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Mythos gemstone designer trades in precious pearls

The business’s name, Mythos, recalls antiquity, but the jeweler specializing in black Tahitian and South Sea Pearls carries the very latest in gem designs.

“When I decided what I was going to do for a living, I was looking for a name and I wanted it to be something ancient and mythological,” recalled Jon Tuncel about the genesis of his business name. “Mythos, in both Latin and Greek, means myth.”

Tuncel recently moved his gemstone trade from a showroom at 1020 Prospect St. in the Village to 5544 La Jolla Blvd. in Bird Rock.

A native of Turkey, Tuncel started his gemstone design shop in La Jolla in 1992, before moving it to Beverly Hills and then back to La Jolla in 2000. “My gemstone designs have been in many stores, galleries and shops nationwide,” he said. “It’s mostly women’s jewelry, Mostly designed by us.”

Tuncel’s showroom is not the mainstay of his business. “We mainly wholesale to other stores,” he said. “They retail.”

Mythos’ speciality is saltwater pearls. Farmed in saltwater, cultured pearls are grown in oysters, one per oyster, making salt-water pearls more expensive than freshwater pearls. South Sea pearls and Tahitian pearls take two to three years to form.

Countries producing saltwater pearls include Burma, Indonesia, Thailand, and the Philippines in Southeast Asia; Australia and Tahiti in the South Pacific. Tahiti has the beautiful black pearls.

Long known as the “Queen of Gems,” pearls possess a long history and cultural allure. Throughout much of recorded history, a natural pearl necklace comprised of matched spheres was a treasure of almost incomparable value, some of the most expensive jewelry in the world.

It’s not known who were the earliest people to collect and wear pearls. At least as far back as Rome and ancient Egypt, pearls were prized above all other gems. At the height of the Roman Empire, when pearl fever reached its peak, the Roman general Vitellius financed an entire military campaign by selling just one of his mother’s pearl earrings. Rome’s pearl craze reached its zenith during the first century B.C. Roman women upholstered couches with pearls and sewed so many into their gowns that they actually walked on their pearl-encrusted hems. Caligula, having made his horse a consul, decorated it with a pearl necklace.

In another story about the power and importance of pearls in ancient history, it’s been reported that Cleopatra, to convince Rome that Egypt possessed a heritage and wealth that put it above conquest, wagered Marc Antony she could give the most expensive dinner in history. The Roman reclined as the queen sat with an empty plate and a goblet of wine. She crushed one large pearl of a pair of earrings, dissolved it in the liquid, then drank it down. Astonished, Antony declined his dinner -- the matching pearl - admitting she had won.

Today, pearls are viewed less regally, and are sometimes considered almost as accessories, relatively inexpensive decorations to accompany more costly gemstones. A jewelry item that today’s working women might take for granted, a 16-inch strand of perhaps 50 pearls, typically costs between $500 and $5,000.

But before the creation of cultured pearls in the early 1900s, which made them much more widespread, natural pearls were so rare and expensive that they were reserved almost exclusively for the noble and very rich.

Besides being timeless, saltwater pearls have an allure other gemstones don’t. Mythos’ customer Sevil Brahme of La Jolla said novel gemstones like pearls “speak” to each individual wearer. “They (people) appreciate beauty, in and of itself,” she said. “It (jewelry) is art, just in a different form.”

Brahme is fond of pearls for a number of reasons, one being that they are a naturally occurring gem. “They’re not mined,” she pointed out. “They’re born out of an oyster. Each one is unique with its own characteristics, luster and color.”

Etran Chane McComic buys gemstones like pearls from places like Mythos because she finds them to be an item of intrinsic value perfect for exchange. “I like to wear them around and give them as gifts, especially for lady and family friends, my daughters,” she said. “People like to share something beautiful. I find Jon’s unusual. They’re not terribly expensive, and they are much higher quality than the beading stores.”

Like other precious gems, quality pearls increase in value over time. They’re making a big comeback today in popularity. Part of the reason for that is they’ve become increasingly rare in the wild. “Waters are polluted,” said Tuncel. “It’s hard, almost impossible, to find the natural ones in the ocean.”

Pearls are also an easy gem to mix and match. They can be combined with any number of other precious stones or icons important to the wearer, like Christian crosses. “I mix a lot of gemstones with the pearls,” said Tuncil, who carries other precious stones like emeralds, diamonds, topaz, tourmaline and opals, as well as 22- and 24-carat gold.

Mythos’ business philosophy is both simple and practical. Said Tuncel: “I try to carry quality gemstones at a good price, ranging from about $300 to $10,000.”

The gem trade is satisfying for Tuncel on a number of levels. One thing he especially likes about the trade is his customers often become personal friends. “We socialize outside,” he said, adding his mailing list now has 3,500 names on it.

The gem trade also allows Tuncel to indulge his creative side. “It’s fun,” he said. “When you get appreciated, complimented about the jewelry, it’s even more fun. The jewelry we make, we get a lot of joy out of it.”

About the effect of his custom-made jewelry on people, Tuncel commented: “It’s an art piece. They display it on them, and it lasts a long time. Sometimes, it’s a joint creation with the client. We design with them. They’re co-designers. We try our best. If they’re not happy, we can redo it.”

For more information about Mythos call (858) 454-7450 or visit www.mythosdesigns.com.