By Michelle Graff
The CPAA’s President’s Award goes to a design that is “well made, celebrates pearls and leaves a lasting impression of pearls as must-have gems.” This year’s winner: a water buffalo horn cuff by Alishan Halebian featuring pink pearls set with bezel-set rubies.
New York—The Cultured Pearl Association of America has announced the winners of the 2019 edition of its design contest, crowning eight pieces of pearl jewelry across seven categories.

CPAA received 38 U.S. entries for its 10th annual International Pearl Design Competition, with the judges and the association narrowing the field to 18 finalists before live judging took place in New York late last month.

The top honor, the President’s Award, went to Alishan Halebian of Alishan for his “Polka Dots” cuff.

An instant and unanimous choice among the four judges, the cuff is made of water buffalo horn that’s peppered with pink freshwater pearls set with bezel-set rubies and finished with 18-karat white gold and diamond accents.

Taking the Luster Award, which goes to a design that’s covetable, marketable and has wide appeal, were Alexis Mazza’s “Diana’s Love” earrings (pictured below).

20191108 CPAA Diana earrings

A fresh take on the pearl earring, this piece is crafted in 14-karat yellow gold with freshwater pearls and hits on a trend that’s hot across all jewelry right now—hearts.

The Orient Award, given to a design that’s accessibly priced and would catch the eye of someone who’s not worn pearls before, went to two pieces this year.

20191108 CPAA Orient winners NEW

Timo Krapf’s 18-karat gold earrings with cultured white South Sea pearls (above, left) and the “Esther” ring in sterling silver with a Biwa pearl (above, right) by Polly Baumgartner shared the honor.

The Visionary Award for Classic Styles went to the “Chimera” pendant in 18-karat white gold with freshwater pearls and diamonds by Brenda Smith of Brenda Smith Jewelry.

20191108 CPAA Chimera necklace
The Visionary Award is given to a piece that updates an iconic pearl style, like the strand or the stud, to help change the perception in the market that pearls are dated. It must be attractive and creative, as well as saleable.

Judges viewed Smith’s necklace as being all of the above, noting that it could easily be layered with longer necklaces, another trend that is hot in jewelry right now.

20191108 CPAA Keshi swing

Dilly Kirby won in the Wedding Day Pearls category for these convertible Keshi Swing earrings in 18-karat white gold (above), which a bride could wear as studs during the ceremony and turn into long drops for the reception, or vice versa.

This year’s Fashion Award, reserved for a piece that’s original and more fashion-forward, went to Paul Klecka’s Mandala ring in 18-karat gold with a cultured Tahitian pearl (pictured below).

20191108 CPAA Mandala ring

Jennifer Pusenkoff’s convertible “Ocean Diva” necklace in 18-karat gold with cultured Tahitian pearls, blue zircon and labradorite (below) took home two awards.

It won the Spotlight Award, which focuses on designs where 75 percent of the piece features one type of pearl. The type of pearl considered for the award changes each year; in 2019, it was Tahitian.

20191108 CPAA Ocean Diva

The “Ocean Diva” also was the winner of the Popularity Award, which is based on the number of likes received on the CPAA’s Instagram account. More pictures of the necklace illustrating all the ways it can be worn can be viewed on the designer’s Instagram account.

To see photos and descriptions of the 10 remaining finalists that received honorable mentions in the contest, visit the CPAA’s website.

Jean Francois Bibet, workshop and production director at Cartier; Nancy Schuring, owner of Devon Fine Jewelry in Wyckoff, New Jersey; National Jeweler Editor-in-Chief Michelle Graff; and jewelry designer Hector Hassey were this year’s judges.

In addition to the pieces they examined in person, the group of four also looked at images (photos of already made pieces or renderings) submitted from around the world for the contest’s international component.

This year’s winner of the President’s Trophy in the international division were the “Fern After Rain” earrings by Liao Shu-Fen and Wang Hao-Chen.

20191108 CPAA Intl Fern Earrings

The earrings, seen above, are designed with golden cultured South Sea pearls and cultured akoyas.

The other international winners were as follows:
-- “Sun, Earth, Moon” pendant by Teong Yan Ni, Luster Award;
-- “Radiant” earrings by Mika Murai, Orient Award;
-- “Camellia Yin Yang” earrings by Wei Li, Visionary Award;
-- “Flirt” necklace by Orsolya Nagyne Raski and Daniel M. Nagy, Wedding Day Pearls;
-- Roman Gladiatrix ear cuffs by Tanya Meher and the Galaxy Choker by Wonhee Kim, tie for Fashion Award; and
-- Gaugin’s Memories cuff by Raski and Nagy, Spotlight Award.

To see images and read descriptions of the winning international pieces, visit

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