Rita became interested in making jewelry in the early 1970s when she took a silversmithing class through the local community college. By the mid-1970’s, she had developed an interest in ethnic and tribal beads and artifacts and began designing necklaces. In 1977-1978, Rita and the family lived abroad as Rita’s husband, David, a professor at UCLA, was on sabbatical leave. Rita always had a good eye for interesting items, but on this extended 14-month trip she was able to explore and buy from dealers in the souks of Israel and Egypt, flea markets in London, Paris and Vienna and from sellers in Hong Kong and China, Iran and India. On each trip, she searched for ancient and antique beads and pendants, for small antiquities and for unusual artifacts.
Upon returning to the U.S., Rita established her collection and focused, in particular, on designing necklaces using ancient and antique materials such as amazonite, amber, amethyst, coral, faience, glass, horn, ivory, jade, jet, shell and silver. She often combined these beads with a central pendant or several pendants, in designing ethnic, one-of-a-kind necklaces. She designed her own hand-made, sterling silver hook-and-eye clasps, which we still make available in our Clasps section. She continued to develop her bead expertise and became an active member and President of the Los Angeles-area Bead Society. Rita held trunk shows from her home showroom and displayed at the Los Angeles Gift Show, as well as consigning items to many local L.A. stores and boutiques, including Saks Fifth Avenue. Rita’s work and collection was featured in Ornament Magazine and she contributed beads to the editor, Robert Liu with his now classic book, “Collectible Beads.”
Rita traded with merchants from Ghana, Mali, Nigeria and other parts of Africa for more than twenty-five years, providing her with an extensive and unusual collection of African Trade beads, as well as African wall hangings and wood carvings and masks. Rita’s collection grew as she continued to travel and live abroad over the years, including travels to Syria, Egypt, Israel, and Morocco. (Her collection of Egyptian, Bedouin and Yemeni silver is still being cataloged.) Throughout the 1980’s and 1990’s, Rita’s reputation continued to grow as a designer of original necklaces and as a dealer of exquisite ethnic and antique beads and artifacts.
Rita passed away from a long illness in 2005. Rita’s husband, David, built her website in 1999 with the assistance of a graduate student, and maintained it and the collection until 2008. The online store and collection are now managed by their daughter, Jocelyne, based in the San Diego area.
The beauty of Rita’s original creations and of her outstanding collection are reflected in our store and website. Our customers, both collectors and designers, come to us from around the world. We appreciate your business. Thank you for visiting the Rita Okrent Collection!