By Ashley Davis
Little h’s 14-karat white gold Grotto pendant with blue topaz and seed pearls embedded in a baroque pearl, and diamonds on clasp ($5,940)
Los Angeles--The pearl has experienced a renaissance in recent years and Hisano Shepherd, the designer of little h, is one of the reasons why.

Shepherd has garnered massive attention ever since she began slicing open the baroque freshwater pearls she favors and embedding their interiors with gemstones.

Her “Pearl Geode” designs have earned her numerous awards. This year alone, Shepherd won first, second and third place in the pearl category at the InDesign awards, making a clean sweep of the category.

She even took home the top honors in the diamond division, for her Trio ring, which features blue diamonds set in a white South Sea pearl and Akoya pearls.

As further recognition of her designs, InDesign bestowed the Cindy Edelstein Emerging Designer Award on Shepherd.

Shepherd’s accolades, including the awards she’s earned from the American Gem Trade Association and the Cultured Pearl Association of America, are not out of nowhere.

The designer is one of the heads of Los Angeles-based pearl company Pearl Paradise, and was creating jewelry long before making her way into the pearl industry.

“My mom wouldn’t let me get my ears pierced so I had to get really creative,” Shepherd explained of her earliest jewelry memories, “reverting pierced earrings into clip-ons and stuff like that.”

A high school class cemented her love of jewelry design, leading her to earn her BFA in Jewelry and Metalsmithing at California State University, Long Beach, and her MFA in the same field at the acclaimed program at the State University of New York, New Paltz.

Shepherd went on to teach jewelry design and work for a fashion jewelry company while creating her own pieces in her spare time.

“I just kept working in the industry and also making my own artwork, wearable jewelry, on the side,” she said.

She had always had a flare for the avant-garde and unusual. At one point, she thought felting was her ultimate calling.

“I thought that was my new direction,” said Shepherd. “I wanted to make something that was a crossover between fashion and jewelry.”

It was only when she met her husband, Jeremy Shepherd, the head of Pearl Paradise, that she began to consider a future in a medium less obviously suited to her style.

She explained: “Nine years ago I joined my husband’s pearl company. I started working with pearls exclusively. Pearl Paradise works predominantly in the classical style, really showcasing the beauty of the pearls. Pearl Paradise is all about having the most niche pearls and making those accessible to our clients.”

For her own work, though, the overall design of a piece superseded the beauty of the materials.

“I saw a void in innovative or trendsetting jewelry. It was just lacking in pearls,” Shepherd said. “I just saw regular, classic-style mounting after mounting, and I found it quite boring and also not challenging.”

Shepherd decided to leave her creative mark on the classic gem.

“I took it upon myself that it would be my mission to reinvent the pearl and come up with something different and unique.”

In 2011, she launched little h, focusing on the organic shapes of baroque pearls.

Around the same time, she started Pearl Collective, an endeavor from Pearl Paradise that highlights innovative pearl designs from a range of design talents.

“Our settings at Pearl Paradise can be a little bit more demure so it’s more about showcasing the pearls themselves,” Shepherd explained. “For the Pearl Collective we wanted to go to the extreme and make it edgy and more accessible to the younger generation. We collaborated with designers to bring in some fresh ideas; these designers don’t necessarily come from a pearl background or a jewelry background so they give us fresh new takes on pearls and kind of reach a different market.”

For her own line, Shepherd’s pearl geode collection is the culmination of her decades of study, work and experimentation. The genesis of the idea can be found, fittingly, in the jewelry industry’s gemstone mecca, Tucson.

Little h employs baroque freshwater pearls, or soufflé pearls, a term Shepherd said was coined by Jack Lynch of Sea Hunt Pearls, in her designs, which provide the perfect starting point for her “geodes.”

“At least in the pearl community, freshwater pearls are kind of looked down upon as the least expensive type of pearl, but in my jewelry line I look for the finest freshwater pearls,” she said. “Typically for the soufflé pearls, because they have a hollow interior, it’s really the best housing for my stones.

“They come in such beautiful colors. Freshwater pearls are the only cultured pearls that come in a natural color of pink, purple and a kind of peachy tone--I’m just in love with those colors. It goes really well with a lot of different colored gemstones.”

Shepherd favors a wide variety of colored gemstones to adorn the inside of her soufflé pearls, but said that she’s acquired some blue topaz that she is excited to work with next.

Little h begins retailing at $900.

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