Combination of Great Beauty and Artist Intention
People have always appreciated beauty and uniqueness in all things. This
appreciation is perhaps most evident in jewelry. Jewelry has always been
a form of self-adornment as well as self-expression. Humans, with their
long history with jewelry, have always treasured whatever piece of jewelry they
possess both for their beauty and uniqueness, but most of all, for their value.
There are many ways of crafting jewelry. Some methods are more modern
while others are infused heavily with tradition and the knowledge of which is
handed down from generation to generation. Some methods put a twist in
the old ways, and what was old becomes new. The method of making mokume
gane jewelry is just one example of old traditions being fused into new ones.
What is Mokume Gane?
Mokume gane is a Japanese term that literally means “wood eye metal.”
It is an old method of metalworking that was invented in the 1600s by master
metalworker Denbei Shoami and was used to create adornments on the handles and
the hilts of katana, the swords used by the samurai class in medieval Japan.
The samurai class was once the ruling class of Japan in its medieval ages, and
even within that class, status and wealth are important. Such marks of
status and wealth can be seen in the adornment of their katana.
The method of adorning metal with the use of mokume gane results in patterns
on the metal that mimics burls or grains on wood. It is a beautiful and
unique pattern that somewhat echoes the harmony of nature as embodied in wood,
but with the strength and polish of metal.
The samurai class may all be dead in this modern age, and the demand for katana
is now limited to collectors and to people who practice martial arts as some
sort of hobby. Nonetheless, the art of metalworking embodied by the mokume
gane endures. It is now used to create fine, unique jewelry and other
objects of art.
The Process of Making Mokume Gane
Traditionally, the process of making mokume gane involves the fusion of different
sheets of metal alloys. Modern creators of mokume gane jewelry and art
objects have introduced changes to the traditional ways, but nonetheless, the
basic process remains the same.
Originally, gold, copper and silver are the metals used in making mokume gane,
although today, metals considered to be non-traditional in this form of metalworking
are now included as well. These non-traditional metals include titanium,
platinum, iron, nickel and bronze.
Basically, what happens in the process of making mokume gane is that sheets
of metal with different colors are layered together in such a way that these
sheets would fuse together but not completely melt and meld together.
This fusion is created with controlled heat and pressure.
These fused sheets of metal would result in a solid block of metal with stripes,
called a billet. After the billet has been formed, it is usually hand-cut
to produce the desired wood-burl patterns. Modern technique makes use
of computer software to guide the metalworker in carving out the desired patterns.
After the patterns have been cut, the billet is then hammered, forged and rolled
to flatten it and to reduce its thickness. And then, it is shaped to whatever
object the metalworker desires it to be, be it for jewelry or any other objet
The Beauty of Mokume Gane Jewelry
The art of making mokume gane jewelry is derived from an ancient art of adorning
swords. Jewelry made in the mokume gane style nonetheless has a look to
it that is contemporary, comparable to pieces made during the art deco era.
Mokume Gane Jewelry