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In a place like Williamsburg, the "alt bride" is perhaps more mainstream than the traditional one—she gets her dress at Stone Fox Bride or Mociun White instead of Kleinfeld and trades the Plaza Hotel for the Music Hall of Williamsburg. So then it makes sense that the Japanese-born jeweler Yasuko Azuma, who specializes in natural diamonds and delicate hammering techniques uncommon to traditional engagement rings, has managed to find a comfortable nook in the neighborhood.
Located on Wythe Avenue, Azuma's studio-slash-store (it's only open for shoppers on weekends) is full of these unique types of stones. "They're very popular right now," she explained to Racked on a recent visit. "A lot of people find the natural and uniqueness more valuable. 99% of people still select a white stone, but the other one percent is looking for something different."
We spoke to Azuma on her move to the neighborhood (she owned a studio in Manhattan for a few years before setting up shop in Williamsburg five years ago), the Japanese jewelry techniques she learned at FIT, and how her grandmother's garden back home in Sapporo influences each design.
"My studio was in Manhattan for a couple of years, and then we found this space five years ago. We had a door, so we opened a shop in this area for Saturdays and Sundays. On weekdays, we are very busy for wholesale business, so we're only open two days a week."
"My mother gave me a big sapphire ring and said, 'Design it for yourself.' And so I made one ring. This was my first design. It was much bigger than these stones, but I cut out the shapes like this to make it unique."
"When I went to FIT, I learned more Japanese techniques from my professor. In seven years, I learned how to make texture on the metal using a hammer. Usually it's used for bowls, not for jewelry, but I thought this would be very unique and different. This is a very simple necklace, but it has texture, so it's more delicate. I actually make the hammer. Most of my pieces have this hammer technique. It's very dangerous, because I have to set the stone."
"The texture is very special—it's called diamond dust texture. It's important in my hometown of Sapporo. The temperature is very low and freezes the moisture in the air so that the ice, it sparkles. My design comes from my memories in Japan."
"My grandmother is always there," Azuma says of her influences. "She loves beautiful things—she has a beautiful garden. She loves roses. My mother also has a Japanese garden, and it has lanterns and cut-out work, and also stone steps."
"This piece is Japanese-garden based. The design comes from my mother. It's for my mother's everyday jewelry—of course, she has gorgeous rings, but for everyday life, she needs something that's simple, but different."
"This is tourmaline. A lot of people have stopped using this stone because it's very rare—it's named after a small town in Brazil. But recently, it was found in Mozambique, Africa, because millions of years ago the continents were together. Copper plays a big role in the stone. It's naturally kind of pink and dull, but with copper in it, it makes it more vivid. This is all we have left, because everything's been sold. It's a very unique bluish greenish color."
"I like yellow gold, and sometimes platinum. I think yellow gold makes the stone more beautiful."
"This is a natural black diamond. They're very popular right now."
"We call this antique rose, because of the color. It's brown, but with pink in it. Natural diamond doesn't show vivid color—it's very subtle—but the luster is so nice. The harder the mineral is, when it's polished, the better the luster."
"I always see stones and say, 'What should I do?' And then I think, 'Well, it should be shinier here or there.' And it should be simple."
"My jewelry is a little darker, so I use the candles for color in the space."
"I always see some kind of small universe in each stone."