April Higashi Jewelry

Shibumi Projects


Shibumi ProjectsApril Higashi
Stephen and Gia at their Oakland home.

Stephen and Gia at their Oakland home.

I ‘curate’ most anything for pure pleasure; photographs, images, objects I find in nature, my jewelry, my home, my gallery, my clothing and the jewelry on others. I guess this is why I have chosen this as my profession. However, my extended dream would be to be able to curate my clients as well. What if I only worked with the people I admire, the people who inspire me and the ones whose thoughts and ideas most resonate with me?

If I could then Stephen and Gia would be at the top of that list.

I am not sure when I fist met Stephen and Gia, but it was over ten years ago. And forgive me, Gia, that my first memory is of Stephen. Not that Gia isn’t absolutely lovely and beautiful, but Stephen instantly captured my attention because he was a man. And not in a romantic way, which I’m sure is where your mind may instantly go. But Stephen clearly loved jewelry and was always wearing a well-selected assortment of handmade pieces. He captured my attention because his appreciation for jewelry was so refreshingly unique for a man.

Stephen is a scientist with longer hair and a British accent. When he comes to the gallery, he not only spends time thoughtfully handling and considering pieces but also brings interesting thoughts about life for us to dialogue about. He has always been curious about my process and we often speak about much more than simply jewelry. At first it seemed he was almost testing me to see if I was worthy of making him a piece. He'd frequently inquire about more masculine versions of pieces I had designed for women because so much of what I make is for women. Over the years he has commissioned many pieces that suit him perfectly. When I see him there is usually a new configuration of multiple pieces he has thoughtfully put together. It is so satisfying to see a straight man wearing jewelry in a tasteful way that extends beyond the clichéd male jewelry one typically sees. There are very few men who buy jewelry for themselves besides their wedding rings. It is refreshing to see a man buy jewelry for himself.

Gia, Stephen’s wife, is striking and svelte with short, salt-and-pepper hair. She too is a scientist but also an artist at heart. She makes much of her own clothing; impressively even the patterns. When she arrives at the gallery with an idea for a new custom piece, she brings a detailed sketch to illustrate her ideas. And as we work together she always has the most friendly, considerate feedback to my designs and suggestions.

Gia also curates the pieces on her body. But each piece is often worn daily and selected to go with other regularly worn pieces she already owns. Her necklaces and earrings may change, but the collection on her hand and wrist are so distinctly ‘Gia’ that I can’t imagine her without each and every ring and a few rotating bracelets she never seems to be without.

It seems that out of appreciation and curiosity for what we do, they think deeply about the gallery and my business; from how its managed to how each piece is designed and fabricated. It is rare for a client to be interested in or want to understand the underpinnings of a small business, especially those clients who have worked under the larger structures of the more traditional working world. Sometimes I swear I can almost hear the wheels in Stephen’s brain turning as he is considering and calculating my net cost, the amount of my inventory and the investment I make on each staff member. I am laughing as I think about this because it is true. Running a jewelry gallery and a working studio is a lot of balls to keep in the air at once and they both know it. I appreciate how they are so watchful of the structure and intention of my business. They have figured out that while Shibumi needs to be to be profitable to support myself and my staff of eight, there is a greater vision of creativity, community and mentorship that I am trying to achieve with all this as well.

Because custom projects have been such a significant part of my relationship with both Stephen and Gia I have asked them to share a story or antidote or funny memory about working with Shibumi. While our relationship has evolved around the gallery and jewelry, not over meals, drinks or shared outings as a friendship might typically evolve, Stephen and Gia feel like much more than just clients. They feel like friends.

Stephen’s April Higashi Enamel Panel Bracelet, Raw Diamond Cuff, Black Tourmaline Ring, pieces alongside his Shibumi Gallery jewelry collection of various artists: Claudia Alleyne, Eric Silva, Kai Wolter, Julia Efimova, Brandon Holschuh, June Schwartcz.

Stephen’s April Higashi Enamel Panel Bracelet, Raw Diamond Cuff, Black Tourmaline Ring, pieces alongside his Shibumi Gallery jewelry collection of various artists: Claudia Alleyne, Eric Silva, Kai Wolter, Julia Efimova, Brandon Holschuh, June Schwartcz.

Stephen: Process

April has said the ideas we bring to her expand and challenge the team. Skills are built, new possibilities arise, the artist evolves, and we all find our authentic selves, either side of the equation.

If you think Process but don’t have hands-on familiarity with jewelers’ and goldsmiths’ skills, it is both easy to think yourself out of an idea and hard to explain it. Not true at Shibumi Gallery!

The Shibumi Process: describing the idea that is in my mind’s eye, while April and her team probe, show examples, and ultimately refine the idea and execute it -- damn the technical challenges (Ben, the ‘deep thinker’ Shibumi goldsmith, will solve those).

We commissioned individual but complementary rings for our 25th wedding anniversary, and for my version I started in my head with a raw diamond erupting from a slab of metal. The ring was to be worn stacked with our existing yellow gold wedding ring. Once we were beyond the Gen X entertainment factor of a 25th wedding anniversary, Claudia, jewelry artist and Shibumi gallery manager, searched me out a spectacular raw diamond at the Tucson Gem show, previewed at the edge of technology through a combination of videos and texts from whichever Shibumi phone had a signal up there in the high desert, and power at that instant. Selecting a precious stone that way was — to be generous — a challenge, but Claudia and April have taste, know mine, and were determined to find that perfect desert diamond.

The hue of the selected raw diamond informed the choice of palladium white gold alloy, the rule of thirds positioned it, and the wedding ring defined overall dimensions. The rest was up to Ben, who expertly set the stone and created an exquisite hammered finish to complement the texture of the raw diamond.

Forestland Moss photo: 25th Anniversary Rings with natural diamond crystals in 18k palladium white gold alongside original wedding rings in 14k yellow gold.

Forestland Moss photo: 25th Anniversary Rings with natural diamond crystals in 18k palladium white gold alongside original wedding rings in 14k yellow gold.

Then there were the palladium white gold thick gauge ear hoops that April envisioned and designed as elegant replacements for the generic stainless steel ones I wore for 25 years. They had to be inserted on-site by Ben as they are a continuous teardrop hoop meant to permanently adorn the earlobes. April’s previous experience with client insertion of thick continuous hoops was blood, stress, and tears and she was worried my experience would be the same. Upon arrival I was presented with oils, antibiotic wipes and worried faces. But I think Process, and had spent the previous week gradually stretching out my holes by inserting progressively thicker hoops. The PWG hoops went in first try and Ben gently pinched them into place. Smiles all around.

Gia with bamboo, Custom  Adage Cuff, Quartz Earrings, Various Rings by April Higashi. Alongside Shibumi Gallery Artists: Maya Kini, Todd Reed, Claudia Alleyne, Kate Eickelberg, Christopher Neff and Sarah Graham.

Gia with bamboo, Custom Adage Cuff, Quartz Earrings, Various Rings by April Higashi. Alongside Shibumi Gallery Artists: Maya Kini, Todd Reed, Claudia Alleyne, Kate Eickelberg, Christopher Neff and Sarah Graham.

Gia: It Takes A (Talented) Village

Ideas are cheap; it’s all about the execution. Genius is 1% inspiration and 99% perspiration. This Shibumi custom project put these adages to the test.

The seed was a sketch and an impression of a chunky, multi-strand beaded bracelet that would hug the wrist like a cuff, with a custom clasp as the centerpiece. Type and size of bead? Feasibility of clasp? The only certainty was that the clasp would be a hunk of rough-textured oxidized silver.

Several collaborative sessions later, the seed grew into a design, a melding of Claudia’s unique bead design aesthetic and the spirit of April’s iconic enameled panel bracelet with its refined hinge clasp. Strands and strands of round matte hematite beads, crossing over each other organically, held together by a large textured silver hinge sprinkled with cast-in-place diamond mackles, the hinge pin capped with yellow gold for a pop of color. Finally ready for execution.

Or not. Claudia flirted with insomnia, brainstorming a way to elegantly hide the knotted ends of the many strands to ensure the final piece was not “crafty”. Her eureka moment: a manifold that encases the knots and then slots into the clasp body, secured with invisible rivets.

Ben then carved the clasp wax, thoughtfully curving the back to conform to the shape of my wrist — “for comfort”. But the diamond mackles were hit and miss in the final cast, several of them lost to the depths of the silver as Ben had speculated. April came to the rescue, suggesting to flush set some small grey diamonds randomly to replace the buried bling. The resulting surface is the essence of wabi-sabi — an aesthetic principle that underpins much of April’s work — textured and organic, and quietly, barely perceptibly, sparkling.

At last, the clasp was ready. The manifolds slid into place, effecting a seamless transition between bead and metal, as if the strands are molten offshoots of the mother clasp. The illusion belies none of the precision engineering and process used to achieve it. Definitely not crafty.

Out of myriad technical challenges and a meeting of many minds emerged a unique and stunning piece of art.

Above: Gia’s hand with April Higashi jewelry alongside various Shibumi Gallery artist’s work. Gia’s partial collection of Shibumi jewelry: April Higashi, Maya Kini, Sarah Graham, Kate Eickelberg, Darcy Miro, Eric Silva, Claudia Alleyne.  Stephen and Gia’s hand-crafted home.

Above: Gia’s hand with April Higashi jewelry alongside various Shibumi Gallery artist’s work. Gia’s partial collection of Shibumi jewelry: April Higashi, Maya Kini, Sarah Graham, Kate Eickelberg, Darcy Miro, Eric Silva, Claudia Alleyne.

Stephen and Gia’s hand-crafted home.

Shibumi Project: Real Women Buy Their Own Jewelry

Shibumi ProjectsApril Higashi1 Comment

Guest-written by Jill Blue Lin
Photography by Cynthia E. Wood

Jill Blue Lin is a UX Designer and Researcher, and an aspiring potter. Oval ceramic fruit bowl by Jill Blue Lin. Emerald, Tourmaline Necklaces and Bone Bangles by April Higashi.

Jill Blue Lin is a UX Designer and Researcher, and an aspiring potter. Oval ceramic fruit bowl by Jill Blue Lin. Emerald, Tourmaline Necklaces and Bone Bangles by April Higashi.

Introduction by April Higashi

A group of parents gathered around tiny tables; some were precariously balanced on doll-sized chairs at our 2 1/2 year old children’s preschool orientation. It was a poignant time to be handing off our babies to go to school; they were still so little. I looked around at all the other nervous parents. Then, being me, I noticed a stylish woman with a ring on her hand that looked perfect on her. The context of the ring and who she was just worked. Later, we struck up a conversation and only then I realized her ring was one of my pearl rings she had gotten at my gallery. Jewelry, art, or something beautiful in the right context can make you stop and take you by surprise or even want to make you know someone. This was one of those moments. Jill and I became friends along with our exes and built a community around our kids. It is certainly not every day that one of my pieces connects me with a treasured friendship, new life stories and how my jewelry became a part of those stories.

Biwa Pearl Ring by April Higashi. Jill’s first piece from    Shibumi Gallery.

Biwa Pearl Ring by April Higashi. Jill’s first piece from Shibumi Gallery.

Real Women Buy Their Own Jewelry

The short version is this: when our baby was 8 months old, my husband and I decided to separate, and he moved out. (The longer version belongs in a different story which I might write on another day, but this story is about jewelry.) And what followed then was the hardest period of my life.

I’d just returned to work from maternity leave, and my team and my manager were difficult. Work life was a daily battle. At home, I hadn’t yet figured out how to be a mom, let alone a single mom. And to top it all off, I hadn’t slept four solid hours since my son was born.

Yet, most disconcerting of all was the condition of my house. I could eke out the mortgage payments by myself - I’d practically been doing this for years - but major repairs were out of the question. Everything in the house needed fixing, but all of it had to wait.

We have a mid century modern home in the Berkeley Hills. Built on a very steep hillside, it was the most rundown house on a beautiful street. With partial views of the Golden Gate Bridge and open, light-filled rooms, the house had potential; but the siding was so worn I could pull it off with my bare hands in certain spots. The cheap aluminum windows rattled whenever the wind blew. Under the 1970s fake wood paneling, the walls weren’t insulated, so turning up the heat was tantamount to trying to heat the entire Berkeley Hills. I couldn’t afford a large utility bill, so we were often cold.

Whenever it rained, I dragged out my mixing bowls to catch the water from the leaks. Some days, I came home to find they had overflowed and water had pooled everywhere: the floor by the front door was soaked, water dripped from the ruined plaster ceiling and ran down the wooden stairs. As I mopped up the water and squeezed it into the sink, any remaining equity in the house seemed to disappear with that water down the drain. One evening I came home and found a California newt swimming in one of the bowls. I marveled at how he could possibly have gotten there; then I scooped him up, freed him in the backyard and watched him disappear into the dark.

And day after day, I squared my shoulders and did my best. I triaged, and only did what absolutely had to be done. I worked with a relentless focus, taking breaks to visit the pumping room three times a day. I slept whenever I could, saw my friends, cooked, and exercised.

When I look back on that time, I am astonished we made it through. But my ex proved to be a loving father who continued to help take care of our baby every day, who took out the garbage, and would straighten-up the house whenever he came by. And so many others helped. Friends visited, invited me over and fed me. A coworker recruited me to join her team, and suddenly my work life was no longer a battle. A neighbor lent me her gardener to work on my overgrown yard, and then the house looked a little less crappy from the outside.

Memories of that period are a muddy, sleep-deprived blur, but I do remember that I made time and space to enjoy the baby. In our cold house, we would read and play in bed --underneath warm blankets!-- and I thought he was the most beautiful creature I had ever seen. Somehow, we were happy.

Bit by bit our new life became easier. I got a promotion, a raise, and a meaningful tax refund. The rainy season was over and the weather was warm. The baby started sleeping through the night, and once he did, it was as if a haze had been lifted from the world. One morning I woke up after a full night’s sleep and noticed that my heart no longer lived in my throat: things no longer felt so desperate.

With my newfound ease, on a warm spring day I walked into Shibumi Gallery. I had seen April’s work years ago. With its modern lines and organic shapes, her jewelry is so beautiful that whenever I’m in its presence, every fiber of my body screams “WANT!” I had always meant to ask my husband to buy me one of her pieces someday when we had extra money, but that day never came. I decided to buy myself a ring. What I really craved was a huge diamond slice. But I had a house to fix and a baby to support, so what I got instead was a large pearl ring with an oxidized silver band. It was beautiful and it was enough.

April wasn’t in her gallery that day; we met sometime later at our kids’ preschool. As she tells it, she looked across the room, saw me and thought “That ring looks great on her!” before she recognized it as one of her own. We became fast friends— over the years we’ve watched one another’s kids, cooked for each other, and spent holidays and vacations together.  For almost six years, we’ve been building a community around our children.

My family is doing really well right now. My son is thriving and I have a different job. My ex and I co-parent so well that people have asked if we planned it this way all along. The house is mostly done -- when I manage to straighten up, it looks like Sunset Magazine in here. And when it rains, I no longer have to get out the mixing bowls. A warm, weather-proof house, a solid roof over my child’s head -- these still seem like miraculous luxuries. Every once in awhile, I buy myself a piece of jewelry because I can. And because we all need a little beauty now and again.

Shibumi Project: Ageless

Shibumi ProjectsApril Higashi3 Comments

If one could describe a person as ageless, it would be Fredrica .  Her dear friends call her Fred but I have adopted my own nickname for her, “Fd”, pronounced F.D.   As I near my next decade in life, I am thinking more and more about aging.   And I’ve realized that I hope I too might be thought of as ‘ageless’ – a quality that imbues Fred with endless vitality and grace.

Fred is one of the loveliest clients I’ve ever had and one who I now have the privilege of calling a friend.  She is the only client who greets all my staff by name, brings chocolates or small gifts for them and pushes her way to the back studio to meet the goldsmiths who make her custom pieces.  Even my son Ando asks, "Mom when are we having drinks with Fred again?"  He feels included with his Shirley Temple sitting next to our Manhattans and tells her his stories as she intently listens.  She relates to everyone in a dear and playful way.  People find it impossible not to gravitate to her, wanting to know more about this magnetic woman who you can’t help but feel graces your presence.

Her stylish clothes and layers of ever changing jewelry bob and jounce about as she talks. She gets excited when we are designing a custom piece with her and even does a little jig if we nail an idea she likes.  She has an amazing eye and knows how to wear her elegant, yet down-to-earth style any time, anywhere.  She doesn’t need extra diamond ‘sprinkles’ to justify paying for a beautifully subtle and meticulously crafted piece.  She understands.

I still remember the day, maybe 10 years ago, when she first walked into Shibumi Gallery.

Years before, at a gallery in San Francisco, Fred had purchased one of the first gold rings I’d ever made.  In the box with the ring was included a card with my name.  She wore and loved the ring for years before deciding to try and seek out the artist whose name had been written on that card.

With the help of the internet, Fredrica came to Shibumi Gallery to find me.

This past Christmas Fredrica dropped by a holiday gift for my son and me. With it, she included the original card with my name on it from her first ring purchase so many years before.   That card had brought us together or I should actually say it was the ring.   And since that first meeting, we have piled many more rings on her fingers.  I once even asked her, ‘How many rings does a girl need??” She told me that wasn’t a very good sales technique.  But I now know the answer to the question - an infinity of rings! 

Jewelry makes Fred happy and you know what, she wears it all.   She is passionate about beauty and craftsmanship.  Every time I see her she has layered her pieces in the most unique ways with old and new stacked together.  She’ll even take jewelry apart, exchange chains or remove bits that don’t work for her.  This woman knows herself.  She also does not get caught up in the preciousness of jewelry.  Even when she alters one of my own pieces I never feel disrespected. In fact, quite the opposite – I feel inspired by her spirit and vision. I can honestly say she is one of my muses.  When I make things I often think, would Fd wear this?   If the answer is yes then I’m pretty certain it’s a good piece. 

I wasn’t sure I should disclose Fred’s age and asked her what she thought.  As I turned up to her beautiful home last fall for this Shibumi Project photo shoot, she asked me if she could wear this shirt; she pulled it out and it was completely transparent on one side.  This is Fredrica- she’s 63!  

I love Fd, her spirit, her style and her generous and kind nature. I feel so lucky she walked through the doors at Shibumi Gallery looking for me.  If you were to stumble into the gallery on a day she is there and we are designing and playing with jewelry, you’d think I have the best job in the world. And some days with Fd I would have to agree.  It’s truly lovely and inspiring to have women out there like Fred, because then you know it is possible to be ageless.

Saturday, April 7th, 2018, Fredrica will be doing a “Layering Your Jewelry" workshop at Shibumi Gallery from 4-7pm.  Come by for wine and nibbles and to meet her and play with us.  Feel free to bring some of your own pieces that you love.  

If you can’t come by I hope this post might inspire not only new ways to wear and layer your pieces, but also inspire us to be ourselves and afford ourselves the things that truly make us happy and help keep us ageless.

Shibumi Project: New Life

Shibumi ProjectsApril HigashiComment

Each marriage and engagement has a unique story comprised of many moments and emotions.

For the couple in this story happiness, joy, heartbreak, vulnerability, sorrow, and support are the words that come to mind as I think of theirs.

I have the privilege to see and hear about many private moments when working with couples on their rings. When I first started making wedding and commitment rings, I decided to have a beautiful case made where couples could meet. I created a case with cantilevered weights where they can stand, peruse the rings, and have conversations about what they envision and want to share. 

At this case I learn so much more about the couples than simply their aesthetics for jewelry. I learn about those special moments in their relationship, how they met and most importantly I see the dynamic between them as they select what they want to represent their story.  

It was in front of this case that I met Bree and Ray, a lovely couple in their thirties who carefully and thoughtfully selected their rings together. Bree was a writer. Ray did many things, one of which was teach yoga. We laughed as Ray would try on a ring and go into downward dog to make sure it was comfortable enough to wear while teaching. They were a beautiful couple and they fit together nicely. A few years later they stopped by the gallery, now married, and he bought her a green sapphire ring. He said to her. "I want every finger of yours to have a ring from April for all our good memories over the years.” I learned they were trying to have a baby. 

Like life, this story doesn’t have all happy moments, but it is a story about the strength and support it takes to move through both good and bad times. Sometime later I ran into Bree. We were both trying on clothes in a store. We talked over the dressing room walls and she told me that they were trying to adopt a child. I had shared my journey to have my son, which took six years and included at one point, trying to adopt. I wished her well and let her know I was thinking of her. I knew how agonizing the process was of trying to get pregnant and then trying to adopt. She mentioned that they were well and I went on my way happy to have seen her.

The story skips ahead to a dear friend of Ray’s emailing me to ask if I could size a ring Ray had bought for him. He was very forlorn at the appointment and as we talked I learned that Ray had cancer. He was not going to make it and he had gifted him the ring for being by his side through it all.

Bree contacted me in the next year and said she was going to be in the Bay Area. She told me Ray had passed and she wanted to do something with their wedding rings. Understandably, she couldn’t bring herself to wear hers anymore. I told her to bring them in and I’d be happy to see her. We chatted a bit more by email. I am not a person who avoids asking about hard subjects. I was curious how she was and wanted to know about what had happened in their adoption process. I learned that not only did she have to endure her young husbands’ death, but that only months before his diagnosis their adoption had come through. A little boy. However, sadly on the twelfth day of his being with them the birth mother decided to take him back. In California, a birth mother has thirty days before she officially relinquishes her rights.    

As you can imagine it was heartbreaking for them both. And only months after this, they learned of Ray’s terminal illness. I felt for her. I had truly felt the sweetness of their relationship and just how much he loved her.  

I came up with the idea to melt all three of their wedding rings together, their wedding bands and her engagement ring. We reoriented the diamond in a new direction and sized it for a new finger. A ‘new life’ ring. It was a beautiful symbol of the love and memories she had in her marriage and yet the need to move forward. During her appointment we cried and hugged.  The whole process touched me - I have never heard a story so poignant. 

Jewelry is imbued with symbolism, beauty and strength. While Ray and Bree’s story is heartbreaking, I keep thinking of the moments they got to share and how they were there for each other.

Often marriages end in divorce. This one did not. They were separated while they still wanted to be together and share a life. Not everyone gets to experience true love as they did. This story is a tribute to them both.  

When I meet couples about to marry I see all their hopes and dreams for a happy future. They giggle, they fight and kiss in front of me. There is so more than meets the eye to a relationship, so much that doesn’t often get talked about. Thank you for sharing your life and your deeply personal moments. It was and continues to be a great honor to be a witness and make such symbolic pieces for you to reflect on. I love that my work provides the opportunity to peripherally share in your unions. And I love that I can help mark these moving moments with something beautiful.

With risking to sound cliche, may this be a reminder to all of us to be in the moment with those we love.

---In honor or Ray and Bree. 

Shibumi Project

Shibumi ProjectsApril HigashiComment

This project was inspired by my clients.

Over the years of making and selling jewelry I have been fortunate to meet many wonderful people and hear the myriad of stories and events that so often accompany a piece of jewelry; stories of relationships, marriages and anniversaries, births and birthdays, divorces and deaths and pretty much everything in-between these significant moments.  My clients have sometimes shared family secrets and tidbits of their lives that even their spouses, partners, family or friends don’t know.  Jewelry and stories go hand in hand and relationships and events can forever remain entwined with the piece.  I am forever curious and deeply honored to play a small yet significant role in these life events.

Through working as a jeweler and gallerist I have amassed an archive of stories from my clients.  I love the way my clients, many who I now count as friends, mix the work with their own pieces and then to watch as over the years work from the gallery often begins taking over their fingers and bodies each time they come in.

My clients are aesthetically minded, thoughtful, smart and engaging people who have found ways to express their own individuality through their jewelry.  Shibumi Project documents these people who have shared their stories and lives with me while supporting my work and the gallery.

Shibumi Project will be a collaboration with photographer Cynthia Wood who will capture the way which my clients layer pieces together revealing their own unique styles and personalities.  Accompanying the photographs and with their permission will be the story of a piece of jewelry which they shared with me on visits to the studio and gallery.

Several times a year the website will feature a new client and their story.  Past projects will be archived in our blog.

A very special thank you to all of my clients who have supported my work, the gallery and shared their stories with me along the way, continuously inspiring and sparking my imagination and creativity.