Collection: Japan | Urushi Lacquer Bangles & Earrings | Vivid Collection
So, What IS Urushi?
Urushi (lacquer) is both a rare and lustrous coating material and a traditional craftArt of Japan. As a material, and as a craftArt, Urushi lacquer can trace roots back as far as 10,000 years to prehistoric times.
As a material, Urushi is the all-natural, milky, syrupy, and toxic sap from the Urushi tree - a tree indigenous to Asia.
As a craftArt, Urushi sap provides an incredibly durable surface coating yet is able to transform any object with its warm, lustrous glow - the signature aesthetic qualitiy of this elegant craftArt - into an object of beauty. Unlike the harsh reflection of some jewelry metals, Urushi gifts a quiet, shimmering, pearl-like appearence to all it embraces, placing it in an aesthetic category of its own.
Urushi CraftArt is designated by the Japanese government as a Traditional Craft of Japan.
Meet Designer-CraftArtist & Studio
Designer, Rie Sakamoto (pictured here), of Urushi Sakamoto Studio, is one of a few Urushi artists today who is taking Urushi CraftArt in new, contemporary directions.
By using a combination of both traditional and modern techniques, Rei Sakamoto designs unique Urushi accessories, such as bangles, earrings, brooches and pendants, in contemporary forms and designs. Since Urushi, by nature, is very “sticky” (in fact in ancient times it was used as a glue!), this makes it a very versatile and very ideal coating material as it will adhere to almost any form and material such as wood, cloth, metal and more. As a craftArt, wood is often used as the substrate as it can be carved into many different shapes such as the earrings and bangles Rie creates.
Urushi Sakamoto Studio
At Urushi Sakamoto Studio, contemporary women's accessories are only part of the craftArt activities. Thanks to Urushi's unique, sticky versatility and pearly-like sheen, Urushi has seen a rise in popularity world-wide on a variety of objects for contemporary life.
As a generations owned and operated family studio (father & daughter pictured), Urushi Sakamoto have taken on several collaborative efforts with global brands such as Citizen (watches), Toshiba (laptop computer), Fostex (headphones) and Christofle (Paris, tableware pictured above), to name a few, where the hard, yet lustrous surfaces from Urushi adds beauty to function.
Urushi Sakamoto Studio attention to quality design has also earned it a coveted place in New York's Museum of Modern Art's (MoMA) permanent collection with the Tropical Breeze and Happening (shown here) decorative platter series.
Long respected for its artistic and practical uses, Urushi continues to receive value-recognition worldwide for its durability and silky shine and warm beauty.
How Urushi is Made: From Sap to Sheen
The Very Short Story
From raw sap to the finished beauty, like many traditional craftArts in Japan, the crafting process is a long one somtimes taking weeks and months. The sap will first be tapped from the living tree (read more details below), processed to remove impurities and pigments often added. In traditional methods, the craftArtist will then painstakingly apply sticky layer after layer, of refind sap, drying each, then often will add decorative poweders, metals and shells and then polish and seal the object.
The Longer Story
Raw Urushi Sap
At Urushi Sakamoto Studio, the process starts with refining the raw Urushi lacquer sap where it is filtered of impurities, the moisture removed, then the sap is mixed and wrung out with cotton among other procedures. Once refined, various natural substance are added to obtain the black color. With this refined black Urushi, layer upon layer - up to at least fifteen - are repeatedly applied, and dried on the object. Urushi is very delicate until dry, and any small particles of dust must be kept away.
The "Drying" - Process
The drying of the Urushi objects can be tricky and in the past made the Urushi craft dependent on the seasons - in fact drying fastest in during the rainy season of Japan. This may seem counter intuitive, but Urushi would not dry or set well in the desert because it requires humidity to harden. Humidity causes moisture to evaporate which supplies oxygen to the Urushi Lacquer and promotes oxygenation. It is through oxygenation, then, that the "drying" takes place (1). In modern times, this drying process is often conducted in special, dust-free rooms or cases with proper temperature and humidity controls.
The Colors & Decoration
Once the undercoat is dried, various color pigments of red, yellow, green and others, are added to the refined Urushi lacquer sap. This colored sap will be applied many times over the black Urushi undercoating, thus helping to draw out the signature quality of this craft: brilliant color and a soft, lustrous sheen.
The Urushi CraftArtist will also sometimes adorn the Urushi object using metals such as silver and goldleaf wafers and powders and also sometime iridescent shells such as mother-of-pearl.