“You know, pearls aren’t supposed to be perfectly round and white,” says designer Hisano Shepherd, whose fresh take on the beloved gem truly breaks the mold. “I want people to know that pearls can be glamorous or casual—they have versatility.” Since launching her brand, Little H, in 2011, Shepherd has taken a refreshingly daring approach to pearls. For her signature Pearl Geode line, she cracked the sea-born gems in half and set their curved interiors with jewels—think rubies, sapphires, amethysts, emeralds, and tiny seed pearls. The result is exquisitely earthy creations that beg a closer look.
“I’m always waiting for the day when somebody says, ‘How could you cut a pearl in half?’” says Shepherd, who initially feared that the pearl farmers might be unhappy that she was carving into their prized product. “But one of the Tahitian pearl farmers that we buy from actually bought one of my rings for his wife because he really liked the concept.”
Shepherd’s fascination with jewelry started early. As a child, she split her time between Los Angeles and Tokyo and recalls frequenting local bead stores to gather materials to make friendship bracelets. In high school, Shepherd’s passion for design was reawakened in a jewelry-making class, and she went on to obtain a degree in fine arts and a masters in metalsmithing before launching Little H in Los Angeles. Shades of contemporary art echo through Shepherd’s designs, and she names abstract painter Agnes Martin and German artist Karl Fritsch among her inspirations.
“The biggest compliment is when people who buy my pieces say ‘I’m not even a pearl person,’” notes Shepherd, whose jewelry-making sessions now take place at her West L.A. studio—and are occasionally accompanied by a glass of rosé. “Setting the stones inside the pearls is a process I love to do in the evening without interruptions.”
For her new Spiral collection, Shepherd carved narrow grooves into the sides of pearls and inserted finely faceted gems, creating 360-degree statement pieces that call to mind rock candy and tiny ringed planets. The Spiral collection also highlights luminous green and lavender-hued Tahitians—Shepherd’s favorite type of freshwater pearl—which she sources through Pearl Paradise, the web-based pearl marketplace she owns with her husband, Jeremy.
Designs from Little H start at $810 and are available through select U.S. boutiques.