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Astoria Characters: The Jeweler Who Puts the Past Together

Posted: 03/13/2012 2:11 pm

It's not pretty, and that's the beauty of it. Miwako Kimura's workshop, for that is what she calls it, was meant to be a bedroom. It can fit a double bed but not much more.

Sun streams through its only window, illuminating the cardboard boxes that hug the walls, a giant wheel of bubble wrap suspended from the ceiling like a star and three utilitarian, hard-used desks.

It is in this space -- "I apologize that it's so messy" -- that Miwako comes to craft her costume and custom jewelry.

She opens a black box, and like a magician pulling a rabbit out of a hat, presents a pearl necklace punctuated with a retro white butterfly pin. Next out are a bracelet fashioned from glittering antique chandelier crystals and dangling earrings made from vintage violet pearls.

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Photo by Nancy A. Ruhling
Miwako, devoted mother and passionate jewelry maker.

"I like vintage pieces," she says. "Even if they have a scratch or they're not perfect, they're special."

Speaking of special, Sora, who's going to be 5 soon, rushes into the room to show off her purple skirt, a funnel of fluffy ruffles. She's chattering in English then switches to Japanese. Miwako's husband, Tory Ferraro, whisks her off to play so she'll stay out of Mommy's way.

Miwako beams. Sora doesn't always like to speak Japanese, a language that Tory still doesn't understand even after nearly two decades of marriage.

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Photo by Nancy A. Ruhling
A necklace made of vintage chandelier crystals and faux pearls.

Miwako, a petite, gentle gem who lets her brown eyes smile for her, is reminded of her own girlhood in Tokyo, where she lived in a "small, cozy" house along with her parents, grandparents and younger sister.

Her earliest memories are of making things. She picked up her sewing skills from her mother, a dressmaker, and used them to whip up fancy outfits for her Barbie dolls. When she was in school, she couldn't keep her hands or her mind still.

"I used to carve erasers when I was in class, turning them into stamp pads," she says. "And I loved drawing."

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Photo by Nancy A. Ruhling
Miwako carves molds in wax when creating custom pieces; these are for rings.

Although her parents thought her art was a fine hobby, they didn't see it as a viable way to make a living. Nevertheless, they did allow Miwako to go to fashion college, and when she graduated, she got a job designing women's clothes. In her free time, she began making and selling jewelry.

"The rules of the company said I couldn't have a side job," she says. "So I had to keep it secret."

After five years, she quit and made jewelry-making her career. "I was able to do it because I lived with my parents," she says. "Tokyo is very expensive, and they supported me."

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Photo by Nancy A. Ruhling
Miwako in her workshop.

Her quest for unusual materials -- cattle bone, shark teeth, fossils and amber -- brought her to New York City in 1993. It was on this two-week trip that she met Tory, who was working in one of the specialty shops she visited.

"I didn't speak English very well, but he was very easy-going and willing to listen to my mistakes," Miwako says. "Even today, he's patient with me. He never corrects me; I wish he did because I make embarrassing mistakes."

Computer communication wasn't prevalent in the 1990s, so "we had to letter each other when I went back to Japan," Miwako says.

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Photo by Nancy A. Ruhling
Since childhood, Miwako has been involved in the arts.

When Miwako returned the next year, they got married. Miwako continued her jewelry business and started taking classes at the Fashion Institute of Technology.

These days, Miwako has made motherhood her priority. "I didn't want Sora to have a baby sitter," she says. "In September, she'll be a full-time kindergarten student, so I can devote more time to my business."

As it is, Miwako does her jewelry making only during the 2 ½ hours Sora is at school in the afternoon. "I also work after she goes to bed," Miwako says. "But she doesn't like to go to sleep early."

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Photo by Nancy A. Ruhling
A vintage butterfly flutters its wings on a faux pearl necklace.

Miwako's designs start in her head; once her mind sees something, she makes a sketch or sometimes simply pushes the pieces of vintage jewelry around until they fit together. She gives a trial wear to every piece. Her art pieces, which are made of gold, require carving and casting and sometimes even soldering.

"Making jewelry is a dirty job," she says. "It's dusty and dangerous. Sometimes it takes me hours to clean the dirt from the antique crystals with Q-tips, and I always wear a mask."

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Photo by Nancy A. Ruhling
Miwako plans to expand her business soon.

Although it would be more efficient to hire people to help her, Miwako prefers to be a one-woman shop. "I like to do all the processes, and I have a lot of ideas," she says. "I just have to organize my mind."

Right now, her mind's on Sora, who's twirling like a top in her purple skirt in the living room, where the walls are plastered with her finger paintings.

Miwako packs her jewelry back in its black box; it can wait another day.

Nancy A. Ruhling may be reached at Nruhling@gmail.com.
Copyright 2012 by Nancy A. Ruhling

 

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