Opals in America get no respect. Not only has the gemstone but all but forgotten in high-end jewelry, losing ground to less luminous stones like agate and lapis lazuli, it doesn't even have it's own month as a birthstone—it has to share October with tourmaline.
That's not the attitude in Australia, from whence jewelry designer Katherine Jetter hails. Jetter has been working with Australian opals since she was 18 years old—no surprise, since more then 90 percent of the world's supply of opals come from Down Under. Now based in New Mexico, the Aussie has brought her stunning jewelry designs to Houston for the first time through a new partnership with Thomas Markle Jewelers.
In her first Houston appearance, Jetter tells Houstonia that she loves the hunt for rare stones of the highest quality, looking at hundreds or thousands of them to find the ones that speak to her. Indeed her collection is full of rocks that offer a mesmerizing blend of greens and blues, like looking into the ocean or at a picture of Earth from space.
"People say 'I had no idea opals came in those colors, I had no idea opal looked like that!'" she says with a laugh.
Unlike many designers, Jetter doesn't get her stones pre-cut. She designs the piece from beginning to end, working with stonecutters to shape the gems she selects into unique shapes, which she says adds another layer of value and meaning. She takes inspiration from nature, like an opal flower ring inspired by a venus fly trap, as well as the shape of the stones themselves and even the landscapes in her native country. A single piece can take her six months or more to make, and each one is unique.
"You're creating lasting, wearable art," Jetter says simply of her passion for the process, adding that she is inspired by jewelry's permanence and its emotional connections. Something that's so often given as a gift or passed down through generations as an heirloom piece has much more meaning for her than designing clothes or shoes.
Lately she's also expanded into other unsung stones like moonstone, rubellite and even opal's October arch rival, tourmaline. Though many women see jewelry as an investment—for good reason—Jetter suggests focusing less of the prestige of the stones and more on how wearing it makes you feel.
"The way to choose the right piece of jewelry for you is to be completely in love with it and to buy it for the heartstrings that it pulls, not for any other reason."