James Assael, a diamond dealer based in Milan, Italy, founded the business of Assael-Ventura in Europe in the early 20th Century. Before the onset of World War II, James moved his family to the United States via Cuba. His son, Salvador served with distinction in the U.S. Army in Europe, and post-war, began to work with his father and learn the trade. Salvador eventually changed the focus of the company to precious colored gemstones. In 1972, he took over the business and named it Assael International (now simply known as Assael.) By that point, Salvador had established the company as a renowned purveyor of fine gemstones, and a leader in the rare pearl market.

The Pearl King

Salvador’s first encounter with pearls happened in the early 1950’s, when he traveled to Japan on business and was frequently paid in pearls – the small Japanese Pinctada Fucata or Akoya pearl. With growing interest in pearls, he discovered and was seduced by the beauty of the largest pearl of all, the Pinctada Maxima – the white Australian South Sea pearl and the smaller golden Indonesian South Sea pearl. Salvador traveled through Southeast Asia and Australia to acquire the best available specimens. In 1981 and again in 1986, the Burmese government awarded Mr. Assael with spectacular trophies as the biggest buyer of pearls from the 1st through the 25th Emporiums. Salvador always considered the Burmese pearl the most beautiful because of its rare, soft luster.

His quest to find the most magnificent pearls continued in Tahiti, at the suggestion of a friend. There, Salvador became acquainted with the Pinctada Margaritifera or black Tahitian pearl which was unknown in the west, and a new passion was born. He had reached the source, realizing that with ownership came market and quality control. Salvador became a producer, investing in pearl farms in the South Pacific. To harvest a great pearl, the oyster must in the water for three to five years, vulnerable to typhoons that could destroy an entire crop. Further, perfect, round pearls account for just 5 percent of an annual harvest. Salvador insisted on keeping only the highest quality pearls, even though that meant it could take years to create a perfectly matched strand. His idea of discarding pearls, that did not meet his standard, was a costly practice, but one that ensured that the gems would maintain their value.

In 1976, when Salvador returned from his pearl farms, he brought with him a set of exquisite black pearls and created a perfect gem strand. Salvador decided to take the Tahitian necklace to his dear friend, legendary Fifth Avenue jeweler, Harry Winston and challenged him to sell the necklace. The deal was struck, the necklace was sold, and Salvador J. Assael had introduced a new precious gem to the world.