TOKYO – Creating things that last a lifetime or more has been on the mind of jewelry designer Yuta Ishihara for years.
“When I was in my late teens I started to think about how I wanted things to stay longer,” he said. “I decided that if I created something, I wanted it to last.”
His latest project, the fine jewelry brand Yutai, reflects this objective. Unique pieces are made from long-lasting precious metals (he only uses yellow or white gold and platinum) and certain styles breathe new life into vintage decors made in the Japanese prefecture where he grew up.
Mr. Ishihara, 35, was born and raised in Yamanashi, the most prolific jewelry-producing region in Japan. His family, however, grew flowers, and as a child he dug the soil around the nursery and found pieces of pottery from the prehistoric period of Jomon (14,000 BC to 300 BC) and pieces of obsidian, a natural volcanic glass, two common discoveries in the region.
“It really struck me because these are thousands of years old,” he said. “These things last, and we know them now because they were able to last as long as they did, because of the material.”
Unlike many of his classmates, Mr. Ishihara decided to leave the prefecture for his higher education. “At the time, I spoke with my family and we decided that there would be more opportunities in Tokyo,” he said. “If I had gone to school in Yamanashi, I would have stayed there, and I don’t think things would be where they are now.
In 2008 he graduated from a three-year program at Hiko Mizuno College of Jewelry in Tokyo and in 2010 created his first brand, Shihara. Now sold in outlets around the world and online, the brand has a minimalist approach to jewelry, with elegant, often geometric shapes and clasps or stems incorporated into the designs.
Chika Wakatsuki, curator of the Yamanashi Jewelry Museum, wrote in an email that “the minimalistic and solid look of her jewelry makes the wearer stand out. It’s beautiful, clean, and stoic from every angle, and I think it’s a design that excels at connecting people and space.
While designing Shihara pieces, Mr Ishihara said, he often thought of a very different type of collection – then the pandemic gave him the opportunity to develop one. “With Shihara, we are working with materials that can be replicated so that we can produce parts on demand,” he said. “But with Yutai, what you see is what you get.”
“The material comes first and the design comes next,” Mr. Ishihara said. And “some things that I only have one piece of, so some materials are unique.” For example, he found golden pearls from the Philippine Sea, but only had enough to make three necklaces ($ 14,200 each). “I like this color because it is very close to the color of gold,” he said.
Yutai is due to be officially introduced in the United States next month at Bergdorf Goodman in New York, with the Japanese introduction in February at Dover Street Market in Tokyo (he said dates should be staggered as quantities are limited).
Yumi Shin, chief merchant of Bergdorf Goodman, wrote in an email that the store has “always admired the minimalist, thoughtful and multifaceted designs of Yuta Ishihara’s Shihara jewelry brand.
“With his jewelry brand Yutai,” she added, “he continues to explore and push the right balance between functionality and beauty by using semi-precious and precious stones, splicing and delicately fusing stones. to give each piece its unique beauty and depth. “
Mr. Ishihara designs the Yutai pieces, some of which incorporate unusual effects, and they are made by artisans from Yamanashi and Tokyo.
For example, as Ms. Shin noted, some Yutai rings and pendants fuse gemstones ($ 2,100 to $ 3,700). “You can see from the back that there are two different stones. These types of cuts are created to reflect light on them, ”Mr. Ishihara said, displaying a matching lemon quartz and blue topaz ring. “The yellow reflects on the blue and merges to become more or less a color, a stone.”
The line also includes sectional necklaces, splicing gemstones, like jade or rubies that have been hammered and polished in the shape of pearls, in single strand pearl necklaces.
“I like to mix different elements and it’s also about changing the look of the conventional pearl necklace by adding different materials,” he said. The clasp, hidden in the strand, also reflects the shape of the pearls and is closed with a keyhole-shaped mechanism. Prices start at $ 4,900 for a blue chalcedony version and go up to $ 10,300 for a jade version.
Mr. Ishihara first designed Sectional necklaces in 2012 and over the years has sold a few at Dover Street Market in London and Tokyo, including a jade one that Rihanna bought in Tokyo. Now, however, it will only sell them as part of its new lineup.
Yutai also includes Revive Rings, which feature cocktail rings made by artisans from Yamanashi in the 1980s, a period of an “economic bubble” in Japan when many people wore what would now be considered flashy jewelry. “I bought the settings at a wholesale market in Yamanashi,” Mr. Ishihara said. “They were either sold ‘as is’ or sometimes sold without the gemstone, without honoring the craftsmanship that transformed them.”
Originally, the central gemstones of the rings were surrounded by baguette-cut diamonds in a ballerina setting (so called because the rigid circle of small stones resembles a ballerina’s tutu). Most of them were designed and worked by hand, “most likely in Yamanashi, although there is no way to follow it,” he said. “This profession no longer exists because of the development of CAD (computer-aided design), and there is no longer any demand on the market.
Mr Ishihara said he was taking the rings and deconstructing them “to make them more modern”, replacing the narrow original bands with the wider preferred ones now. In some cases where the central gem was missing, he used only the empty frame as a decorative element on a new strip.
“I prefer the setting on the outside rather than the gemstone itself,” he said, “this is where we can also appreciate the craftsmanship the most. I really want to point that out.
The designer said he hopes the pieces in his Yutai line will achieve his goal: to last.
“Things in the world usually come and go, they rarely last,” he said. “But for jewelry, the material and craftsmanship that goes into it remains valuable, even though we don’t know the name of the person who made it.”