Expert Koji Kawamoto to showcase pearls Feb. 17-20 at Karats of Vail | VailDaily.com

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Expert Koji Kawamoto to showcase pearls Feb. 17-20 at Karats of Vail

If you go …

What: Pearl expert and jeweler Koji Kawamoto.

When: Friday, Feb. 17, through Monday, Feb. 20; gallery is open daily from 10 a.m. to 9:30 p.m.

Where: Karats Vail, 122 E. Meadow Drive, Vail Village.

Cost: Admission is free; pearls available for purchase.

More information: Kawamoto is also available privately by appointment through late February. Visit http://www.karatsvail.com to learn more.

VAIL — In Japan, February is the second-coldest month of the year, after January, of course. But in many places of the island nation, that's when the Asian plum tree, or Plunus mume, defies the cold weather and offers its delicate blossoms in brilliant shades of pink — a sign of strength, the Japanese say, as well as a harbinger of spring.

To commemorate plum blossom season, celebrated in festivals throughout Japan, renowned expert Koji Kawamoto is showcasing a variety of pearls with pinkish overtones — and others, too — during his upcoming trunk show at Karats of Vail, on East Meadow Drive in Vail Village, for four days, beginning today

A touch of brilliant pink

"For some reason, people are buying lots of pink pearls lately," Kawamoto said, referring to recent sales of strands of Akoya and freshwater pearls from his home country, the former variety with just a hint of pink in its outer layers, the latter with a much deeper, darker pink luster throughout.

“Until just 20 or 30 years ago, Akoya was the only pearl you saw on the market. But now, with culturing going on in the Philippines, Australia, Tahiti and China using bigger oysters and mussels, we have so many different colors of pearls today.”Koji KawamotoPearl expert and jeweler

"The pinkish overtone is different with every pearl. Some are a light pink, others are darker — just like the plum blossoms, some entirely a darker pink, almost red; others a lighter pink, or even white with just touches of brilliant pink."

Kawamoto was born and raised in the Japanese prefecture, or region of Mie, on the Pacific coast of the country's main island, where the art and science of cultivating pearls from Akoya oysters began with Mikimoto in the late 19th century. Kawamoto is known for his special talent in what he calls matchmaking, or selecting the perfect pearl, or strand of pearls, for a particular wearer based on eye color, skin tone and even overall atmosphere, or energetic presence.

For this, he often comes to Vail with a wide selection, including black, green, aubergine and blue South Sea pearls from French Polynesia; large white and silver South Sea pearls from Australia; golden South Sea pearls from the Philippines and Indonesia; and freshwater pearls from China in shades of white, copper and, of course, pink.

"Until just 20 or 30 years ago, Akoya was the only pearl you saw on the market. But now, with culturing going on in the Philippines, Australia, Tahiti and China using bigger oysters and mussels, we have so many different colors of pearls today," he said.

First in your collection

Much like plum blossoms, Japanese Akoya pearls, known for their faint pinkish luster, are harvested in late winter, Kawamoto said, before the oysters in which the pearls are cultured begin spawning, or producing eggs.

"We even move the oysters to colder waters just before spring to get the final makeup, a really nice pinkish luster," he said. "It's like what we say about washing our faces with cold water rather than hot water — to smooth the wrinkles and make the face more beautiful."

Freshwater pearls, by contrast, come from mussels living in the cold waters of lakes in Japan and China and can be a much deeper, darker pink — and much larger than Akoya pearls.

"The mussel has the color already inside, whether it's pink, orange, peach or even lavender," Kawamoto said. "Freshwater mussels are larger than oysters in the sea and can make larger pearls."

While Akoya pearls "are not nearly as dramatic" as their freshwater counterparts, he said, they are considered the "most classic" pearl with which to begin a collection.

"Of course, pearls from my home town in Japan are a great start," Kawamoto said with a wink and a smile. "But rules are meant to be broken."