into the business 25 years ago.
Now Turpin has become one of the leading experts on high-quality pearls in the world. She is also one of the few retailers—and perhaps the only woman—to travel directly to oyster farms in Southeast Asia to source the pearls she sells. One of the necklaces she currently carries at Pearls by Shari took 17 years to create because of the perfection of the pearls in the strand.
The farm that harvested the pearls for that necklace is the world’s largest, and it harvests half a million pearls per year. But finding a match—pearls with the same size, shape, color, surface quality, and luster—is rare, and finding enough matched pearls to make a 36-inch necklace takes time and patience. But, Turpin says, that patience is rewarded with an exquisite, unique piece of jewelry that will last a lifetime.
Turpin believes the story of pearls and their unique individuality gives them a warmth and beauty that other gems don’t have. She calls them a “relational” gem and, in her experience, they remind people of their mothers and grandmothers, but are also thoroughly modern and appropriate for every occasion and outfit, from jeans to ball gowns. “The most impactive jewelry statement a woman can wear is pearls,” she says. “Pearls always make a statement.”
Whether she’s connecting people with gems or giving back overseas, Turpin finds connection at the heart of all her work.