Many colors of the sea |

Many colors of the sea

Cassie Pence
Vail, CO, Colorado
AE Koji Pearls PU 8-2-07

VAIL ” When you think of pearls, “pistachio” and “eggplant” are words that usually don’t come to mind. But Tahitian pearls, formed in the black lipped oyster, are creating a whole new language of colors.

“If it’s an unusual color, it’s very difficult to make a necklace,” pearl expert Koji Kawamoto said. “It takes three to four years to pile up so enough pieces to finally make a matching strand.”

Kawamoto returns to Karats in Vail Village today and Sunday. He will host a seminar on pearls at La Tour, next door to the gallery, today at 2 p.m. He will explain how to tell quality, talk about the origins and different types of pearls as well as how they are cultivated.

Ninety-five percent of the world’s pearls are cultivated in water farms in Australia, Tahiti, Philippines and China, the home of freshwater pearls. Even though the pearls are “grown,” nature still determines the majority of the outcome, like color. Different types of oysters produce different colors, but one never knows the exact shade, luster or size of the pearl until the shell is opened.

In his trunk, Kawamoto has brought with him all types of pearls in different shades, from the black, green and purple Tahitian pearls to the traditional lustrous white Akoya pearls to the feminine-hued South Sea pearls and the asymmetrical baroque pearls.

“My whole life is pearls,” Kawamoto said. “I really like the baroque pearls. They are one of kind, special pearls, very unique.”

Hailing from Japan, Kawamoto’s family has harvested pearls for three generations. Kawamoto spent six years in Australia waters learning and teaching the trade, and now flies back and forth from Japan and New York, selling his stringed treasures.

Kawamoto has also brought a collection of natural pearls to Karats for the show. Called Keshi, natural pearls are usually not perfectly round, but have a unique shape.

“The only way you can find out is X-ray,” Kawamoto said. “When X-rayed, it it’s cultured we can find a bead, or nucleus inside. If it’s a keshi, you wouldn’t see anything inside.”

Natural pearls are still found the old fashion way, one by one people open the oyster.

“You open up 10 oysters, if you are lucky, you can find one small pearl. One out of 10,” Kawamoto said.

Sherri Bryant, a gemologist who’s worked at Karats for about a year, said it’s unusual, since it’s not Tokyo, to see this many pearls in one place.

“When you wear pearls, they feel good, and I believe the pearl finds you,” Bryant said.

With all the different colors of pearls, there’s a style out there for everyone. But you have to try them on, Karats owner Dan Telleen said.

“It’s about skin tone, color of teeth, color of your eyes, whites of your eyes and color of your hair,” Telleen said. “You put on the right strand of pearls and it will look beautiful, you put on the wrong strand, and it just won’t cut it.”

Arts and Entertainment Editor Cassie Pence can be reached at 748-2938, or

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