Yuta Ishihara Wants His Jewelry Designs to Last


TOKYO — Creating things that last a lifetime or longer has been on the mind of the jewelry designer Yuta Ishihara for years.

“When I was in my late teens, I started to think about the fact that I wanted things to remain for a longer period of time,” he said. “I decided that if I created something, I wanted it to last.”

His latest project, the fine jewelry brand Yutai, reflects that goal. The one-of-a-kind pieces are made of long-lasting precious metals (he uses only yellow or white gold and platinum) and some styles give new life to vintage settings made in the Japanese prefecture where he grew up.

Mr. Ishihara, 35, was born and raised in Yamanashi, the most prolific jewelry-producing region in Japan. His family, however, grows flowers, and, as a child, he used to dig in the ground around the flower nursery and find ceramic pieces from the prehistoric Jomon period (14,000 B.C. to 300 B.C.) and chunks of obsidian, a naturally occurring volcanic glass, both common discoveries in the area.

“That really stuck with me because those are from thousands of years ago,” he said. “Those things last, and we know about them now because they were able to last as long as they have, because of the material.”

Unlike many of his classmates, Mr. Ishihara decided to leave the prefecture for his higher education. “Back then, I discussed with my family, and we decided there would be more opportunities in Tokyo,” he said. “If I had gone to school in Yamanashi, I would have stayed there, and I don’t think things would be where they are now.”

In 2008 he graduated from a three-year program at Hiko Mizuno College of Jewelry in Tokyo and in 2010 established his first brand, Shihara. Now sold at outlets around the world and online, the brand has a minimalist approach to jewelry, with sleek, often geometric shapes and clasps or posts integrated into the designs.

Chika Wakatsuki, curator of the Yamanashi Jewelry Museum, wrote in an email that “the minimalist and solid look of his jewelry makes the wearer stand out. It looks beautiful, clean, and stoic from any angle, and I feel that it is a design that excels at connecting people and space.”

While he was designing Shihara pieces, Mr. Ishihara said, he was often thinking about a very different kind of collection — and then the pandemic gave him an opportunity to actually develop one. “With Shihara, we work with materials that can be replicated so we can produce pieces on demand,” he said. “But with Yutai, what you see is what you get.”

“The material comes first, and the design after,” Mr. Ishihara said. And “some things I only have one piece of, so some materials are unique.” For example, he found some golden pearls from the Philippine Sea, but had only enough to make three necklaces ($14,200 each). “I like this color as it’s really close to the color of gold,” he said.

Yutai is to be officially introduced in the United States next month at Bergdorf Goodman in New York, with the Japanese introduction in February at the Dover Street Market in Tokyo (he said the dates had to be staggered because quantities are limited).

Yumi Shin, chief merchant for Bergdorf Goodman, wrote in an email that the store had “always admired the minimalist, thoughtful and multifaceted designs of Yuta Ishihara’s jewelry brand Shihara.

“With his fine jewelry brand Yutai,” she added, “he continues to explore and push the fine balance of functionality and beauty using semiprecious and precious stones, delicately splicing and fusing stones together to give each piece its unique beauty and depth.”

Mr. Ishihara designs the Yutai pieces, some of which incorporate unusual effects, and they are fabricated by artisans in Yamanashi and Tokyo.

For example, as Ms. Shin noted, some Yutai rings and pendants merge gemstones ($2,100 to $3,700). “You can see from the back that there are two different stones. These kinds of cuts are created so light reflects on it,” Mr. Ishihara said, displaying a ring that matched lemon quartz and blue topaz. “The yellow reflects on the blue and meld together, to become more or less one color, one stone.”

The line also includes Sectional necklaces, splicing gems, like jade or rubies that have been hammered and polished into the shape of the pearls, into single-strand pearl necklaces.

“I like to mix different elements and it’s also about changing the way the conventional pearl necklace can look by adding different materials,” he said. The clasp, hidden within the strand, also mirrors the shape of the pearls and is fastened with a keyhole-shaped mechanism. Prices start at $4,900 for a blue chalcedony version and go up to $10,300 for a jade one.

Mr. Ishihara first designed Sectional necklaces in 2012 and over the years sold a few at Dover Street Market in London and Tokyo, including a jade one that Rihanna bought in Tokyo. Now, however, he will sell them only as part of his new line.

Yutai also includes Revive rings, which showcase cocktail ring settings made by Yamanashi craftsmen in the 1980s, a “bubble economy” period in Japan when many people wore what now would be considered flashy jewelry. “I bought the settings at a wholesale market in Yamanashi,” Mr. Ishihara said. “They were sold either ‘as is’ or sometimes sold without the gem, without honoring the craftsmanship that went into them.”

Originally, the rings’ central gems were surrounded by baguette-cut diamonds in a ballerina setting (so-called because the stiff circle of small stones resembles a ballerina’s tutu). Most of them were designed and worked by hand, “most likely in Yamanashi, even though there’s no way to track it,” he said. “That job doesn’t exist anymore because of the development of CAD (computer-assisted design), and there is no demand on the market any more.”

Mr. Ishihara said he takes the rings and deconstructs them “to make them more modern,” replacing the narrow original bands with the wider ones favored now. In some instances where the central gem was missing, he has used just the empty setting as the decorative element on a new band.

“I prefer the setting on the outside more than the gemstone itself,” he said, “that’s where we can appreciate the craftsmanship the most as well. I really want to highlight that.”

The designer said he hoped the pieces in his Yutai line would meet his goal: that they endure.

“Things in the world generally come and go, they rarely last,” he said. “But for jewelry, the material and the craftsmanship that went into it remains valuable, even if we don’t know the name of the person who made it.”