April 07, 2023

Pure Pearls Weekly Newsletter: Happy Easter!ūüĆłūü•ö Maki-e Pearls: Painted Pearls for a Grown Up Easter Treat



Pure Pearls Weekly Newsletter  


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 Golden South Sea Drop-Shape Pearl, Fire Opal and Diamond Pendant, 18K Gold, Jewelry by Mikimoto



Golden South Sea Drop-Shape Pearl, Fire Opal and Diamond Pendant, 18K Gold

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Maki-e Pearls by Eliko Pearl 


Have you ever heard of maki-e pearls? These dazzling creations burst onto the pearl scene in 2019 at the Tucson Gem Show, displayed proudly by pearl wholesaler Eliko Pearls, who specializes in rare, unique pearl offerings.  

Famous designers (like Judith McCormick) bought up these one-of-a-kind creations to use in exclusively bespoke jewelry designs. 

These incredible pearls continually draw my interest (especially around Easter haha), and I've been fascinated with the craft of maki-e ever since I first laid eyes on these dazzling creations. This intricate art has been around for over a thousand years, but has only VERY recently been applied to pearls. All I can say is: It's about time!!! 


The Making of Maki-e Pearls

How Are maki-e Pearls Made?

Photo credit Uemura Pearl Culture


Maki-e is a centuries-old technique of painting objects with various motifs using lacquer and powdered 24K Gold and pure Silver metals, along with other alloys like aluminum, brass and pewter.

Per Wikipedia, the term maki-e is a compound word of maki meaning "sprinkling" and e meaning "picture" or "design". The final word works out to something like "sprinkled pictures". 

Invented in Japan around 1,200 years ago, the maki-e technique rapidly gained fame in the Western world around 400 years ago when objects created with the gold and silver dust started to be imported into Europe. 

Traditionally reserved for items like lacquer boxes, vases and porcelain plates, the maki-e technique has been adapted in modern times for that most humble yet beautiful of gemstones: the Pearl.  


How Maki-e Pearls are Made


Artisans work from a selection of gorgeous White and Golden South Sea pearls, and most famously, Tahitian pearls, both Rounds and Drop-Shapes ... Baroque-shaped pearls can work as well, but we suspect that the irregularly shaped pearl surfaces might be much less forgiving to work with! 
The pearls are drilled with a "regular" size drill shaft that will fit most mountings (0.3mm in diameter approximately), cleaned and then mounted on custom dops (a dop is a modified gemstone holding device that allows you to work with it, as in faceting diamonds, etc). 
Then the magic begins! 
After a design is decided upon, the pearl is layered with multiple layers of lacquer. After a drying and sanding period, the artist takes the drawn design (made on tissue paper aka washi paper) in Red Ochre is placed over the pearl, and the outline remains on the surface detailing what parts of the pearl need to be painted.  

maki-e pearls from Eliko pearls
Photo courtesy Eliko Pearl

Layer upon layer, the 24K Gold dust and/or Silver and Platinum is painted over the lacquer, allowed to dry and then sanded down to the metal-bonded layer. It is then burnished or polished with a piece of charcoal, and then another layer of lacquer and metal dust is applied.
For maki-e pearls, other elements are added such as carved pieces of abalone or mother-of-pearl, raising the height of the design and creating an eye-catching mosaic effect.

This is set into place with a final layer of lacquer, which is then sanded down, burnished and then lacquered again to hold everything in place. Each pearl is a 100% one-of-a-kind creation, worthy of a designation as Treasure in its own right.

maki-e pearls
Photo courtesy Eliko Pearl

These stunning pearls really haven't been seen in the pearl world before; they are truly unique, one of a kind works of art that I really just can't get enough of!
The exclusive dealer for maki-e Tahitian pearls in the United States is Eliko Pearls, based in New York, says that the pearls are exceedingly rare, with less than 100 pearls produced each month ... contrast that with a typical Freshwater pearl harvest which averages in the hundreds of TONS each year, these pearls are truly alone in the world as pieces of Art. 
"There are currently 4 artisans in the world practicing the Maki-e technique on pearls. As one can imagine, this is very labor and time intensive and a very specific skill set is required. On average, about 100 pearls are produced a month, so they are very, very limited in quantity."  

maki-e pearls on display at Tucson gemshow
Photo courtesy GIA
Maki-e pearls today apparently aren't created in Japan - they're created in the Philippine Islands! Per a fantastic interview with Raphael Basalely, Vice President of Eliko Pearl Co., and Reema, author of the Culture of Pearls Blog:
"These pearls are actually crafted in the Philippines. All of the pearls are of the Tahitian variety from French Polynesian pearl farms but the labor of decorating them with 24k paint and abalone shell inlay is done in the Philippines. The technique is Japanese as you mentioned and many of the styles are Japanese inspired but the labor itself is not done in Japan." 

That more than interesting tidbit aside, let's enjoy some Easter Eggs for Grown Ups! 
Maki-e Tahitian Pearl with 24K Gold Dust
Maki-e Tahitian Pearl with Silver and Gold Dust
Maki-e Tahitian Pearl with Silver and Gold Dust, Abalone Tiles
Maki-e Tahitian Pearl Earrings

While I was not able to find any videos whatsoever about creating maki-e pearls, for those of you wanting to know more about this fascinating and intricate art form is made can learn more by watching the video review below.  

Watch Video

The PurePearls.com Wishlist: Weekly Pearl Jewelry Spotlight


Pure Pearls Weekly Product Spotlight: Tahitian Pearl and Diamond Evasion Earrings 



These exquisite pearl earrings add a touch of elegance to any occasion. These earrings feature two lustrous 10mm AAA quality Tahitian pearl pearls, hand picked for their gorgeous luster and unblemished surface. The pearls are mountings on 18K gold.

The Diamond Evasion Earrings are created from scratch here at our Los Angeles, CA workshop using only the finest cultured pearls, diamonds and metals. Your new Tahitian Pearl and Diamond Evasion Dangle Earrings arrives in our Signature Little Black Gift Box, and is accompanied by a Certificate of Authenticity and Pearl Care Instructions.


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