The temporary closing of a shopping center for renovation beneath a luxury hotel became a moment of opportunity for Kazumi Arikawa.
Arikawa is the owner of Albion Art Jewellery Institute, with locations in Tokyo and Fukuoka in southern Japan. He is a collector and dealer in historic jewels. His collection of approximately 800 jewels is considered by many to be one of the most important in terms of value and historical importance.
The former Albion Art boutique in Tokyo was in the shopping center beneath the older section of the Okura Tokyo hotel complex, known as the Heritage Wing. It was closed for renovation and Arikawa took this as an opportunity to negotiate a new retail space with the hotel. He could have probably opened his store below the modern Prestige Tower wing in the hotel where there is another shopping arcade, but instead he was able to get a space in the Prestige Tower hotel lobby, a prime position.
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The luxury hotel is located across the street from the U.S. Embassy and near other embassies so it attracts a sophisticated and affluent clientele. People would have been able to find the boutique no matter the location in the hotel but being in the lobby dramatically increases foot traffic. In addition, it’s the only retail space in the lobby.
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Arikawa amassed his collection over a period of more than 30 years. Though he is a lifelong resident of Japan, the vast majority of his collection consists of jewels from the western world, primarily from antiquity to the Renaissance, but he also owns pieces well into the 20th century. He has a special fondness for tiaras and cameos. As a dealer he is constantly buying and selling jewels so his collection changes constantly.
At approximately 540 square-feet, the new Albion Art Okura Tokyo Salon isn’t large but it is literally a world away from the contemporary design of the hotel lobby.
“I created this room like a Romanesque church in the medieval period,” he says. “The priests in the monasteries created jewelry as a divinity. For example, the pope ordered the high priest to wear a sapphire ring because sapphire is a symbol of heaven, the Virgin Mary, and a symbol of a sincere belief to Jesus.”
The filigree metal doorway entrance is similar to the screen inside of a confessional box that separates the priest from the parishioner confessing his sins. Italian sunrock walls have arches, which create a monastic appearance. Storage cabinets, desks, chairs and other furnishings are made of natural woods of different light-colored hues. The sounds of Gregorian chants echo through the space. It is a place that honors the historically spiritual nature of jewels.
Glass display cases are embedded into the stone wall in the entrance to the shop and sit atop wood storage cabinets inside. A few of these cabinets are located within the arched walls. While the larger pieces are inside glass displays on top of the storage cases, drawers in the cases reveal smaller treasures, such as cameos that are centuries old and an unusual vintage piece, like bejeweled scissors.
Arikawa’s most prized possessions are located in an office building nearby, in a suite of rooms with the same design as his boutique.
Behind a hidden door is a mediation room designed as it would have appeared in the 16th century. Arikawa is a Buddhist monk with an appreciation of all older religions and a sincere belief that gems have spiritual power and meanings. “From the beginning of human history the gemstone could be the symbol of our spiritual development. I noticed this and today I can feel a jewel in my hand and capture that essence.”
In one room there’s a wall-length bookcase containing important jewelry books that represents only 3% of his total collection. “This is the biggest and most important jewelry book collection in the world,” he says with no hint of bragging. “No comparison.”
The jewels in the rooms include a gold bracelet from the 19th century by the Castellani, family, a gold pendant necklace from the Roman Revival period (11th and 12th century), and a gold pendant from Hellenistic period (300 to 30 BC). Large elaborate diamond and gem necklaces from at least the 19th century and nature themed jewels sparkling in diamonds are on display at various places. Then there were his most important historical pieces that he only showed a few of us after we promised not to reveal them.
Arikawa celebrated the opening of the Albion Art Okura Tokyo Salon in grand style with a black tie gala dinner at the hotel attended by about 450 important jewelry and gem collectors, dealers and historians from around the world. The IlluminArt Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Tomomi Nishimoto performed throughout the night. The recitation was given by Japanese poet, Mutuo Takahashi. British soprano, Charlotte Henriette de Rothschild, was the special surprise guest. She performed at least three arias wearing the Württemberg topaz and diamond parure, circa 1810-1830, from the Albion Art collection (tiara, necklace, bracelets, earrings and brooch).
At the end of the event, Arikawa thanked the guests by saying: “We shall go ahead together until the end. So please enjoy your life.”