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A Tokyo Designer Captures Memories in Gems

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Mio Harutaka’s pieces include bunnies, daisies and a piano keyboard ring in diamonds and onyx.

A woman’s reflection in a mirror shows her diamond ring and earring creations
Mio Harutaka with her ring and earring designs in Tokyo in October.Credit…Noriko Hayashi for The New York Times

By Vivian Morelli

Reporting from Tokyo

Jeweled citrus slices, strawberries, snails and a Pegasus-winged horse are just a few of the whimsical pieces by the Japanese jewelry designer Mio Harutaka.

“Everything comes from my experience, and also my favorite things,” she said, displaying a necklace and earrings set adorned with 18-karat white gold and rose gold rosebuds set with diamonds. “For this one, I wanted to capture the moment before the rose blooms.”

She sells primarily through retailers, including several of the Dover Street Market locations and at the Ritz Paris, and they say her work certainly has appeal. “Mio Harutaka’s nature-inspired products stand out for their playful yet chic designs,” Emily Wong, senior vice president of merchandising at Lane Crawford in Hong Kong, wrote in an email. The luxury department store is presenting them in a glass display case that moss and leaves have turned into a fanciful miniature garden.

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Ms. Harutaka’s white gold and black and white diamond Bunny rings have rubies for eyes.Credit…Noriko Hayashi for The New York Times

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Ms. Harutaka’s Pianoforte ring for two fingers in diamonds and black sapphires.Credit…Noriko Hayashi for The New York Times

“Our customers are particularly drawn,” Ms. Wong wrote, “to the quirkiness of the famed Bunny rings and the Honey Bee earring, which are also some of our best sellers.” The store’s current selection includes seasonal items such as a diamond and ruby snowman earring ($6,700; all Ms. Harutaka’s earrings are sold singly) and a festive Christmas tree earring ($6,160), both of which are also available at Bergdorf Goodman in New York.

The Bunny ring, with its ears cocked and nose tipped up, has more personality than you might expect from a gem-covered bit of metal. “Please touch it,” Ms. Harutaka said during my visit to her Tokyo showroom. “When you put it on, the bunny rests its chin on the next finger.”

She handed me the creature, covered in white and black diamonds on 18-karat white gold, with tiny rubies for the eyes ($33,600). “In Japan, crafting is very delicate, and I love this smooth setting,” she said. “If you’re wearing stockings and accidentally brush your hand, the ring won’t rip them.” (I tried it, and she was right).

Ms. Harutaka works with a few craftsmen, based in Tokyo or Yamanashi, the heart of Japan’s jewelry industry, to execute her designs. Once she has something in mind, she said, she selects the one whose skills best match the project.

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The white diamond Ivy Ring moves with the wearer’s finger.Credit…Noriko Hayashi for The New York Times

She displayed her elaborate Ivy Ring, which covers most of the finger but is hinged to allow movement ($25,200). And her Snake Bracelet; the 18-karat white gold variation is set with diamonds, blue sapphires and green garnet eyes ($29,400). “The snakes connect to one another,” she said, showing a clasp under one head, and adding that two, connected together, may be worn as a choker.

Ms. Harutaka, 40, grew up in Fukuoka, a city on the southwestern island of Kyushu, where her mother also was a jewelry designer. She moved to Tokyo almost 20 years ago, enrolling in a program at the local campus of the Gemological Institute of America (G.I.A.).

She had designed the Bunny as well as a flower ring she called the Daisy, but she needed some help with that one. “I wanted each petal to move,” she said, showing me the 18-karat gold ring with diamond pavé petals and a yellow sapphire center.

“A lot of craftsmen said that it’s too dimensional and too complicated to make. They eventually did it, but it took over a year.” (She still works with those same craftsmen.)

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Each petal of the Daisy diamond and sapphire ring moves individually.Credit…Noriko Hayashi for The New York Times

The compliments she received on those two pieces, she said, convinced her to become a jewelry designer. In 2011 she started Bijou de M, a line of casual fashion jewelry, now sold only in Japan.

And in 2018, she established her namesake fine jewelry line, focused on higher-end pieces. It has a staff of nine, with an office and showroom in the Aoyama district of Tokyo.

“I draw designs mostly at home,” Ms. Harutaka said, adding that she doesn’t use a computer for design. “My inspiration often comes to me on the move, especially on airplanes, maybe because they are closed spaces. So I always carry a notebook and pencil with me.”

Since early 2020, Ms. Harutaka has donated an undisclosed portion of the sales from her Mio Harutaka brand to Diamonds for Peace, a nongovernmental organization based in Japan that has been trying to improve the environmental and socio-economic conditions of diamond mining communities in developing countries.

“Diamonds have a history, they have romance, they’re fascinating,” Ms. Harutaka said. “But when I started out my brand 12 years ago, I saw all the troubles related to the diamond industry. I needed to focus on the problem as well. I wanted to give the benefits back to the people who are related to the business, such as the diamond miners.”

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The Budding Beauty collection with earrings, a ring, and a necklace with rosebuds in diamonds and 18-karat white gold.Credit…Noriko Hayashi for The New York Times

In 2021, her donations paid for materials to create 50 beehives and monitor their construction, giving miners in the rural community of Weasua, Liberia, an alternate means of earning an income; and in 2022, the money funded the construction of a public toilet in that village. That year, she also joined the organization’s founder and chief executive, Chie Murakami, on a trip to the West African country. “We share the idea that we are trying to make a legitimate trade and making a good cycle in business,” she said. “It was a very meaningful and special trip.”

Traceability also is an important issue for Ms. Harutaka. “It’s very challenging to find the exact origin of gems,” she said, adding that she has just learned about a system developed by the Israeli diamond technology provider Sarine and hopes she will be able to use origin-identified diamonds in the future.

Her focus now, however, is the first Mio Harutaka store, opened late last month in Azabudai Hills, a mixed-use development in Tokyo. The approximately 700-square-foot shop was designed by the architectural firm Shinsoken, founded by the well-known Japanese architect Hiroshi Sugimoto.

“I think,” she said, “we have succeeded in creating a space where their clean, tranquil style beautifully converges with my colorful jewelry.”

To mark the event, Ms. Harutaka prepared a new collection that included Nanook, a brooch depicting a polar bear holding a flower, made in 18-karat white and yellow gold, yellow sapphires and black diamonds, and Pianoforte, a two-finger ring that uses diamonds and black onyx to replicate a piano keyboard. “The idea for the new piano piece came to me when I was listening to my daughter practice piano every day,” she said.

“My collection has become largely a reflection of my personal experiences and memories, thoughts that pop up in my mind,” she said. “I have tried to capture the beautiful moments of a flower’s life, and of animals about to move, in my jewelry designs.”

A correction was made on 

Dec. 4, 2023

An earlier version of a picture caption with this article misidentified the designer of the Pianoforte ring. She is Mio Harutaka, not Noriko Hayashi. The article also misstated Ms. Harutaka’s age. She is 40, not 41.

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