A Tahitian Pearl in Southern Vermont
Story by Craig Light Photography by David Barnum
Judi McCormick Jewelry is owned, operated, produced, and sold—all by Judi—directly from her beautiful home in Manchester, Vermont. As you pull through the entrance to the driveway, a small sign on the right reads, “Drive slow. Fast pup,” and Vermont’s Green Mountains can be seen peeking up from behind the house. This is where Judi is inspired to create earrings, necklaces, rings, bracelets, cuffs, and more—mostly made of pearl.
Judi was always naturally drawn to pearls, although she wasn’t always a jeweler. She received her college degree in photography and started her career in Steamboat Springs, Colorado as a photographer. There, Judi noticed an opportunity; the ski industry was picking up pace, but the fashion aspect of the ski industry was lagging behind. She started a new company, Deep Powder Designs, which produced knitted winter hats featuring animal designs. This step into the fashion world catapulted her career. Having been impressed with Judi’s designs, a Vermont-based winter clothing designer asked Judi to return to the East Coast to work for them and to design the women’s outerwear line for their apparel company, based in Bennington, Vermont. Judi not only created the requested ski apparel line, she also developed a line of designer gloves, as well as a summer line of clothing called “Great Shapes.”
In the late 1980s, Judi moved on to her next venture, a line of high-end sweaters created from a fabric that she herself invented: a mixture of luxurious yarns and hand-dyed ribbons. She still fondly remembers her freshly dyed ribbons hanging from the tree branches in her yard. Like silent wind chimes, they each received some extra love with each breeze of Vermont air. With time, Judi saw another opportunity to add an additional detail to her sweaters: gemstones as button-fasteners.
Her breakthrough revelation occurred to her as she was shopping in Paris. A necklace made of bold, beautifully rough amethyst stopped her in her tracks and inspired her next endeavor: gemstone sweater buttons with matching jewelry! This led her to further explore jewelry and gemology. She enrolled at the Gemological Institute of America, where her studies would earn her various degrees in pearls and gemology.
Judi shares that her favorite part of her career is the exotic travel and experiential learning. She loves visiting places such as Fiji, Australia, Vietnam, and Thailand, where she received a hands-on education of the process directly from pearl farmers.
There is an art to farming pearls. Pearls look very different depending on a slew of variables, including their location, the salt content of the water, and the water temperature. For example, if the water gets too warm, the farmers must lower the netting that the oysters cling to in order to reach colder waters for optimal pearl development.
Judi keeps her products fresh and diverse, utilizing new gems and pearls regularly. That said, she always finds herself returning to Tahitian pearls. They emanate incredible color variants of green and violet, which seemingly shift as they move. It’s easy to see why they are Judi’s favorite.
When watching her process, it’s clear that Judi loves what she does. Her pieces often take days to create—especially her cuffs, which feature intricate lacing between the pearl sets. It is critical to slowly drill the holes in the pearls, as to not overheat the layers or to crack the surface. She primarily sells her work via her website or in-person from her home studio.
Occasionally, upon request from clients, she will revitalize old family heirlooms, remaking old sets of pearls with more contemporary designs and latches. Like many creatives, Judi’s career has evolved naturally from one artistic endeavor to the next. How fortunate are we, that like the Tahitian pearls she favors, she showcases the many colors of her artistic ability right here in Southern Vermont.
Find out more about Judi and her work at