personal pleasure By Andrew Spencer Photos by Julie Almand
Nantucket is known for many things, but perhaps the best known fact is that the island is located 26 miles out into the Atlantic Ocean, detached from the mainland and surrounded on all sides by water. Those of us who live here are connected to the water in ways that others can’t possibly imagine, especially given that there’s no bridge we can drive across to get off the island. Nantucket’s connection to the water makes it logical that one of the island’s most sought-after jewelry designers is Barbara Harris, the owner of Water Jewels on Centre Street.
Born in London, Barbara has lived “all over the world,” as she says. With interludes in France, Switzerland, Asia and the United States,
“all over the world” is, in fact, the perfect way to describe her various stops around the globe. But no matter where she moved or how far from her London home she traveled, one thing was predestined long before she was even born. Barbara Harris was destined to be a
jeweler. “I’m a fourth generation jeweler,” she explained, which means that she’s following in the footsteps put down by her greatgrandfather.
She studied at the Parsons School of Design in New York City, and then moved to Paris. From there, it was a quick jump to Hong Kong, where Harris studied the art of lapidary, or gem carving, under the tutelage of a master carver, and it only takes one look at the gorgeous pieces she designs to know immediately that she is a master lapidarist in her own right. It wasn’t until 1998, when she opened Water Jewels, that Nantucket was formally introduced to Harris’s skills. She took the name from the style of polishing that she incorporates for her gemstones, namely the process of using water to create a sheen that combines with what she describes as a “tactile feel to the gems.” The tactile nature of the stones is one of her trademarks. “Jewelry is, for me, a personal pleasure. It’s a luxury, and the stones that are water polished feel good on the body,” she explained. Her arrival on our fair shores, however, was something akin to a happy accident. She was operating a store in London and had a connection with a wholesaler in Massachusetts. Some of her English clients were Nantucket summer residents, and she mentioned to her wholesaler that they should open a store on the island. Two years went by, and she saw her wholesaler at a jewelry show in New York. It was at that meeting when she asked about the progress on opening a store in Nantucket, to which the wholesaler replied that “it was complicated.” Complicated or not, Harris decided to take matters into her own hands and came to Nantucket. “I fell in love with the island,” she said. Mind you, this was in the middle of a bitter Nantucket winter. But Harris saw through the inclement and inhospitable weather. “I loved it even though it was the dead of winter,” she said with a laugh. A space on Centre Street was available, and after looking at it, she had the same reaction she’d had to Nantucket: “It just felt right,” she said. “I’m not exactly
antucket 14 Centre Street Nantucket
Photos this page courtesy of Barbara Harris
sure why.” Perhaps it had something to do with the specific location. Like her store in London, the new site was on a corner and, ironically enough, was also number 14, the same as her London store. “It was complete serendipity,” she said. Serendipitous or not, her wholesaler’s loss was Nantucket’s gain. Nestled in a narrow corner space, Water Jewels features an eclectic array of offerings. While Harris’s exquisite designs are certainly the centerpiece, she also offers a variety of accessories, including sunglasses, handbags and scarves. “I carry the things I like,” she said. “I find things at London and Paris Fashion Weeks, and those are the things I carry.” One item in the shop that really caught my eye – not to mention my nostrils – were small woven batons, with purple flowers woven together to create what I came to learn was a lavender wand. A traditional English craft, lavender wands were given as gifts to truly special people, as they required a great deal of skill and patience to create. The final result is a beautifully scented piece of artwork that retains its subtle, pleasant aroma for years. “The lavender wands I carry are handmade in Provence, France,” Harris told me. But again, the focal point of Water Jewels – as the name suggests – is the jewelry. “Everything is handmade,” Harris said of her designs, “and most of it is done in the studio in the shop.” Barbara told me
ondon 14 Saint Albans Grove Kensington, London
that there are many designs that would qualify as her signature pieces, and her self-described “fickle” nature means that she has an ever-changing favorite gemstone with which to work. “My favorite at the moment is a desert rose moonstone,” she said. Moonstone was a gemstone prized by the ancient Romans, who believed that the stone was actually created by solidified rays from the moon. When carved by an expert and polished, moonstone creates a stunning visual picture, as light is reflected from the inside out. Harris seeks out inspiration in the world around her. “I’m constantly thinking about the next thing I want to make,” she explained, “so I’m constantly looking for new things.” On Nantucket, she finds inspiration from the natural world, especially the water that is so integral to life on Nantucket. “And I’m inspired by the stones I work with,” she added. As for her style, Harris describes it as “uncomplicated and luxurious. My jewelry is very pure. They’re real treasures.” Those treasures are sought after by discriminating clients from across the globe, many of whom commission Harris to create personalized pieces for special events. “You have the chance to follow one family’s major events, from engagements to weddings to anniversaries to births,” Harris explained. She especially enjoys doing this type of project, because it affords her the chance to get involved with her clients and to find out what they want in a piece of jewelry, and then create the perfect piece for them. “You’re really intertwined in people’s lives when you create pieces for them.”