Monday, May 10, 2010


There is a slow shift from winter to spring in some parts of the world, and the seasonal thaw can be felt as far as Japan's Kyoto Botanical Garden. Established a little over 90 years ago the grounds house 120,000 plants. Japan is also the ancestral home of featured jewelry designer April Higashi.

The painstaking technique of enameling, like other jewelry-making techniques, has origins dating back to early civilizations including the Byzantine Empire, and Rome's conquest of Greece.

Ancient jewelry artists implemented this precision-driven skill of fusing powdered glass to metal as a colorful alternative to gemstones.

Currently, powdered glass from the ethereal hues used in pliqué a jour to the glossy finish of vitreous enamel are used by such jewelry designers as Leila Tai (Lebanon), and Christy Klug (USA) to stunning effect. Higashi also incorporates this long-standing technique in her understated creations.

Raised in Salt Lake City, Utah, at the tender age of eight Higashi had already decided she would attend an "out-of-state" college, and by age 11, upon receipt of a sewing machine as a Christmas gift, she began creating her own clothing without the use of pre-packaged patterns.

In 1990, the energetic 20-year old studied textiles earning a Bachelor of Fine Arts from the University of San Francisco.

Eager to travel the world one year later, she dived into the garment industry gaining employment with Espirit de Corp. The experience, however, left her cold when during a company downsizing she was given the option of being laid-off. She took it.

In the interim, Higashi co-founded a jewelry company, Fortuna Metalsmiths, a successful endeavor that allowed her the financial independence to further her knowledge about all things artistic including tutelage by enamel artist June Schwartz.

By 2002, Higashi established her own jewelry company, Shibumi Studio, which not only exhibits her elegant work with enamel, and 18 and 24-karat gold but her companion's, Eric Powell, sculpture work.

Higashi's aesthetic is clean and understated but the gorgeous 24-karat gold, rich colored enamel, and glowing gemstones brings visual depth. Her enamel designs run the gamut of solid pops of color to mosaic blends of off-white, black, yellow, and red.

"I create rich color fields, markings, and textures with enamel. In most cases the enameling process requires a minimum of six firings in a kiln; however, for more complex patterns between 20 to 30 firings is required to enhance depth and bleeding of the brush strokes," she explains.

Something I have noticed thus far with designers from Japan, Korea, and Taiwan is their adherence to delicacy and their lack of ostentatious arrangement. The key focus is keeping the forms basic with simple accents and a quiet lyricism so that the artisanship takes center stage. Here again, highlighting the perfection in simplicity.

"I look to create a simple sense of beauty. I am attracted to the depth, textures, translucency, and bleeding which happens during the firing of enamel. I mark imperfections in the layers to create beauty and balance."
Photo 1 (top right): 18-Karat Gold and Enamel Earrings
Photo 2 (bottom left): 18-Karat Gold and Oxidized Silver and Enamel Lady Bug Ring with Diamonds
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