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Shinji Nakaba is a Tokyo-based jewelry designer. His artistic vision is to create wearable sculpture — and it shows. Nakaba’s art utilizes precious metals and stones in addition to non-traditional sources for luxury jewelry, such as an aluminum beer cans, plastic bottles, or trash. His passion for work is poured into all his material sources. He is quoted as saying, “I’m dealing all the materials equally no matter how precious or not precious they are.”

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Nakaba started jewelry making in ’74. All of his pieces are wearable. These intricately carved pearl skulls are an example of his hauntingly beautiful work. “I just want to bring brand new life to something that has no value,” Nakaba tells Magnifico. “Vanitas” is carved into most of Nakaba’s skulls. This is Latin for “vanity,” and is likely a reference to 16th and 17th century funerary art. Work of this type emphasizes the meaninglessness of earthly life “and the transient nature of all earthly goods and pursuits.” You can find his Etsy page here.

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Nakaba is currently engaged in a lawsuit with Celine, a brand of Louis Vuitton. It is Nakaba’s claim that Louis Vuitton has stolen the design of one of his rings and is producing it under their banner. This intellectual property suit is ongoing. You can follow the developments on Shinji Nakaba’s blog here.

The Director of the Intellectual Property Department at Louis Vuitton Japan Co. responded to Nakaba stating “Celine Co.’s jewelry is produced based on the designs of the company’s Artistic Director Phoebe Philo. We can also say that such a design is common, as designs based on parts of the human body are observed frequently in jewelry. Accordingly, while there may be some similarities between the indicated work of yours and Celine Co.’s product, such similarities stem from coincidence.”

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Nakaba’s work is inspired. The macabre grace exhibited in these pieces is fascinating.