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Pearls Before Swing: Meet the Man Behind the Joctober Bling

Joc Pederson's necklace is the new fashion statement of the postseason. His jeweler has never seen anything like it.

LOS ANGELES — Gabe Arik has made jewelry for baseball players for two decades. He creates the engagement rings they use to propose, the gifts they give, the necklaces and earrings they wear on the field. He estimates that his business, Happy Jewelers, has made thousands of pieces, for players on each of the league’s 30 teams. He has never received a request like the one he got in September.

“I want to do something really different,” Atlanta right fielder Joc Pederson texted him. “I want to make a nice fashion statement. And I’m thinking about pearls.”

Arik replied: “?”

“Pearl necklaces are for, you know, women,” Arik says now.

But Pederson insisted. “He said, ‘That’s what I want to do,’” says Arik. “And that’s what we did.”

Oct 21, 2021; Los Angeles, California, USA; Atlanta Braves right fielder Joc Pederson (22) wears pearls in the dugout before game five of the 2021 NLCS against the Los Angeles Dodgers at Dodger Stadium.

Since Joc Pederson put on the pearls, Happy Jewelers can’t fill orders for men fast enough.

Pederson has been evasive as to the inspiration behind his new fashion statement. On various occasions he has said, “I just saw the pearls and I was, like, you know what? That looks cool;” that there is no story, he’s just “a bad bitch;” and, “It’s a mystery for everyone. They’ll never know.”

Whatever their origin, the pearls appear to be working. Since their debut on Sept. 29, Pederson has an OPS of .953 and one home run per every nine at bats. Atlanta is 10–4 and one win away from the pennant. The team has begun selling replica strands at the ballpark for $5. When Atlanta legend Dale Murphy threw out the first pitch before Game 2 of the National League Championship Series, he first pulled a string of pearls out of his pocket and draped them around his neck.

Arik finds the attention baffling. “This pearl necklace is not very expensive,” he says. “They’re really nice, high-quality pearls, but the retail is, like, four grand. … He has gold chains with diamonds for, like, 40 grand. But this, I don't know. Everybody's talking about it, everybody's wearing it.”

Indeed, manager Brian Snitker laughs every time he looks up at the Truist Park jumbotron between innings. “You look at the big screen in Atlanta and you got all these, you know, big, rough, tough guys and they got pearls on,” he says. “And all the ladies, like, went in their jewelry boxes and got their pearls out. So, shoot, I'm fine with it. I'm not going to wear them, but …”

Those ladies’ pearls are likely about eight millimeters in diameter. Pederson told Arik that wouldn’t do. “Make them nice and big,” he said. So Arik sorted through a shipment of 14-millimeter cultured pearls for several dozen of the same color. An associate strung them by hand on a 24-inch cord, adding a knot between each one to prevent them all from spilling onto the field in the event of a break. (Just in case, Happy Jewelers also has three backup strands on hand ready to be overnighted.) Arik finished the necklace off with a lobster clasp. “It’s a little bit more masculine,” he says.

Early on, he mentioned to Pederson that pearls come in different colors. Would he like to try black ones? “No,” Pederson said. “I’m going to keep the white.”

Arik just shrugs. “But they look good on him!” he says.

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Pederson weathers jokes from his Atlanta teammates about the pearls, but it’s the Dodgers—for whom he played until a year ago—who give him the most grief. A group of them FaceTimed him before the series began to demand an explanation. They did not get one.

“Joc’s doing a different thing over there,” says catcher Austin Barnes, laughing. “He’s a strange cat.”

Barnes bears some responsibility for all this, as the initial broker between Pederson and Arik. The strand that connects Happy Jewelers to MLB is winding: Arik says a relative of Frank Thomas introduced him to the White Sox slugger, who then told his Chicago teammates about Happy Jewelers. Micah Johnson was traded to Los Angeles in 2015 and suggested it to Barnes when he was looking for wedding rings. Barnes begat the rest of his teammates: Walker Buehler, Clayton Kershaw (“He buys stuff for his family,” says Arik. “He doesn’t wear jewelry.”), Will Smith. And Joc Pederson.

“I should get some bonuses,” Barnes says.

He should draw up the paperwork now. Arik says he has not received any requests from other major leaguers for pearls: It would be too obvious they are copying Pederson. But that hasn’t deterred younger ballplayers. A month ago, Arik had never had a man buy a pearl necklace for himself. Since Pederson began his pearl jam, Happy Jewelers can’t fill orders for men fast enough.

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