If you’re looking for a piece of classy, unique, one-of-a-kind jewellery that you won’t find anywhere else, look no further than MaiYa Pearls!
Located on Ottawa’s high-fashion Sussex Drive since 2010, this tiny, quaint boutique offers handmade pearl-based jewellery that is classic and elegant with a modern twist.
MaiYa Pearls’ owner, Xiaoling (pronounced “Charlene”) Schmidt, says she works to break the traditional idea of pearls by creating unique pieces that can be worn both casually and for an upscale evening out on the town.
“Pearl has a very long history in jewellery, but we design it in a modern [way]” Schmidt said. “I never lose the pearls’ classiness in my designs, but I do it in a contemporary style. So you can also wear it with jeans, just a sweater or a t-shirt.”
As you walk through the bright, gallery-like boutique, you can peruse numerous classic strands of pearls, as well as other handmade designs that incorporate natural crystals, gemstones, intricate wire designs, Prince Edward Island sea glass and even live orchid petals. And you can be sure that each unique piece has a pair of one-of-a-kind earrings to match!
Nearly 100 per cent of the in-store pieces are created by Schmidt herself, who co-owns and co-runs the business with her husband, Claus Schmidt. The couple works together to make major business plans and decisions, all while home schooling three young children aged 11, nine and five.
But though balancing family life and a growing business is a difficult task, the perfection of a special jewellery piece remains Schmidt’s focus. “Quality is our number one [priority]. It has to meet our standards,” she said, adding that if she is not happy with a piece, she will undo it and start from scratch.
Schmidt added that unlike wholesale retailers who sell similar pearl pieces, MaiYa Pearls only offers original jewellery. The shiny creations come from Schmidt’s own artistic vision, granting her the freedom to create whatever she desires. So you’re guaranteed to purchase a one-of-a-kind piece!
Schmidt noted however that this creative freedom and resulting originality make it harder to compete with mass amounts of computer designed jewellery from larger retailers. “The disadvantage of doing this is that I cannot make too big an amount,” she said. “Because anything unique is a lot of work and I cannot duplicate them, because they are not made from molds.”
For something truly unique, Schmidt suggests that customers look at her orchid-based pieces. Made from fresh orchids that she grows in the Ottawa store, Schmidt said she uses the beautiful flowers either as a whole or just their vibrant coloured petals to make various pendants and earrings.
Heavily coated in resin, the whole flower and/or petals are well-preserved, keeping the exact same shape and colour, Schmidt said. “Then in the centre part [of the orchid], I use a pearl or a gemstone, or whatever is requested. Then I use wire sculpting and bind it all together.” She added the orchid pieces she creates have all sold “very well.”
Schmidt noted that she enjoys nature and is concerned about the environment, adding the orchid-based pieces reflect these facts. She said that she is now allocating more time to the creation of “organic-style” or flower-based wedding jewellery, as the pieces are popular with environmentally conscious brides. She also encourages customers to bring in their own fresh flowers to be transformed.
“When you come back to pick it up, what you will see is your fresh flower transformed into a piece of high-quality, beautiful jewellery,” she said.
In addition to making the flower-based pieces, Schmidt said she is best known for her sculpted wire work, which brings pearls and gemstones together in intricate, modern jewellery designs.
She noted the wire work pieces –in which even the tiny chain links are molded by her hands, are favoured by visitors from the United States and Europe. “They buy a lot of pieces with the pearls and gemstones together,” Schmidt said. “Especially pieces with stones that come from Canada or from a specific province.”
Schmidt added that she’s often not able to photograph what she believes to be her best piece, as it usually sells right out of her hands. “Each piece that I create, that I want to add to my own collection –before I even have time to take a photo, people buy it,” she said.
Schmidt started creating pearl jewellery in her home in 2004. MaiYa Pearls now has two locations: one on Sussex Drive and the first flagship store is in Prince Edward Island. The maritime province is where the Schmidt couple operates the business during the summer season, as that location sees between 300 and 400 customers per day.
And even Schmidt’s relationship with her husband is as unique and as modern as the pieces she creates!
Originally from Chongqing, Schmidt worked in Beijing, China, before she came to Canada. Schmidt met her husband Claus –a Montreal, Québec, native, online about 13 years ago. After hours of correspondence and a few in-person meetings in China, they married seven months after their first conversation and started a family in Canada. “We clicked right away,” she said.
Due to Claus’s university education and resulting employment opportunities, the Schmidt family moved between Toronto, Ontario, and Prince Edward Island for a few years before settling in Ottawa in 2008.
Schmidt noted her sculpted wire designs that incorporate natural sea glass found on local beach shores are very popular in Prince Edward Island. “That combination –the sea glass and the pearl together, people say they’ve never seen such beautiful designs.”
And though many high-end, unique pieces can be found in the store, if you want something specific, Schmidt can make it for you. All you have to do is come to her with a budget and an idea. “Customized work is a lot of what I do,” she said. “Customers say these creations have a truly unique and original feel.”
Schmidt added that her pieces, made mostly of cultured Pacific Ocean pearls, are “green.” “I don’t use high temperatures to do anything,” she said. “For the wire work, I just use my hands to bend and re-shape it. So it’s very environmentally friendly.”
If you’re looking for a souvenir, a special gift or even a treat for yourself, MaiYa Pearls is well worth a visit. And you can be sure that you won’t find your beautiful item anywhere else!
“The concept of our business always focuses on ‘made by MaiYa Pearls’ –so either in store or at home,” Schmidt said. “We focus on creating our own jewellery with a classy and authentic feel.”