A Conversation with Jörg Gellner, CEO of GELLNER Pearls

by Reema Farooqui

A Pioneer in the World of Pearls

For any pearl lover, the name GELLNER Pearls is instantly recognizable. Known for their gem quality pearls and modern, minimalist pearl jewellery, GELLNER Pearls has made its mark as one of the leading fine jewellery brands in the world. Their catch phrase “The Spirit of Pearls” embodies their outlook towards pearls and is translated in how these incredible sea gems are showcased in their jewellery pieces.

At its heart, GELLNER embraces innovation. This can clearly be seen in their ground-breaking designs and jewellery collections. Their Modern Classics ring, the very first tension-set pearl ring in the world, has forever changed the way pearls are worn on the hand. Similarly, their multi-award winning Stars in Heaven collection, brings together two completely disparate elements, pearls and stainless steel, in very trendy and creative settings.

“Stars in Heaven” Ring, Winner of the International Jewellery Design Excellence Award, 2018 and the Aesthetic Award, 2019

GELLNER’s innovative vision for jewellery is not just limited to their jewellery designs. It is apparent in their approach jewellery making as well. From 2005, GELLNER has been providing Chain of Custody (CoC)  documentation for the origin of all precious materials used in the crafting of their jewellery. While we see many jewellery brands and houses taking an active interest in tracing the origin of their gems today, this was quite a revolutionary concept when GELLNER introduced it almost a decade and a half ago.  At GELLNER, there are no ‘anonymous pearls.’

In addition, GELLNER sources its pearls directly from different independent pearl farms. This is a clear departure from their own past of sourcing pearls from pearl dealers in Japan. GELLNER has, in fact, taken this one step further by making all their jewellery inhouse at their Pforzheim atelier.

Jörg Gellner, CEO of GELLNER Pearls, is the person behind the visionary and very unconventional outlook of this pearl company. Under his steerage, which started in the late 1990s, GELLNER has experienced a renaissance of sorts and has now come to occupy a prominent and avante garde place in the consciousness of pearl jewellery lovers everywhere. In my chat with Jörg, we talked about GELLNER and how this one jewellery company is making pearls the ultimate jewellery brand for the new generation.

GELLNER has a beautiful slogan, The Spirit of Pearls. What does that mean to you?

For me, pearls have a personality and that’s the most important thing. In fact, I always have a pearl in my pocket. I think it’s also important for the pearl to find the right person, or the person has to find their perfect pearl. By this I mean that it’s not just an object, it has a personality and will attract just the right person to itself…  that’s the spirit of pearls. That’s our philosophy at Gellner.

Mother-of-Pearl, Tahitian pearl and Diamond “Melange” Necklace

GELLNER makes modern and very wearable pearl jewellery pieces for its clients and provides a clear Chain of Custody (CoC) for its pearls. What is Chain of Custody for pearls and why is it so important to you?

We are probably the first company to start the Chain of Custody practice, which everyone is talking about these days. When I took over the business, nobody talked about it. But for me it was always important to tell the client exactly where their pearls came from. The first time I went to Japan with my father to buy pearls, he bought mostly Akoya pearls from Japanese pearl dealers. However, I felt it would be better to concentrate on Tahiti- and South Sea pearls and buy directly from the farms. This is because I wanted to know where the pearl came from as well as how it was cultivated and harvested. So, since the late 1990s I have moved away from buying from pearl dealers to buying directly from pearl farms.

When you work with the farm it’s a very different business relationship. If I have talked to the people running the pearl farms and optimally also visited the farm, like Justin Hunter in Fiji, Atlas in Bali, Paspaley and Robert Wan, I know first hand the conditions the pearls are being cultivated in. For me, its important that you know the people behind the pearls, not only the owner, but the whole team and their spirit. Also, farms being operated in a sustainable manner is a must for us at Gellner. These factors help us decide which pearl farms to  buy from.

Wave Ring with a “Tahitian Sun” Pearl and Brown Diamonds

Additionally, since the late 1990s we have been quite strict about documenting the provenance of the pearls we sell. We don’t mix pearl origins within the same category. So, if we make a necklace of, say, South Sea pearls, they will come from one farm only. We do not mix Australian Paspaley pearls with Indonesian Sukendi pearls. Either it is a necklace from Sukendi or Paspaley, in that sense a single origin. But when we make muticoloured necklaces, that’s different. If it’s a mixed pearls necklace, then it’s just a Gellner necklace. Otherwise we brand it with the name of the pearl farm we are getting the pearls from. So each end consumer who buys a strand from Gellner also knows which farm stands behind their necklace.

Marutea Private Culture Pearl Necklace. Tahitian Pearls of Rarest Beauty

Let’s talk about GELLNER’S brand new Marutea Pearls Collection

We launched our Marutea Pearls Collection last year. That was a big success for us. It came about because I was really keen on Robert Wan’s high lustre, almost metallic multicolour Tahitian pearl lots, that came from Marutea. At the Robert Wan pearl auctions there were always only a few lots of those pearls, and everybody was bidding for them. Sometimes I got them and sometimes I didn’t. I wanted to change that. Now, I have made an agreement with Robert Wan to get a large lot of these pearls and to have the exclusive right in Europe to market these Marutea Pearls. Today, we are the only company in Europe to make these really high quality, intense multicoloured Tahitian pearl necklaces.

As for the top gem quality pearls from a given year’s harvest, we can only make about 100 necklaces each year. (By top quality, I mean a spot level of one or two.)

At Gellner, we only call it Marutea if it’s the highest quality in lustre and if you have two colours in the pearl. We do make more necklaces from pearls coming from the same farm, and they are quite good as well, but if they don’t meet the top quality criteria, we do not call them Marutea Pearls.

Modern Classics “Tension” Ring with a White South Sea Pearl and Diamonds

What do you think of the discussion we see everywhere about the great Pearl Revival happening currently? Have pearls always been around, or are they in need of a comeback?

No, I don’t think pearls need a revival. There are always some ups and downs, and trends may change but pearls have always been part of fine and high jewellery. In the past, women preferred to wear pearl necklaces.  Nowadays, jewellery designs are often based on one (statement) pearl with gemstones and gold around it. But pearls are always there. However, what I don’t agree with is when  people put pearls in the grandma corner. I think that’s wrong. At Gellner we have always seen pearls as young and trendy. It’s a jewel with a strong personality, which makes it very cool.  If anything, it’s rarer than diamonds. In fact I once calculated that there are more diamonds in weight produced in a year as compared to cultured saltwater pearls. So, I don’t think pearls need a comeback.

Pearl Mates Bracelets

Do you ever do bespoke commissions at GELLNER?

In a way we do, but it’s not as simple as taking any bespoke commission, even though we manufacture everything at our atelier in Germany. We have a variety of jewellery designs that we try to change with different elements, so even within our collections we offer a lot of variety . Of course if a client selects their loose pearls and gives us a  special commission to make say, a Rendezvous necklace for them, but using their chosen pearl, we will do it. But special commissions are not the main focus of Gellner’s atelier. Nevertheless, we are always striving to give our clients more choices. For instance, we have something called Pearl Mates where we have a colour palette with different colour choices for braided bracelets. Once the client chooses their pearl, they can use the Pearl Mates palette to match their pearl to the braided bracelet colour they like the most. Then we make a bespoke bracelet for them. There are other options for personalization, within the braided bracelets line, such as small gold tags which attach to the bracelets that our clients can have engraved with something special or personal. So, our focus is to give our clients many choices within our own jewellery lines.

Cultured Pearl and Diamond Necklaces, Rendezvous Collection

How about a pearl jewellery collection for men?

We have already done a collection for men. In 2010, we did our first collection for men featuring Marcus Schenkenberg in our advertising campaign. It was very successful but back then it was a very small niche and, in a way, we were ahead of the times. Now, we’re about to do something new along those lines… stay tuned for some exciting news.

Modern Classics Earrings with “Tahitian Sun” Pearls and Brown Diamonds

I am so in love with the “Tahitian Sun” colour of Tahitian pearls. How did that come about?

It’s a unique Gellner thing because only we have that colour. In fact, it’s a very integral part of our collections because we like to use our Tahitian Sun pearls with brown diamonds and rose gold. About 10-12 years ago, chocolate Tahitian pearls were very popular, and everybody wanted them. Natural chocolate pearls are rare, and I wanted to feature them at Gellner, so I bought my first batch of chocolate pearls from a pearl dealer. Then a goldsmith at the atelier made a scratch on the surface of one of the chocolate pearls by mistake. As he was polishing it off, he realised that underneath the skin, the pearl wasn’t brown at all, in fact it was grey. So basically these pearls were just dyed.  I stopped using those pearls immediately because we don’t carry any dyed pearls at Gellner. After that, it took us a few years to understand that a certain type of Tahitian pearl can change its colour to brown if heat is applied to it. Creating the Tahitian Sun pearls is a complicated process, and it is all done inhouse. But at the end of the day, it’s just a heat process, and does not involve any chemicals. We don’t dye the pearl or add anything extra to it. So, the Tahitian Sun is GELLNER’s proprietary Tahitian pearl colour.

Akoya Pearl and 18K Gold Necklace, Casha Collection, Designed and Crafted in Collaboration with Jewellery Designer Casha Kellermann

What about Jewellery design collaborations? At GELLNER, do you design all your jewellery inhouse or are you also open to jewellery collaborations?

When I took over the company my father still used to buy a lot of jewellery in Hong Kong and our jewellery was not so branded then as it is today. My first step was to start producing everything in Germany. Back then, that is, in the late 1990s, I collaborated with a lot of designers. Now we do the all the design work inhouse with a team of 4-5 people where I am closely involved with each collection, making sure that the Gellner identity is always visible.

But that doesn’t mean that we don’t work with outside designers. If we find somebody who has a good idea which also fits within the Gellner vision, we are open to a collaboration.  For instance, we collaborated with jewellery designer Monika Seiter, to produce a line of plastic rings with pearls, in 2007. In such instances, we always name the designer and promote the collection with their name.

Cultured Akoya Pearl, Diamond and 18K Gold “Delight” Earrings

Tell us about the GELLNER atelier in Pforzheim?

This is something that I’m quite proud of, to be honest. We are unlike other pearl companies which are not based in Japan but who buy the majority of their pearls from Japanese pearl dealers. In some ways it’s easier, to just buy the finished necklace from the pearl dealers. But I wanted to do things my way and buy pearls directly from the pearl farms. We are one of the few pearl companies who do all the work at our atelier such as drilling, stringing and matching the necklaces. Everything is done in Germany. At any given time we may have upwards of 150,000 Tahitian and South Sea pearls in stock just in Germany. So, if, as it often happens, a client asks for a very specific necklace, of 11-12mm cultured saltwater pearls going from white to dark, we can custom make that exact strand for them.

Tahitian Pearl and Diamond “Urban Flex” Ring

How has the Covid 19 pandemic affected your business at GELLNER?

It’s tough to buy pearls at the moment with all the travel restrictions. With the online auctions it’s okay if you want to buy a small quantity but if you  have to make a big purchase it’s not suitable. When I purchase pearls, I really want to touch them and understand their quality. Buying pearls online is really not easy option. It’s also been challenging to sell pearls in the pandemic because our retailers can sell watches and diamond jewellery online but selling pearl jewellery is so personal and you really need to feel it and see it against your skin. So it’s really tough to sell pearls online.

Thank you so much Jörg for taking time out to chat with me. Looking forward to all the exciting new things coming from GELLNER in the near future 😊

You can visit GELLNER Pearls at www.gellner.com and follow them on Instagram @gellner_official

Featured Image: GELLNER Marutea Tahitian Pearl Necklace

All images used in this post are the property of GELLNER Pearls. Any person or organization not affiliated with GELLNER Pearls may not use, copy, alter or modify any of the images used in this post, without the advance written permission of GELLNER Pearls.

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