By Emily Stifler Explorebigsky.com Managing Editor
Shelly Bermont kneels on the floor of her jewelry studio in Big Sky, Montana, sifting through a drawer of turquoise.
“I love natural stones, the fact that I can take these beautiful things in nature and create something you can wear and enjoy,” she says. “When I can’t figure out what to do, I just open up these drawers.”
Her turquoise, Sleeping Beauty, is a gem-quality stone sourced mostly in Arizona, known for its pure, sky-blue color. The drawers are organized by stone type, value and size. In another, South Sea and Tahitian pearls tumble together.
“There is a 2,000-mile stretch of sea around Tahiti where mollusks grow and produce Tahitian pearls,” Bermont says, lifting a strand. The jeweler is known for her work with these pearls, their colors ranging from light silver to black, green and some that are almost purple.
Bermont, 60, earned a degree in fine art from the University of North Florida and has studied gold-smithing in Montana, California and Arizona. She designs the pearl line for Underwood, a renowned luxury jeweler in Florida, as well as custom pieces for clients, and her own signature line featuring raw diamonds, large pearls, and 18 and 22 carat gold.
“I love melting gold,” Bermont says. “Once I started forming metal, that gave me the ability to do whatever I want.”
The former print model and flight attendant splits her time between Los Angeles and Big Sky. In what she calls her previous life – in Miami, punctuated by black tie events – big, formal jewelry was the norm. But eventually, she found that unsatisfying.
“I thought it was a shame to have beautiful stuff that just sits in the bank. I wanted to be able to wear it during the daytime, with my jeans, and not look ostentatious.”
So she started taking it apart, redesigning her own jewelry and her girlfriends’, setting the stones in more casual arrangements.
“A lot of things come in and go out of style,” Bermont says. “I think jewelry shouldn’t be one of those.”
Beth Stein, a Nashville, Tennessee resident who summers in Big Sky, has a custom necklace by Bermont that was a gift from her husband. It’s a leather lariat with a gold, hand-hammered snake wrapped around it, big pearls hanging from each end and a second snake as the clasp.
“There’s something almost sinister about it,” Stein said. “I get more comments on that piece of jewelry than anything I’ve ever had, because it’s so unusual. It’s very understated, but it’s magnificent.”
Colleen Williams, a news anchor for NBC Los Angeles and a Big Sky homeowner, loves Bermont’s work.
“She has the best pearls I’ve ever seen. They’re such spectacular pieces in their simplicity. In fact, one of my favorites I actually bought right off of her. It’s a mixture you wouldn’t expect – leather and pearls.”
Williams’ lariat has a large pearl drop she can wear long or double over short.
“It’s been to Europe, it’s in my wardrobe in LA, and I certainly wear it when I come to Big Sky… It’s sturdy, versatile and elegant… I trust her taste.”
Jewelry, Bermont says, is personal – not one-size-fits-all.
“I look at the person’s lifestyle, coloring, bone structure and what they wear. You want something flattering for you… [something] classic that you’ll wear forever.”
Bermont sells her work at wholesale in Montana. Call her for a private appointment – (406) 548-4477, or find her at shellybermont.com. This story was first published in the summer 2013 issue of Mountain Outlaw magazine.