Koji Kawamoto returns to Karats in Vail for a trunk show this week | VailDaily.com
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Koji Kawamoto returns to Karats in Vail for a trunk show this week

Graham H. Danzoll
Daily Correspondent
Vail, CO Colorado
Special to the DailyPearl expert Koji Kawamoto poses with some pearls he brought to Karats this week for a trunk show. According to Koji, only three percent of cultured or farmed oysters produce a near perfect pearl.
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Internationally-known pearl expert Koji Kawamoto returns to Karats for a trunk show today through Saturday. Karat’s owner, Dan Telleen, is glad to have the jeweler who is known simply as “Koji” back.

“Koji has been with us since 1999,” Telleen said. “He’s part of the Karats bunch now. We’re celebrating our 40th anniversary this year at Karats so it’s fitting he’s here with all his magnificent pearl creations.”

A conversation with Koji yields a wealth of information about pearls; how pearls come into being, where pearls get its colors, what goes into evaluating a pearl’s worth and how to select the right kind of pearl for yourself or someone else.



The popular image of the pearl is the white, round, Akoya pearl from Japan, a fixture in many jewelry collections. Koji has plenty of Akoya pearls in his show, but he clearly loves the full-spectrum of pearl colors and origins.

“There are many types of pearls now. They can come from Tahiti, Indonesia or China and can be all kinds of sizes and colors,” Koji said, gesturing towards a long strand with many shades of green and black pearls.



“If you open an oyster and look at the colors of its lip, it will tell you the color of the pearl,” he said. “Indonesia and the Philippines have yellow, golden, creamy and champagne-lipped oysters. Tahitian oysters have black lips. Australia has silver-lipped oysters. This necklace has Tahitian black pearls and if you look closer, do you see the blue and the bright green? It has some reddish and aubergine colors too.”

But color is only one way to distinguish pearls. According to Koji, there’s a rigorous system of valuation wherein size, color, shape, luster and surface perfection all factor together to determine a pearl’s worth. Given the fact that only three percent of cultured or farmed oysters produce a near perfect pearl, it is easy to appreciate their rarity as well as their beauty.

Large, amorphous-shaped pearls are called “Baroque” pearls. Pearls “nucleate,” or grow, around a starter bead inserted inside the mollusk. Since Baroque pearls tend to be larger, the culturing process is more difficult and therefore they are more rare, and more expensive. Koji explains that oyster farms are known for strict cleanliness methods that produce the best cultured pearls. Bringing pearls together to for a piece requires timing, expertise and patience. Koji sometimes waits three-to four-years to assemble enough pearls of similar size, shape and color to make a single necklace.



Koji considers himself a matchmaker –one who matches the right pearls with the right person.

“I see someone and their atmosphere, their colors, it all hits me and I know right away what colors are good for them,” he said.

Some of Koji’s work is on display at Karats year round but during this week’s trunk show he’ll be available for personal consultations. Call 970-476-4670 to learn more.

Graham Danzoll is a marketing consultant for Karats. E-mail comments about this story to cschnell@vaildaily.com.


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