Koji Kawamoto brings his newest pearls to Karats in Vail | VailDaily.com

Koji Kawamoto brings his newest pearls to Karats in Vail

Brenda Himelfarb
Special to the Daily

Pearl lovers will not want to miss Koji Kawamoto and his vast collection of extraordinary creations. This jewelry artist lectures throughout the world about the origins and different types of pearls and how they are cultivated.

Harvesting, however, is what Kawamoto enjoys most.

"It's the birth of a baby," Kawamoto said. "Just one out of 100 pearls comes out beautiful."

Kawamoto's designs may include Tahitian, South Sea, Golden or, perhaps, natural pearls.

'Introducing the beauty of nature'

It's almost a given that Kawamoto would work in the pearl industry. He grew up in Mie Prefecture, a small village in Japan where the process of culturing pearls was first discovered in 1893. What set Koji apart from others in the village, who would go on to work in the industry, was his innate, creative talent and the love of the magnificent gems found near his home.

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Today, he is considered, not only a pearl expert but also a noted jewelry designer whose knowledge of the gems is coveted by clients and jewelers worldwide.

The artificial cultivation technique of pearls, which was established in the 20th century, developed in the Shima Peninsula at the southern part of Mie Prefecture, a place with an intricately indented coastline. The area provided an ideal environment for pearl culture because of the calm waters of sheltered inlets, gently warmed by offshore currents — an ideal environment for pearl culture.

Ago Bay, in particular, from ancient times has been a home for pearl oysters, which in Japan are called akoyagai.

"We believe that pearls are amulets, which protect you and your family," said Kawamoto, who is showcasing his newest work at Karats in Vail Village Feb. 13-19. "I feel responsible for introducing the beauty of nature all over the world, and am very happy to do that. You just cherish them and your family will be protected."

Finding a piece that's 'you'

Pearl farming is a fascinating two-step process.

The first is the cultivation of pearl oysters such as akoyagai. Then, to produce cultured pearls, a tiny bead is inserted around the pearl in which lustrous nacre is formed. To cultivate pearls, a mother-of-pearl bead is implanted in a seed oyster's mature ovary tissue when it is two or three years old.

The oysters are then left suspended in the sea from rafts for a year and checked twice a month for seaweed and other types of mollusk. In winter, the shells are opened and the pearls removed.

From earrings, pendants rings or necklaces, Kawamoto is very specific about making sure a client gets the pearl that "talks" to them.

"When I make jewelry pieces, I always think about the buyer's eye color, hair color and skin tone, even her personality."

And, he will do just that — lead you to a piece that's "you" from a selection that he's already created and is showcasing. That is his specialty.

And Kawamoto uses a plethora of pearls with various tones, shapes and color.

For instance, the South Sea cultured pearl, produced by an unusually large saltwater oyster, is known as the "queen" of pearls and is endeared for its subtle, feminine hues and luster. The Tahitian cultured pearl, frequently dubbed the "black" pearl, actually runs the gamut of grays — from light flannel to dark charcoal with overtones of purple, green and blue — more alluringly called "peacock," "eggplant," "sea foam" and "pistachio." The golden pearl, known for its depth of color, is very expensive and very rare. It is for those who are seeking a pearl that is rare, refined and enduring.

But it is the Akoya pearl, considered the "cream of the (cultured world) crop" and naturally exhibits the most intense luster of any white, round saltwater pearl, that is Kawamoto's favorite.

"If you don't have any pearls, Akoya is the first one to get," he advised. "It is the most classic white pearl with pinkish overtones."

Kawamoto's knowledge and enthusiasm about pearls and his work is very apparent in his eclectic designs. When asked about the how to take care of pearls, Kawamoto remarked, "The best way, is to cherish them."