Although there's a blank of over 1000 years in the history of Japanese jewellery, that period saw the cultivation of a unique culture of metal craftwork and the techniques it employed. Items such as netsuke* and tsuba*, which are currently highly valued overseas, are prime examples, and the simple fact that these items were different enabled Japan to evolve in its own unique way.
The foundation of those techniques still lives on in the Japanese jewellery of today.
For example, take the way platinum is finished. This material is soft, difficult to make shine, and quite a challenge to handle, but by making full use of traditional finishing techniques, craftsmen have given it a hard luster. This technique is integrated into contemporary technology, and this standard approach extends to the making of mass-produced chains, such as bracelets and so on.
* netsuke – A small piece of handiwork that was attached to the end of the cord of tobacco pouches or purses. A traditional decorative item.
* tsuba – A kind of plate, which protects the hand that grips the sword's hilt, inserted in the area between the blade of a sword and the hilt.
In the 19th century, Japanese design had a major influence on the creative activities of the Impressionist masters. This cultural movement, dubbed Japonesque, can be seen in the works of such artists as Monet and Van Gogh.
As well as a sense of exoticism, these masters no doubt felt there was something fresh about Japan's unique aesthetic sense and ideas, and their creativity was stimulated as a result. In the modern era too, Japan's manga and anime are held in high regard as one field of contemporary art that's a world-leading form of culture.
Japanese jewellery design covers a very broad range, from items which adhere to historical, traditional art, to those which are sublimated into contemporary art forms. This diversity is a characteristic of Japanese jewellery, and one could also say that it's a characteristic shared with Japanese design in other fields.
As symbolized by domestic appliances and cars, Japan's post-war industrial development has been a story of sublimation, with imitation leading to emphasis on practicality, which in turn has led to a shift to high quality.
Nowadays, one could say that “made in Japan” exists as a byword for high quality, or alternatively as a brand in its own right.
Meanwhile, one word that's been much used recently is kodawari (=insistence on something). This is a keyword which describes the spirit of wanting to reach the next level up in all areas – technology, design, and product quality. Although kodawari is a word that's routinely used in daily life, in the sense of “ordinary isn't enough”, and “differentiation”, in these senses too it's nothing more or less than a word that describes permanently striving for improvements in quality. Not being satisfied with the status quo and always aiming higher – this spirit can also be found in Japanese jewellery.