Past Perfect: Mikimoto’s Pearl and Diamond Tiara



Imagine it’s 1915 and the only way to preview a jeweler’s latest collection is to leaf through its catalog. You open Mikimoto’s most recent issue, a ribbon-bound jewel of a thing filled with detailed, hand-drawn sketches of the most beautiful jewelry, including not one, but several tiaras like the one below. The perfect little something to wear to that ball Edith Wharton invited you to at her home in the Berkshires.


Spread from the No. 18 edition, published in October 1915

According to Mikimoto, this design is considered to be one of Japan’s first tiaras decorated in pearls and diamonds and represents the dawn of Japan’s modern jewelry culture.

Introduced for sale less than a decade after founder Kokichi Mikimoto established the Mikimoto Gold Work Factory (today’s Mikimoto Jewelry Mfg. Co. Ltd.), this tiara, and other circa-1915 Mikimoto designs, point to the influence of Western jewelry production techniques. (The company’s artisans had been dispatched to the more established workshops of Europe and the United States to elevate their game, and later, to incorporate what they’d learned into the tenets of Japanese craftsmanship as pioneered by Mr. Mikimoto.)

Launched in 1908, the Mikimoto Pearl product catalog was published until 1938; several issues are archived and today provide valuable reference materials for the current design team.

 

For example, in 2007, Mikimoto debuted a reissue of the tiara design showcased in this post, using the archival drawings from that No. 18 edition as a touchstone. As you can see from the photo below, it faithfully captures the Belle Epoque glamour of the original with South Sea cultured pearls, akoya pearls, diamonds—even that lavish ostrich plume cascading from the top like a Champagne fountain at some fabulous Gilded Age soiree.

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All That Glitters writer

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