How Japanese Jewelry Design Draws Inspiration from Traditional Art
by Hans Liu
The four inventive Japanese jewelry designers that we feature here look to the wealth of their country's art and history as a vital source of inspiration. They champion design ethos unique to Japan, including Zen philosophy, traditional craft principles and cultural symbols such as the iconic cherry blossom adorning these brooches by Nobuko Ishikawa.
When we think about Japanese jewelry design, it is usually its impeccable quality that springs to mind. In fact, contemporary jewelry designers have persistently sought original ways to expand the horizons of the discipline for decades.
Japanese jewelry as a field has gained worldwide recognition for not only its skillful workmanship, but also its ingenious designs. These thought-provoking and stunning arts are breaking new ground, while at the same time preserving significant aspects of Japanese culture.
Nobuko Ishikawa (1943-2012) was a pioneering fine jewelry designer. In the 1960s, jewelry was considered a subsidiary practice in Japan that often borrowed extensively from the design vocabulary of the west. By actively incorporating historical iconography from ancient Japanese literature, such as the Tales of Genji, Ishikawa was ahead of her time.
The brooch pictured above is an example of the transformation of a centuries-old Japanese metalworking method into a cutting-edge futuristic design. Look closely at the gold-gilding treatment: it is rough, fragmentary and a world apart from the perfectly smooth surface of most western gold jewelry design.
Kimiaki Kageyama, born in Shizuoka in 1948, is a master goldsmith and jewelry designer who has exhibited widely across the globe: Gallery SO in London, and Werk Galerie in Washington, D.C, among others.
This ‘Bamboo Grass’ brooch was crafted from iron and gold, and colored in poly-urethane resin paint. The leaves are extraordinary in their delicacy and fine detail. What makes it really special though is how natural the piece feels, as though harvested directly from a peaceful and rustic Japanese garden. This is contemporary wabi-sabi craftsmanship at its finest!
UK-educated Mariko Sumioka’s contemporary jewelry designs are not only breathtakingly beautiful but it also expresses the spirit of Zen and the allure of traditional Japanese architecture.
She was the winner of the jewelry of the year award in 2015 from the prestigious Collect art fair at the Saatchi Gallery in London. Her most recent exhibitions including Mariko Sumioka Jewellery Showcase at Gallery Rubi in Tokyo, and Re-inventing Tradition: Japanese Fashion and Design at the Manchester Art Gallery in the UK.
These brooches feature some of the most iconic Japanese design elements such as bamboo, roof tiles and gold. You can really feel the strong sense of cultural value in Sumioka’s art because of her pursuit of the philosophical and historical themes of Japanese beauty. See more of her work at marikosumioka.com.
Often seen as the founding father of Japanese contemporary jewelry design, the late Osaka-born master artisan Prof. Yasuki Hiramatsu (1926-2012) was responsible for many key developments in the field, both as Director of the Japan Jewelry Designers Association and as a Professor at the Tokyo University of the Arts.
Despite his many influential roles, it is his pursuit of an unrivalled mastery of gold that remains the most intriguing aspect of his story.
It is extraordinary that such a seemingly inflexible metal as gold could be capable of this level of delicate and natural transformation. Crafted entirely by hand with a simple chisel, every movement is determined by Hiramatsu working intuitively with the material.
Gold, in his hands, is soft and full of warmth, subverting its conventional appearance. It is precisely the dialogue between the maker’s hands and his subject that speaks so eloquently of the essence of craftsmanship.
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