—— Can you tell us about your job as a jewelry designer?
In Rolling Hills, a suburb of Los Angeles, I run a jewelry store called Art of Creation. I get gemstones from all over the world and create jewelry, going through the polishing, cutting, and designing processes. I work in the US for seven months a year, and in Japan and Southeast Asia for the rest of the year. Seventy percent of our customers prefer custom-made jewelry, so we design a unique piece for each customer.
The point to which we pay most attention is to look for "living stones.” And the first thing we keep in mind in designing jewelry is to “express the customer’s charm through jewelry.” This is my most important mission as a jewelry designer. I consider myself as a harbor pilot who guides those who don’t know about jewelry through this fascinating world. Westerners and Japanese are different in appearance, posture, and hand size. While seeking for ideal designs for Japanese, I make jewelry, the ultimate fashion accessory.
—— When did you become interested in jewelry?
When I was little, there was an elderly lady in my neighborhood, who was very nice to me, although we were not related. She had been a geisha in Shimbashi, Tokyo. I went to her house almost every day and enjoyed listening to her nagauta (traditional long epic songs) and shamisen. As I look back now, as an adult, I feel like she taught me what beauty, romance, and style were all about. She had made herself a master of the arts, so her passion for beauty was extraordinary. I feel like she suggested I pursue a career in jewelry design.
By the time I was in high school, I had started taking pictures of the beauty of nature. My father was a Yuzen artist, painting everything by hand, and we had neighbors who were craftsmen, making traditional hair ornaments or obi, sash ornaments. Living in such an artistic environment helped me refine the sense and appreciation of beauty. I was especially interested in making sword guards, Japanese tea kettles, and jewelry, so I entered Tokyo Kogei Senior High School to study metal crafting. Nearly 70 percent of the students had parents who ran jewelry-related businesses. One summer, when I was sixteen, I visited a classmate’s home. Her father showed me a diamond and an emerald. I was charmed by them. That was the first time for me to see real gems. I couldn’t hide my excitement: “Wow, There are such beautiful things in this world!” Since then, I've had a continuing interest in gems and jewelry.
—— In a word, what appeals to you about gems?
I believe gems are the ultimate works of art created by Mother Earth. Through the process of polishing and cutting a gemstone, the charm and personality of the gem emerges. It’s like delivering a baby; it’s a moment of joy. When I finally remove the abrasive from the gem, I feel it breathing, and that adds power to itself. The romance of gems fascinates people. Recently, gemstones mined in Madagascar have gotten attention. On a map, you can see that the shoreline of the African continent, located across from Madagascar Island, matches the shape of the island. This indicates that these two lands were separated over many years. Upon learning that this is the reason why gems similar to those found in Madagascar are also found on the African continent, I became more and more attracted by gems.
—— Why did you want to become a jewelry designer?
After graduating high school, I studied at a jewelry school for two years. Then I worked for a jewelry wholesale company located in Okachimachi, Tokyo, for four years. There, I was responsible for designing jewelry and introducing our jewelry to retail stores. At the same time, I studied gemological evaluation at an institute and visited jewelry stores on weekends for my self-study.
After settling in the US, I opened a jewelry wholesale store in downtown Los Angeles and assisted retail stores as I had done in Japan. Meanwhile, I started wondering, “What kind of people wear the jewelry that I make?” or “Is the jewelry I’ve sold well accepted?” I came to understand that to get the answers to these questions I’d need to work directly with customers. Then, I had an opportunity to design a jewel for a customer who was referred by a friend of mine. It was a turning point. Later, I kept receiving more design work from the general public by word of mouth, and consequently more customers. Thanks to that, I am still in business today.
—— How do you find gemstones?
The gemstones I've recently been handling are mostly from Southeast Asia and Africa. In particular, Bangkok, Hong Kong, and India collect stones from all over the world, so I’ll go to these places. In the States, I go to an annual convention that takes place in Tucson, Arizona, which is one of the world's largest conventions for this industry. This convention not only attracts gemstones from all over the world, but also offers information about new discoveries. My friends and I show off our stones to each other and exchange information. It's a happy time. Jewelry offers opportunities to create a network of people. This community has a charm that is beyond description. Needless to say, gemological evaluation is an important job, but my approach goes beyond that. I first evaluate if a stone has a positive power. Then I look for the part that can be gems.
—— Where do you get the inspiration to design jewelry?
I often get design ideas while sleeping. So, I always have a sketchbook on my bedside table. When I suddenly wake up in the middle of the night, I draw a rough sketch of the design that has just come into my mind, and I accumulate such sketches. Sometime later I’ll open my sketchbook and examine the rough sketches and ideas to see if any of them are appropriate. I usually start designing a piece of jewelry this way. I may have five to six different design ideas a day, but that's not always the case.
—— What made you to come to the US?
I joined the team creating a crown for “Miss Diamond” and that took place at Hotel Okura in 1978. A few months later, I had an opportunity to work on old jewelry from Tiffany & Co., which was 30 to 40 years old. While polishing and repairing these jewels for two to three weeks, I noticed that the concept of how to create jewelry differs considerably between Japan and the US. In Japan, jewelry design was taught in a formulaic way, like, “to make this, follow these rules and procedures.” That was not the case with the US jewelry industry. I realized that the notions and conventions of the Japanese jewelry industry were not accepted outside Japan. That shocked me and by the time I finished that project, I’d completely made up my mind to come to the US.
I had a few Japanese acquaintances who had studied or graduated from the Gemological Institute of America (GIA: a nonprofit institute of gemological research and learning, established in California in 1931). To follow in their steps, I came to the US in May, 1979.
—— What have you learned here?
I've learned that if I don’t enjoy my work, my customers can't enjoy my jewelry. That's the bottom line. To accomplish that, it’s essential to have an environment that gives me complete freedom to do as I want. Just following rules or fixed procedures doesn’t do the job. Focusing on how to enjoy the whole process, looking for gemstones, designing jewelry, and highlight each customer’s charm—I’ve learned a series of such steps is important.
I’ve also learned a lot from the cultural diversity of the US. It’s like corresponding to the cultural diversity of the world, so people here have different viewpoints. Particularly, California is, literally, a “melting pot” of many races, to which people continue to come from all over the world. There are many different perceptions of jewelry in California, from which I’ve learned a lot as a jewelry designer.
What I’ve learned from American jewelry is that it has a “playful” side. This also evokes "a joy" in designing jewelry. Many designs make artful use of space. Meanwhile, to make jewelry in Japan, there exist detailed rules, like “make it within the height of 7mm.” Orderliness and perfection are expected in jewelry. For example, you may get an absolute command, like “if this size, go with such and such design” (laughter). They focus on making flawless pieces.
—— What is your motto?
As I mentioned, my neighbor, who used to be a geisha, taught me what beauty, romance, and style are. I’d like to continue pursuing these themes as a jewelry designer. So, my motto is to "carry out my original intentions." What I mean is to complete that which I’ve envisioned as an ideal or decided to do. I’d like to keep working in gems and jewelry, focusing on how I can make my customers happy, rather than focusing on profits or sales figures. I want to keep going with honesty and integrity, without forgetting the pure excitement I felt when I first saw real gems.
—— At what moment do you feel lucky as a jewelry designer?
If you go to a major convention, you may understand this…although there are thousands of jewelers and jewelry-related businesses, there are not many who really love jewels. So, if I meet a person who loves jewels as much as I do, I feel extremely happy.
Suppose I am going to exchange comments on a rare gem with another jeweler. After a few words, we look at each other, our eyes sparkling, our hearts connected.... I would say this is the happiest moment. In the jewelry industry, we share the joy of finding stones. Such a feeling goes beyond the usual sense of business.
Why do I work in jewelry? It’s not accidental that I deal with jewels as merchandise. Indeed, I have a desire to be in the jewelry business, which grows stronger every day. I want to help people discover the charm of jewelry—while hoping so from the bottom of my heart, I deal with jewels. That’s why I feel deeply delighted when a customer understands how I feel. I live surrounded by customers' smiles. What a lucky man I am!
—— What is your dream for the future?
I believe there is nothing more wonderful than a person’s smile. With jewelry, I want to help people smile more and more.... So, my dream is to design jewelry so as to put smiles on the faces of as many people as possible. Jewelry is a “beautiful medium” that provides people with good memories. Keeping that in mind as my mission, I’d like to offer jewelry to customers.
—— Finally, can you please give us a few tips on selecting jewelry?
Many may believe jewelry is expensive. When going into a jewelry store, many people are concerned more about the price than the jewelry itself. Well, I don’t blame them. But, I hope they try to feel the power and mystique of jewelry, before looking at the price tags. In other words, I want them to enjoy looking at jewelry regardless of price. I want to emphasize that jewelry creates a beautiful, magical world, where not only women enjoy it as a luxurious accessory, but men can understand its romance, as well.
It's true that there are jewelry stores that only seek profits without understanding the profound charm of jewelry. So it is important to use your common sense in judging stores. Recently, there have been a lot of synthetic stones. We need to be careful because I’ve seen some stores selling such stones without telling customers the true identities of the stones. For example, there exist jewelers who advertise and sell a “yellow-colored diamond" in a way that it sounds like a “natural yellow diamond.” There also are stores that issue fake warranties and certificates of authenticity.
Please don’t think a piece of jewelry is of good quality just because it's expensive. The key is to decide that you like and appreciate its excellence. An expensive piece of jewelry itself does not make you beautiful, but rather, your heart does—because it appreciates the beauty of the jewel.