Q&A with Erwin Pearl

People need something to make their lives a little more beautiful. Jewelry surrounds one in beauty.  

epErwin Pearl opened his first Erwin Pearl jewelry store in 1952, but his talent for jewelry design and production began much earlier, as an apprentice to a diamond cutter at age 15. Pearl had recently immigrated to New York City from Austria, a country well known for its beautiful crystal. While he had ambition, Pearl had no idea his brand would last for more than six decades and result in 24 stores throughout the nation—10 of which are in airports (MSP’s Erwin Pearl store is located on Concourse G, near Gate 9).

Celebrities throughout the years have worn Pearl’s designs (fun fact: he created Betty White’s engagement ring for her third husband, Allen Ludden), and some of his earliest pieces have been auctioned at Sotheby’s.

We assumed that such an accomplished man would be too busy to take our call, and yet Pearl happily made time to chat with us about fashion, art, and the evolution of the jewelry industry.

What inspires you?

Flowers are my passion. I love to be surrounded by flowers. I enjoy what their color does for the soul. I find natural life incredible. The varying leaves of trees and the veins that run through them. When you look at them, you see life. This is what inspired my collaboration with the New York Botanical Gardens.

Your collaborations also include the Van Gogh Museum and Grand Central Station. How do these institutions lend well to jewelry?

I have always been an admirer of Van Gogh, but at first I found it difficult to translate his work into jewelry. Then I examined his brush strokes and took in the color of his pieces. When I broke his work down to the details, I could see how it could be carried on a piece of jewelry.

The architecture of Grand Central Station fascinates me, particularly the iconic clock. I thought it would make a magnificent piece of jewelry.

How has the jewelry industry changed since you first started?

It’s constantly changing. You have to have your own style and know who you are. You can’t change with every trend. Trendy jewelry doesn’t last. I strive to make jewelry that is fashionable and well designed, but that also has a classic appeal that can last through the years. Pieces that I made 50 years ago still seem as current as any piece of jewelry made now.

What top three pieces of jewelry should every woman own?

Every woman should own pearls. When you’re uncertain and rushing around in the morning, pearls are always the right answer. Some beautiful chains are also essential, as well as a pair of enameled earrings. When a woman wears an enameled piece of jewelry, it is like wearing a work of art. I’m best known for enameling, which is quite complicated. I strive to create difficult pieces that cannot be easily replicated.

We have to ask: What’s the story behind Betty White’s engagement ring?

I was friendly with Allen Ludden, and he asked me to make the ring. It was a surprise for Betty—she didn’t know he planned to propose. When he asked her, she said no, so he wore it on a chain around his neck until she finally agreed a year later.

What is significant about jewelry?

Jewelry enhances life. Even in the stone ages, they would take stones or animal teeth and create decorative jewelry. People need something to make their lives a little more beautiful. Jewelry surrounds one in beauty.