Lo’ihi Rising

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He took a chance and sawed the opal in half. That’s what the late Paul Trustman of Holiday Jewelers did, and the result is a one-of-a-kind, award-winning pendant.

This year, Trustman posthumously took first-place honors in the Hawaiian-themed jewelry category of Hawaii Jewelers Association’s 2010 Jewelry Design Competition, for “Lo’ihi,” a book-matched pair of picture black opals set in gold with diamonds. The pendant tells the story of the seamount destined to become Hawai’i’s youngest island. In a book-match, two pieces of stone are placed side-by-side to create an image. The spray of diamonds rising from the piece’s center represent columns of lava shooting into the air.

The stunning piece is on view (and available for purchase) at Opal Fields. Tom Wheeler, president of Opal Fields, has been an opal specialist for more than 30 years.

“I’ve never seen anything like it before or after its creation,” Wheeler says.

Gemstones are nature’s historians, telling stories long predating mankind’s existence. Encapsulated within each gem’s sparkling or opaque exterior are stories of chemical and physical processes-the literal “forces” that were similarly sculpting our planet at its time of birth.

For this reason, Trustman loved gemstones. As a businessman whose work involved buying and selling jewelry, he only occasionally designed his own pieces. But in a promising piece of rough opal, he saw the opportunity to pay homage to nature’s creative forces and the birth of an island.

Geological forces imbued the piece with colors of swirling gray skies and the pink-reddish glow of Pele at work, giving it a dramatic, painterly effect rarely seen in jewelry. But it took Trustman’s eye and imagination to tell the story of one particular island’s birth.

Never mind that creating the piece meant taking the risk of destroying the stone. No match was guaranteed, and Wheeler said book-matching opals is unusual because the color bars are rarely thick enough to get matching colors on each side.

“He took an extraordinary gamble by sending a saw blade down the center,” Wheeler says. “At the time I was doing some appraisal work for him. He confided in me and told me what he was doing. He envisioned a red fire out of a small color bar that he saw as an island, and he said he was going to make a pendant, and it would look like Hawai’i’s underwater island.”

Although Trustman acquired the Mintibie black opal from South Australia in the mid-1980s, Wheeler said the piece wasn’t completed until the late 90s, and the memory of it has haunted him ever since.

A piece like “Lo’ihi” is not likely to ever be duplicated, he says.

Trustman died in 2002 and his family has kept the piece in a safe all this time. Wheeler couldn’t resist inquiring about “Lo’ihi,” and invited Trustman’s family to enter it in the HJA contest so that it could be admired by a wider audience.

Originally from Michigan, Trustman came to Hawai’i on vacation in the 1960s and decided to stay, according to his step-daughter Sandy Lieberman.

He had an eclectic past as a businessman, at different times running a zoo and furniture store, for example. So he figured he’d have no trouble opening a business in Hawai’i. He started with the first place he saw when he arrived, running a gift shop selling coral, souvenirs and jewelry at Honolulu International Airport.

Scientific record-keeping of Lo’ihi’s eruptions south of the Big Island began in 1959, and Lieberman said the excitement about its discovery enthralled her stepfather.

“He loved Hawai’i. He’d always say, ‘Why would you go on vacation anywhere else when Hawai’i is paradise?’ With Lo’ihi, he appreciated the fact that there was continuity going down the island chain.”

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