By Laura Layden Naples Daily News, Fla.
It all started with the gift of a pearl necklace from China.
As Martha Talton strolled down tony Worth Avenue in Palm Beach's famed shopping district wearing the glimmering strand of large baroque pearls, a woman rushed up to her, introduced herself as the mother of a famous hat designer, and asked to buy them.
"She bought them right off my neck," recalls Talton, 60, a longtime Naples resident.
From there, a mother-daughter pearl business was born, starting in Talton's guest room, then moving to a small, private salon over top of a restaurant on historic Third Street South in downtown Naples.
The company that Talton and her daughter Cullen Talton Daane call Pierre & Harry -- named after two of the favorite men in their lives -- has blossomed. Pierre was a best friend, and Harry was their father and grandfather. Both men were World War II heroes.
A little over a year ago, the jewelry business moved down a floor to the street, into its first retail store, off 13th Avenue South, selling necklaces, earrings, bracelets, rings and pendants.
"There has been exponential growth," Talton said.
Founded in 2009, Pierre & Harry got its start selling pearl necklaces purchased from China, where Talton traveled often as an airline flight attendant.
Today, the business is something far more than Talton could have ever imagined. Her daughter and best friend, who grew up as a tomboy, designs and makes all of the jewelry herself, stringing up pearls and gemstones by hand from a studio in her home.
"She didn't even get her ears pierced until we started this business," Talton said of her daughter.
Now, you can catch Daane, 28, playing tennis in pearls, though she insists she's still a tomboy at heart, who loves playing outdoors.
Daane often mixes pearls with gems in her unique pieces, which vary in price from $15 for a stretch ring to $31,000 for a Tahitian pearl and 18 karat gold necklace. Some are one-of-a-kind pieces, while other designs have been made and sold by the hundreds.
While the gems come from around the world, almost all the pearls in Daane's creations are from China, where she and her mother have established personal relationships with pearl farmers and suppliers.
Talton made those first connections with a pearl farmer as a flight attendant after befriending a young Chinese couple trying to make ends meet on their own at a bead stand in Shanghai. After hearing they were saving up for wedding rings, she gave them a set she found in her mother's lockbox.
Little did Talton know, the couple she helped in China had ties to a wealthy pearl farmer there, who returned her kindness by giving her a few necklaces. It was one of those necklaces that caught the woman's eye on Worth Avenue, and a business was born.
The business now has more than six employees and Daane's jewelry is now carried by several other boutiques in other states. She also sells her jewelry at The Third Street Farmers' Market in downtown Naples (a customer there once paid more than $20,000 for a necklace).
In many ways, it made sense for Talton and her daughter to start a jewelry business. A graduate of Community School in Naples, Daane studied abroad and has a degree in international business and luxury goods from The International University of Monaco in western Europe.
Growing up, she traveled frequently with her mom and dad, a pilot. She was their only child.
"We were just the three little bears traveling around the world," Talton said.
As a mother, she said, she couldn't be prouder of her daughter, who some have likened to Irene Neuwirth, an edgy jewelry designer based in Los Angeles.
"She's the brain," Talton said of her daughter, adding "and I'm the brawn" of the business.
While the business was once owned by both women through a limited liability company, Talton gave up her ownership, putting it only in her daughter's name. Still, they are partners in every other way.
"We are definitely partners, but she's the head of it," Talton said. "I'm just the mom and the support, like a mother bird who wants to see her baby bird fly."
Their mission statement is "pearls and gemstones for your lifestyle journey."
It's the journey and the people they meet that are most important to them, not the pearls, Daane said.
"We're in the people business and we just sell pearls," she said. "The customers are my friends. I love all my customers."
Her customers love her, too.
Mary Lynn Mika, a longtime family friend who lives in Jacksonville Beach, said she didn't know what to think when Daane and her mother decided to start a jewelry business.
"To be honest with you, I thought that sounds like a nice little idea. But I didn't know where it would go," she said.
She said they've created a need for their product, offering a fresh spin on pearls that appeal to sophisticated and educated women who want the finer things in life.
"It's a lot like the saying in that old Cutlass commercial, this is 'not your father's' car. Well, these are not your mother's pearls," Mika said.
She, of course, has a collection of jewelry from Pierre & Harry herself.
Andrea Deane, a Naples Realtor, said she has so many pearls from Pierre & Harry it's hard to count them all. Her daughter is a close friend of Daane's and the two grew up together, going to the same school from kindergarten to 12th grade.
Deane's favorite necklace, at the moment, is a long one with large gray pearls, which is on its second restringing because she wears it so much. She loves to go into the Pierre & Harry store, which is a few steps from her offices, and look around.
"It's just an exciting place to be," she said. "You just don't know where to look first and it's always changing. It's never the same twice, which I really love."