Pearl expert Koji Kawamoto returns to Karats in Vail Village | VailDaily.com

Pearl expert Koji Kawamoto returns to Karats in Vail Village

Brenda Himelfarb
Special to the Daily

VAIL — It was almost a given that Koji 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 Kawamoto 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.

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. Kawamoto will showcase his newest work at Karats in Vail Village, Friday through Monday.

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 its sheltered inlets, gently warmed by offshore currents. Ago Bay, in particular, 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," Kawamoto said. "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."

“I feel responsible for introducing the beauty of nature all over the world and am happy to do that.”Koji KawamotoPearl expert

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To cultivate a pearl, first 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, during which time they form layers of lustrous nacre around the seeds. The oysters are checked twice a month for seaweed and other types of mollusks, and in winter, the shells are opened and the finished pearls removed.

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

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

Kawamoto uses a plethora of pearls with various tones, shapes and colors. 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." For those who are seeking a pearl that's refined and enduring, the Golden pearl, known for its depth of color, is very expensive and very rare.

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

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

Kawamoto's knowledge and enthusiasm about pearls and his work are apparent in his eclectic designs. And as for how to take care of the pearls that he sells, Kawamoto said, "The best way is to cherish them."

If you go …

What: Koji Kawamoto.

When: Friday, Feb. 12, through Monday, Feb. 15; gallery is open daily from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m.

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

Cost: Admission is free; pearls available for purchase.

More information: Visit http://www.karatsvail.com.