A pearl like a work of art - what is Maki-E?

A pearl like a work of art. What is Maki-e? Organic

For many pearl lovers, any pearl decoration may seem like overkill. The pearl is already perfect, so there is no need to add anything to it. But this statement does not apply to Maki-e Pearls. Tahitian pearls, expertly adorned with 24-carat gold powder and abalone shell mosaic, look magical and exquisite!

A pearl like a work of art. What is Maki-e?

Maki-E pearls are a relatively new addition to the world of pearls, but the Maki-E technique itself is hundreds of years old.

Maki-e are two Japanese words that mean "splashing» (Poppies), image (Eh) and that more or less explains the concept.

An example of a lacquer miniature in the Maki-E technique

Maki-e (literally "sprinkled pattern") is an ancient Japanese lacquer technique. With a thin brush, the design is applied with varnish, which is then sprinkled with gold powder before the varnish dries. Then over the picture, you can again apply varnish and polish. This technique was developed mainly during the Heian period (794–1185) and flourished during the Edo period (1603–1868).

A pearl like a work of art. What is Maki-e?

Natural varnish is obtained from the sap of the urushi (urushi) tree, which grows in Japan, China, Vietnam and Southeast Asia. Sap can be harvested from one tree for 14–15 years, during which time the tree produces only about 200 grams of material. The juice also goes through a lengthy processing process before it can be used as a varnish. Once applied, urushi varnish should cure in a high humidity environment (70-90%) in a series of thin coats.

The process of applying gold powder to a drawing with varnish. Maki-E Technique

The time-consuming and labor-intensive process of collecting, processing and applying lacquer to pearls makes urushi lacquer an expensive material, but the finished Maki-E pearl is a valuable work of art.

Maki-E craftsmen use various metal powders to create different colors and textures, including gold, silver, copper, brass, lead, aluminium, platinum and tin, as well as their alloys.

A pair of Tahitian pearls set with 24-carat Maki-E gold and abalone inlay (left). A single almost round Tahitian pearl embellished with a floral motif using the same technique (right). Photographs by Emily Lane; Image source: gia.edu

Mosaic on pearls appeared recently. The pearls are adorned with tiny abalone tiles that are accentuated by designs applied in the same 24k gold paint. As a rule, patterns are made on any areas of pearls with irregularities. Today, for the manufacture of Maki-E and pearl mosaics, only pearls of the South Seas.

This exceptional technique is now used to decorate Tahitian pearls. As a result, we see the creation of tiny, but absolutely perfect works of art!

Tahitian Maki-E pearl trays offered by Eliko Pearl at AGTA 2022 in Tucson; Image source: gia.edu

Round or tear-shaped Tahitian pearls are adorned with 24k yellow gold powder and tiny tiles of abalone shells, creating incredibly detailed and subtle patterns on the surface of the pearl. These designs can be anything from a floral motif to an abstract or geometric rendering, or something as cute as a floating koi fish.

A pearl like a work of art. What is Maki-e?

The creative union of nature and man is always the pinnacle of beauty in this world. Pearls decorated with fine painting and inlay are small, beautiful perfections created by man, inspired by nature!