The Gimel Workshop — Where Beauty is Born
Japan’s natural beauty is an important source of motif for Gimel’s jewelry. This diamond and ruby dragonfly brooch has wings almost as shimmery and translucent as the real thing. On the leaf brooch below, the gradation from yellow to green on the leaf brooch below perfectly matches the leaves carpeting the forest floor in Okuike, where Gimel’s workshop is located. Both of these delicate pieces use the advanced pave setting technique that has become Gimel’s trademark, in which tiny “melee” gems are arranged together for effect, to express the Japanese sensibility in a dazzling way.
The caterpillar that “made” the holes on this leaf brooch is on the reverse of the brooch itself—a special secret for the wearer alone.
Visitors to Gimel’s workshop in Okuike are engulfed with the mysterious feeling of not knowing where they have ended up. Just twenty minutes down the Royu Driveway that connects Ashiya and Arima, the workshop feels like a haven of peace set apart from worldly bustle. Listen closely and you can hear the trees rustle and the birds sing. The brick building seems to have been there forever. Inside, the walls are smooth, glossy stucco. Furnishings from the Joseon Dynasty and contemporary art.
“I moved the company to Okuike because I believe that the most important teaching material for an atelier’s artisans is their work environment,” says Kaoru Akihara, Gimel’s Art Director and Representative Director. Located halfway up the Rokko Mountains in Hyogo, Okuike is certainly surrounded by rich natural beauty. Many famous executives and businessmen have built a home or second residence in this scenic area.
Left: The view from the terrace of Gimel’s salon, which opens onto the rich natural beauty of the Rokko Mountains. From here, nature can be observed the whole year round: the changing colors of the sky, the drifting clouds, the waxing and waning of the moon, the new shoots in spring, and the falling leaves in autumn. Right: Gimel’s main building was designed by Hisao Muranaka of Basara Architects’ Studio, Inc. The garden design is by Masatoshi Takebe. As well as their arboreal symbol, the bellflower cherry tree, the building is surrounded by a hundred “trees that bloom and grow fragrant with the seasons.” Fifteen years after the workshop’s completion, these trees have become part of Okuike’s natural environment too.
Akihara moved Gimel from its stylish previous location in Ashiya’s Tsukiwakacho in 2003. Fifteen years working in the wooded seclusion of Okuike, she says, have changed both the lifestyle and the expressions of the staff. “Your environment changes you. Many of our staff have become more attuned to the pleasures of the natural world, whether that means getting up early to pick mountain greens, or pottering in the vegetable garden during their break.”
Birdsong can be heard even inside the atelier. Step outside, and the four seasons that provide such important motifs to Gimel feel close enough to touch. During my visit, we ran into a staff member who was out for a walk with Dusha, the Yakushima-ken dog that Akihara adopted from a rescue shelter in August last year. The relaxed expression on that employee’s face left a deep impression on me.
Left: Akihara stepping off the terrace towards the vegetable garden. In spring, the company grows green beans; in summer, cucumbers. Season by season, the harvest finds its way onto the staff lunch table every day. The grounds are also home to the grave of Akihara’s beloved pet dog. Right: The salon has large windows that open onto the natural scenery of Okuike. The space is used not only to entertain guests but also for staff events, book club meetings, and more, making it a sort of living room for the entire company.
Gimel’s workshop is home to around twenty artisans (including two dedicated cabochon-makers). In Europe, jewelry artisans tend to specialize in particular tasks, but Gimel’s employees see each piece they create through to completion. It takes at least ten years to master the advanced techniques that lie behind the richly expressive diamond work that Gimel is known for. In fact, Akihara feels that the work requires more than just technique: each artisan’s inner sensitivity and richness is reflected in the jewelry they create, which is exactly why Akihara takes such care with the environment and catering.
One unique aspect of Gimel’s structure is the presence of “liaisons”—staff members whose job is to ensure that communication goes smoothly between the artisans in the atelier, busy with their daily creative work, and the sales staff who bring in new requests from customers. Liaisons listen to both sides and find common ground, which seems to be another expression of Akihara’s belief in the importance of people. “I tell the staff to think of me as the captain of a boat, and follow me,” says Akihara. “I might make mistakes, but when I do, I change course again. You have to stay focused on tomorrow. Making a mistake out of good intentions is a form of progress.”
Left: The entrance space, so full of seasonal atmosphere that it feels like a gallery. Visible in this photograph is Memories, an oil painting by Lavrenty Bruni, a contemporary Russian artist that Akihara collects. It was also displayed at the “Four Seasons of Gimel — Gimel’s Trail of Beauty. God Is in Details” exhibition at Nagoya’s Matsuzakaya Art Museum in September last year. Right: Gimel’s logo mark on the company gate. The surrounding foliage adds a subtle seasonal touch.
The seasonal ingredients and garden-grown vegetables that go into lunch at Gimel are professionally prepared in an on-site kitchen. All staff members eat lunch together daily—this is the Gimel way. Once every two months, an evening meal is held, where all staff, from artisans to salespeople, come together to enjoy the finest saké and wine from far and wide, plus seasonal cooking designed to complement it. “I don’t trust people who say they have no interest in food,” says Akihara. “How could I trust someone without love and respect for the food that physically sustains us?” It may be Akihara who enjoys these staff feasts most of all.
“Rather than putting things into words and explaining them, I find that it’s faster when people experience authentic things,” Akihara adds. In spring, under a sakura tree in full bloom; in summer, looking up at the dazzling night sky; in autumn, arranging a persimmon branch cut by hand in a vase; in winter, listening to the wood snap and crackle in a fireplace—the richness of the four seasons, experienced through all five senses. However extraordinary this beautiful jewelry workshop in Okuike might seem to us, to those who work there, its very irreplaceable “ordinariness” is what helps them create the magnificent pieces Gimel is known for.
Kaoru Kay Akihara
Gimel Art Director/Representative Director. Completed the Gemological Institute of America’s Graduate Gemologist program (GIA G.G.) at the age of 28. In 1974, founded Gimo Trading, Gimel’s predecessor. Inaugurated the Gimel creative division in 1984 and launched the Gimel brand in 1991. In 2000, was recognized as “one of the most revolutionary and influential 21st-century jewelers” by Sotheby’s. Last year, held her first exhibition in the Matsuzakaya Art Museum: “Four Seasons of Gimel — Gimel’s Trail of Beauty. God Is in Details.” A book collecting her work, Gimel, is set for release this spring from Shibunkaku Shuppan (30,000 JPY, limited to 1,000 copies).
Gimel HP: http://gimelgimel.com/
Photos by: Noriko Kawase
Photo selection/Writing by: Toshie Fujino
Toshie Fujino, Editor/Journalist After serving on the editorial boards of W (Japan), Ryuko Tsushin, and La Seine, became chief editor of Priv. (Publisher: Nikkei BP) in spring 2000. Has been involved in the editing of quality magazines, including serving as chief editor of Nikkei Business Style Magazine Dignio and performing editorial oversight of the owned media Genuin. Her current mission is introducing new lifestyles and role models for the realization of quality life in the centenarian age, and promoting bespoke living ordered and organized for individual needs. Her hobbies and interests include garden tourism, wine tourism, opera tourism, cheese, gardening, old roses, gerontology, rescue dogs, and more.