Jeweller's retirement brings new opportunity

00:54, Feb 27 2014

Kaikoura-based high-end jeweller Mitsuyo Matsumoto had planned to enjoy her retirement free from the pressures of producing pieces for demanding exhibitions after decades working in the field.

But like many creative minds, she found it hard to stop altogether. She has now found a niche where she can continue her work at the same time as fulfilling her fantasy, producing large works of art which have now been commissioned by a New York gallery owner for an upcoming exhibition.

Mitsuyo's story is one of incredible tenacity and courage, having worked her way through the ranks at a time when there were few women accepted in the profession, particularly in her home country of Japan.

She trained in classical art at the Kyoto University of Fine Art in Japan in the 1960s, going on to obtain her Masters in Japanese painting.

But from there she decided to move into jewellery design as there were few designers in Japan, and even fewer of these were women.

"I saw there was more opportunity for me. Jewellery design was very new at that time," she says.


"My first job was for a high-end jewellers, like Tiffany's, designing one-off pieces for very wealthy clients."

Mitsuyo would design pieces on black rice paper which would then go to the goldsmiths to be turned into the final product.

She won an engagement ring design competition two years running, and was making a name for herself as a designer, however she would soon make the move to making the pieces herself.

"A lot of the goldsmiths argued the designs were impossible, so I started to study how to make them."

Mitsuyo tried to find someone to train her, but this was difficult because she was a girl. She finally found a master goldsmith willing to take her on, for whom she started a jewellery school which continues to this day.

After having completed her studies and apprenticeship in Japan, Mitsuyo decided she needed to go to Europe to really get among the main action in jewellery design and technique. This was a huge decision for a young single woman, but she took the bull by the horns and made her way to Vienna, via the Trans-Siberian railway.

She majored in silversmithing at Zurich University before, after much effort, she managed to get herself accepted into Pforzheim University in Germany, considered the leading place for top designers.

"This was so opposite from my culture - I couldn't work it out for a long time, I had to get my head around it."

But once she had managed to grasp the differences and embrace the techniques she was being taught, she qualified and was able to get a job as a master jeweller.

Mitsuyo made her way to the United States where she became a chief designer in California before returning to Kyoto to establish her own jewellery studio, and taking on apprentices of her own.

She became an elected member of the Japan Jewellery Design Association, and also began teaching wealthy women to build up her market.

Building up her clientele, Mitsuyo began holding regular exhibitions as well as sending her pieces to exhibitions overseas.

She has now exhibited in many places across the world, including New Zealand, the US, Australia and Germany as well as in many exhibitions in Japan.

She met husband Larry Field in the 1980s and subsequently moved to New Zealand and set up a studio, at the same time as continuing to exhibit around the world. She was invited to exhibit in the prestigious biennial jewellery award exhibition, Contemporary Wearables, in Toowoomba, Australia, winning the top prize in 1993, the first of just two New Zealand jewellers to lay claim to this accolade.

For the next six or seven years, Mitsuyo continued to send large amounts of jewellery to Japan, but pulled out of these commitments because the workload became too intense.

"I was thinking about retiring to have a lifestyle, to get away from the demanding exhibitions," she says.

"But then I decided to follow my fantasy and produce large pieces, more like artwork, and not worry about the clients' whims and demands."

Mitsuyo is now immersing herself in this line of work, using precious metals and alloys including gold, copper, silver, lapis lazuli and mokume gane, a mixed-metal laminate with a distinctive wood-grain appearance.

She collects the precious stones and metals on her travels around the world, and has quite a passion for finding them wherever she goes.

Mitsuyo showed one of these large artistic pieces to the owner of high-end New York gallery Kransen Arts, who was excited about the piece and asked her to show him more.

She obliged and is now in the process of preparing a collection of four large pieces to feature in a craft exhibition around the US next year.

The pieces reflect Mitsuyo's creative fantasies and she has been assured there is a market for these large bold items among the wealthy in the US.

Kaikoura Star