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Albion Art President Kazumi Arikawa

by Judit Kawaguchi

Kazumi Arikawa, 57, is the president of the Albion Art Co. Ltd. in Tokyo. Arikawa is one of the world’s top dealers and collectors of historical jewelry, from the Greco-Roman era to the Art Deco period. He specializes in tiaras and cameos of European monarchs, and jewels that adorned historical figures. The cameo that Napoleon I carried with him to his exile on the island of St. Helena in 1815, and the Diadem of Princess Marie Bonaparte, created by Cartier, are just the type of pieces that Arikawa falls in love with. And once that happens, he doesn’t rest until he gets his hands on them. His formidable collection is frequently on display in museums around the world. In 2007 he was the biggest lender of jewels for the “Brilliant Europe: Jewels from European Courts” exhibition in Brussels, preceding even the Louvre Museum in Paris. And this January, he is again the top lender for the “Pearls” exhibition at the Museum of Islamic Art in Doha. For his contribution to preserving jewelry by historic French houses, such as Chaumet, Boucheron, Cartier, Mauboussin and Mellerio, in March 2007 he received the Order of Arts and Letters from the French Ministry of Culture.

I am not important. Who cares about who sold the Mona Lisa to whom! We care about the Mona Lisa. Same with me: I’m a nobody, but the jewels I love are treasures.

Humans yearn to become jewels. Any kind of substance has a tendency to transform itself into a more stable form. Crystallization, which jewels have acquired, is the final and ultimate form of stability. I think that’s exactly what humans desire, too. I certainly do! That’s why everyone loves gemstones. We see them and feel, “Yes, they’ve achieved perfection!” And here we are, still full of impurities while our DNA is pushing us into a more sophisticated and brilliant form.

When you begin to see people as money, it’s time to study Buddhism. I was in my early 20s and was running a juku (cram school). The money was rolling in but one day I noticed that I began to see students as nothing else but walking bags of money. I was shocked. “OK, I became a monster,” I thought. I sold the business and decided to become a monk. For two years I did nothing but Zen meditation. I didn’t even see my family, just studied Buddhism. After two years, I felt that I could be a decent person and returned to society. Even today, I meditate every day.

Beauty is not something to understand but something to feel on your skin. When I visit museums, I glance around and whatever grabs me, I gravitate to it, like a magnet. I never look at explanations, and I don’t care about prestige or fame. Is my heart shaken by it? I only listen to my sense, not to critics.

If you know and love your own culture, you can be open to others. I’m an expert in Japanese art. That gives me confidence in myself, and my country, so I can go anywhere in the world and appreciate the beauty they have developed there.

One meeting can change the course of one’s life. I lost my father when I was 10 years old. After that, my mother was working hard every single day, selling jewelry from door to door. Still, I did not think of becoming involved with her business. But after I quit my monk training, I traveled to London. That’s where I had my great rendezvous with a piece of antique jewelry at the Victoria and Albert Museum. I was transformed.

To sharpen up your sense of beauty, you must look for quality. Inferior art or poor-quality rubies won’t provide you with much sense of beauty even if you see thousands of them. But one fine ruby with the highest quality will.

Only the crazies make it big. I was just a small dealer when I saw a tiara made by the famous jeweler Faberge. I fell in love immediately, but I really didn’t have the funds to purchase it. Still, I didn’t give up but scraped the funds together, which were substantial, about half of the value of my entire my collection at that time. I just had to have that tiara and it is a good thing I bought it because today only four Faberge tiaras exist in the world. I made it and since then I collect whatever I love, without thinking of the price. I’m a fool but luckily there are other fools out there, too!

When you see the real thing, grab it, because there’ll never be a second chance. Jewels or people, it’s the same. I met the violinist Shinichi Suzuki (founder of the Suzuki method) one day. He was already in his late 90s then. I never played any instrument but this man had such charisma that I had to be near him. That night I went home, packed up my family and we moved to Nagano where Suzuki was teaching. My wife and daughters took lessons but I just hung out with him as much as I could. It’s not the technique or music that we got from him, but the feeling for beauty in everything.

Most men don’t want to grow up. I certainly don’t! But since girls mature into wonderful women, we don’t have to.

It’s not enough to clean the toilet; you have to do it until it shines like a jewel. I was in a Zen temple for two years in my 20s. We would clean the temple every morning until the floors were like mirrors. It felt good. Zen teaches you to do your task completely well. All tasks. When I clean the toilet in the mornings, I really polish it. It is like a jewel for our everyday life, so let is shine!

Beauty is our last salvation. Our water is polluted, the woods are lost, the Earth is warming. All we have left is our ability to focus on beauty. I see a bento box and am impressed. Beauty is literally all over us, so focus on it.

Judit Kawaguchi loves to listen. She is a volunteer counselor and a TV reporter on NHK’s “Out & About.” Learn more at: http://juditfan.blog58.fc2.com/