Imagine a dainty bracelet with a pattern of bird’s feathers, a jungle gym ball pendant and a ring inspired by daikon peelings. These descriptions are a far cry from what one would expect from walking into a typical jewelry store in Japan, but it’s exactly what Atelier Shinji Ginza is aiming for. This family-run studio is the place to venture into if you’re looking for unconventional jewelry rooted in craftsmanship and fun.
Atelier Shinji is named after Shinji Naoi, who first began making jewelry in Paris in 1972. After returning to Japan, he started his own atelier with a flagship store in Aoyama and a workshop based in Asakusa. His products regularly stocked the shelves of department stores across Japan as well as select shops in Europe.
Today, the atelier has scaled back to a single shop-studio operation in Ginza. The focus on a personalized service is also evident through the involvement of the wider Naoi family, Ippei and Janine, plus two staff members “who are basically family,” to the Naois.
Inspired by the Everyday
Japanese design is often misconstrued to be minimalistic, often eclipsing other styles that are no less Japanese. “Typical Japanese jewelry is classic and clean. But look at pottery for example. It is the opposite, it’s irregular and more organic,” says Janine. It’s the latter that is more reminiscent of her father-in-law’s style.
Shinji has always been quirky in his approach, seeing each piece as a work of art rather than something to be sold. Janine and her husband, Ippei, too are key contributors in the creative direction of their collections. The family cites ‘the everyday’ as their source of inspiration as they look towards nature, food and architecture for design ideas.
One particular series, “Goya”, is a range of earrings, pendants and rings in the shape of bitter melon slices. These dainty pieces carry weight and are a symbol of how something seemingly mundane can also be beautiful.
Design is just one part of what makes Atelier Shinji Ginza’s pieces unique. Technique also plays a big role. A typical jewelry business may use hard wax and machinery to create a standard and more uniform finish. The atelier, however, utilizes a softer wax and the lost-wax method. This is one of the oldest known metal-forming techniques and dates back more than 6,000 years. The softness of the wax is what creates these slightly irregular shapes, allowing the pieces to express a sense of warmth and playfulness.
An Atelier in a Fast-Fashion World
The rise in e-commerce cannot be understated, particularly during a time when travel continues to be highly restricted. Pre-pandemic, Atelier Shinji Ginza’s customer base was a healthy mix of Japanese and foreign customers, including many tourists. Despite the drastic decrease in inbound tourism, the Naoi family says business demand has largely been unaffected. Small issues like shipping delays to specific countries may have posed challenges earlier on but these have largely been overcome thanks to new couriers and understanding customers.
Atelier Shinji Ginza might profess to employ more traditional routes in its craft but this isn’t the case when it comes to the company’s business model, which has always included a heavy emphasis on digital channels. Its first iteration of an online store was nearly 16 years ago, well ahead of the times.
When asked about the effects of fast fashion, the atelier maintains firmly that it operates in separate lines. The jewelry market is a flooded one, especially in Japan where consumers are spoilt for choice. The only tip the Naoi Family had for those eager to venture into this field is to find a niche and capitalize on it. This remains the family’s strategy: To build upon their creative and quirky brand while continuing to expand online.
Truly, the perfectly imperfect pendants, cufflinks and brooches speak for themselves. But even above the craft itself, is the building of a business as a family and the rewarding feeling of seeing it flourish.
“Ippei has seen his father play through his passion throughout his whole life,” says Jannine. “There was never any kind of pressure for us to take the business on. We just wanted to be part of it. And through that, we also have the freedom to explore our own concepts within the business, as we continue to support my father-in-law.”
Explore Atelier Shinji Ginza’s selection of unique jewelry via their online store.
Photos courtesy of Atelier Shinji Ginza