VAIL — To watch pearl specialist Koji Kawamoto open the cloth swaddle in which he houses several strands of his precious beads, you’d think he was unwrapping an infant. He takes out one strand and carefully places it on a white piece of paper.
“What color would you say this is?” he asks. “Some say turquoise. Some say green. Some say silvery blue.”
These black pearls hail from Tahiti. Their color — like the many others from around the world that Kawamoto has brought for his holiday show at Karats — is so profound you literally can’t pinpoint it. The gloss of certain orbs pick up a copper flame from some angles of the light, while others take on what almost looks like a deep purple. It has taken Kawamoto about 10 years to find colors similar enough to complete this particular strand.
“You can’t control what happens in nature. You just have to wait. You wait and wait for nature to produce this color again and again,” he said.
Kawamoto, who leads an alternate existence as a lawyer and CPA in New York City, hails from Mie Prefecture, Japan, the place where the process of culturing pearls was first discovered. While culturing pearls allows some control over production, ultimately it is still the shell of the individual mollusk and its own process of transformation that determines the color and character of the pearl it produces. Some pearls develop rings, others have unique dents that reflect light. Looking as carefully as possible at a strand that color-wise looks completely uniform from a distance, there is no question that no two pearls are the same.
In addition to the black Tahitian pearls, Kawamoto also brings a wide variety of the classic off-white Japanese Akoya pearls, fresh water, South Sea and Australian varieties that range in color from pastel pink to orange-grey to lavender to gleaming white.
Along with the full strands, Kawamoto carries dozens of his own ring and earring masterpieces, featuring a single pearl set in an intricate design of gold or silver.
But most customers come to him seeking a necklace to give a loved one. While some believe they know exactly what they want for their significant other, Kawamoto possesses an uncanny ability to link each person with the strand that best compliments her hair, skin tone and even personality.
When individuals approach Kawamoto and the person who will own the pearls isn’t there, he wants to see a picture of her so he can find a match.
One buyer wants pinkish fresh water pearls for his wife, but Kawamoto points out that her skin tone would drown out the pearl color, and directs him to a copper-hued variety.
“The color needs to match the eye color. This one will go to someone very, very special. Her eyes will glow when she wears this.”