Missouri artists to create one-of-a-kind jewelry

The Missouri Stream Team Watershed Coalition is providing a rare opportunity to own Mississippi River pearl jewelry made by 11 Missouri artists.

Earlier this year, MSTWC director Holly Neill began hunting for pearls that came from Mississippi River mussels.

Tom Allard, of Allard Custom Jewelers in Davenport, Iowa, cracked open his vault just for her. He had bags full of “slugs” — pearls in unconventional shapes and colors — that he had collected over decades from Mississippi River divers.

“I like the ones that I could make birds and fish and stuff that had a lot of character,” he said.

Jewelers couldn’t buy these pearls new if they tried.

“Zebra mussels came in and suffocated the clam beds,” Tom said. “And the clammers scoured the area, too.”

Tom Allard draws inspiration from the unconventional shapes found in river pearls. He has donated part of his collection for 11 Missouri artists to create jewelry for a fundraiser benefiting the Missouri Stream Team Program.

Mussel harvesting was federally outlawed in 1998, and although government agencies are working to plant mussel beds, it may be decades before Mississippi River pearls make a comeback.

That’s what makes MSTWC’s latest fundraiser so unique. After talking to some of the best jewelry artists in Missouri, Holly sent them pearls donated from Tom’s collection to make custom pieces. The jewelers are donating their time and materials — including precious metals and gems such as diamonds — to make truly unique, gorgeous and local jewelry.

James Quick, of Artisan Jewelers in Nixa, said he is excited about producing something extraordinary.

“These pearls have some crazy shapes to them,” he said. “My biggest one is kind of oval with a couple nubs coming off of it. It’s also got a little silver and gold to it.” 

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