The World of, and According to, Kazumi Arikawa

kazumi arikawa collection aquamarine tiara
Imperial Russian diamond and aquamarine tiara by Koch, circa 1910, belonging to the Imperial family (Photograph: Albion Art Jewellery Institute).

The world of Kazumi Arikawa is one filled with the most exquisite beauty – that of the ultimate, collectible jewellery pieces ever created.  Juxtaposing this with the “profound darkness of my soul”, a self-awareness he acquired in the study and practice of Buddhism, has a captivating effect on the listener.

Which is probably how he intends it… Capture the interlocutor’s attention at the outset of what is, undoubtedly, a rich narrative of an eventful life and a vertiginous trajectory of success in the realm of the rarest of rarities.

If this trajectory was pre-ordained by his mother’s choice of trade (she developed a small jewellery business which was eventually taken over by Kazumi’s sister), there was little to nothing in his early years to suggest it.  

While still a student, Arikawa married his long-standing girlfriend. A restless soul, he wanted to variously be a politician, an economist, an academic and a Buddhist monk. The latter wish took a serious turn when, after graduating from university, the young Arikawa met a hugely inspirational monk and left everything behind in favour of life in a monastery.

His recurrent fascination with Buddhism and subsequent forays into becoming a monk are well-documented. Much less well explored is the circuitous path to his fascination and quasi-obsession with jewels, and the correlation he has constructed between spirituality and gems.

Having established that he didn’t quite have the fortitude or ascetic inclination to dedicate himself to monkhood, Arikawa left the monastery, came back to his wife and the secular world. For a while he was involved in the tutorial school which he had founded earlier. The rigours of monastic training stood him in good staid – he developed discipline and focus, and his inquisitive mind sharpened in the process.

A complex mind is more often than not distinguished by contrast and contradiction. Kazumi Arikawa is not afraid of incongruity – he positively embraces it. 

Men who think and pronounce themselves good are patently not so, he would tell you, because they self-evidently lack humility. Yet, in the same breath, he points out that he has achieved the title of “supreme” because of his own competitive spirit. “I aim for the summit in all things”.

In those early days, when he built up his mother’s business through quick and judicious deals, he must have been a capitalist personified. Today, he thinks capitalism, with its over-consumption and depletion of the earth’s resources, is mankind’s great scourge.

kazumi arikawa collection Sévigné brooch
18 th century “Sévigné” shell brooch with emerald and diamonds on gold. Reputadly a Wellington heirloom from the 1st Duke of Wellington (Photograph: Albion Art Jewellery Institute).

The World According to Kazumi Arikawa

Epiphany comes to us in different and wondrous ways, and some of us never even get to experience it.

Kazumi experienced it at least twice: once when he embraced Buddhism and the second time when he visited a Victoria & Albert exhibition of Edwardian jewellery.  Simultaneously dazzled and enlightened by its majestic and all-consuming radiance, he returned to his native Japan determined to reinvent himself and his business. His sister suggested he contacted two reputable antique dealers, one of whom agreed to consign some collectible pieces, which Arikawa quickly sold to private clients.  Being successful enabled him to pursue a passion that requires not just knowledge, contacts, time and expertise, but vast resources. He says he has frequently overpaid for rare, historical pieces, but that value to him is not purely monetary.

Buddhism, Western religion and history had, by then, given him a different perspective. In Buddhism, jewels worn by Buddha, in statues and paintings, “represent the beauty of truth”.  In Western culture, exceptional pieces were created for royalty as awe-inspiring, empowering and bestowing a sense of custodianship and stewardship. Pieces of enlightenment rather than mere adornment…

kazumi arikawa collection napoleon cameo
Historic oval cameo of Napoleon by Nicola Morelli (1771-1838), one of the most famous Roman gem engravers. A gift from the emperor to the Duke of Bassano (Photograph: Albion Art Jewellery Institute).

Arikawa has transferred the above analogy to give jewellery a whole host of different dimensions:

  • The Spiritual Perspective: beauty in its purest form versus simplistic commoditisation and rampant commercialisation.
  • The Art Perspective: inspirational works versus luxury items.
  • The Nature Perspective: all matter strives for stability, purity and order, the ultimate expression of which is crystalisation.  Gems are, thus, one of nature’s greatest gifts to mankind.

Kazumi Arikawa has cast himself in the role of an unlikely, yet passionate and vocal environmentalist who is spearheading a crusade to change our perception of beauty and our approach to natural resources. He finds himself in the company of a vast generation of young activists who fear our planet is doomed to extinction unless we stop the inexorable march of consumerism.

It is a battle for our very souls, he says, and a mission that we must all be prepared to fulfil. 

kazumi arikawa collection boucheron choker
A Belle Epoque diamond fringe choker by Boucheron – circa 1910 –
with 50 carats of diamonds (Photograph: Albion Art Jewellery Institute).

Is he aware that he is quoting Hamlet when he tells me that “the readiness is all”? I don’t know and don’t have the time to ask because he throws a powerful truism at me: if revolutionaries banked on success alone, there would have been no revolutions, no seismic changes, no progress.

I doubt Arikawa San is a revolutionary himself – practising Buddhists are anything but. He does, however, espouse harmony between man and earth and in this, he is truly an enlightened 21st century man.

“Beauty and art have the power to transform our value system, to promote earth-centered values, driven by an understanding that mankind co-exists with other forms of life on earth, which must be maintained in its ideal state.”

Kazumi Arikawa will be opening a museum in Japan that is dedicated to the world’s finest collectible and historical jewellery.

He is the President of the Albion Art Co., Ltt and of the Albion Art Jewellery Institute and a Chevalier de l’Ordre des Arts et des Lettres.