July 23, 2008

Unusual Pearls Gain in Popularity

By JoAnne Klimovich Harrop, The Pittsburgh Tribune-Review

Jul. 23--When you think of pearls, you usually imagine white, smooth and round -- not brown, textured, and square.

These are not your grandmother's pearls.

The collection of freshwater pearls at the Shadyside Mining Co. in Shadyside come in many colors, shapes and sizes and will be on display at a trunk show running Thursday to Monday.

"Pearls are getting very, very popular," says owner and jewelry designer Robert Patak. "You can get them in many places, but not in the variety that we have here. They are all beautiful and can be worn with any outfit, from a fancy dress to jeans. People are dressing more casual these days, but they still want to wear their jewelry, even pearls, which used to only be worn mainly for special occasions."

Patak's selection of pearls is amazing. There are pink, chocolate and gray pearls, and those which are oval, oblong or flat. They can be worn alone, combined with other pearls, and/or complemented by any of the thousands of semi-precious stones that hang in strands along a wall in the store.

The stones encompass pieces from places such as China, Tanzania and Brazil, which Patak calls the gemstone capital of the world.

"I will make whatever the customer wants," Patak says. "Some of them just come in and buy the beads and make the pieces themselves. This is my passion. Some pieces I make take less than an hour to make, while others might take weeks or months. And then, I might take it apart because I decide I don't like it. It has to be just right."

Patak's developed a broad knowledge and love of natural gems from his own vacations to mines as a child. Instead of visiting Disney World or the beach, his family took trips to mining towns where he was fascinated by finding a possible one-of-a-kind gem or mineral.

"There is that feeling when you find something that no one has found for a long, long time," he says. "That is pretty neat."

One look inside Patak's store and you'll see that his childhood love has been brought to life in his every day work. He is knowledgeable about every piece from the beads to the 400-million-year-old ammonite and 550-million-year-old trilobite plates, or the duck-bill dinosaur egg.

Patak often invites classes for field trips or groups such as the Girl Scouts to experience a unique collection of trendy gems, raw minerals, fossils and other objets d'art from around the world.

"People are getting back to the basics and like things which are organic and natural," he says. "These make great conversation pieces. I want people to come into my store and to feel comfortable with nature and to feel the vibes these pieces give off. They learn some history when they come here, and get to see some things they might never see anywhere else."


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