The Traditional Japanese Art of Shibuichi

You may have heard about Mokume Gane, but what about Shibuichi? This alloy is often used in traditional Japanese jewelry – and it’s becoming increasingly popular in the alternative jewelry world.

However, there are plenty of elements to consider before purchasing a Shibuichi item. From its legendary origins to considerations to make, our guide will lay out the process for choosing the right fine jewelry piece for you.

What Is Shibuichi?

Traditionally, a Shibuichi alloy is fashioned with one part silver and three parts copper. In fact, “Shibuichi” means “one-quarter.” The combination can vary slightly, depending on the artisan’s desired colors. Typically, the Shibuichi combination gets a range of gray tones and occasionally has shades of blue and green (thanks to the use of rokusho treatments).

Shibuichi is a noteworthy part of Japanese metalworking traditions, especially in jewelry such as Mokume Gane rings.

A Brief History of Shibuichi

Shibuichi production stretches back to the 18th Century when it was used for decorating elements like samurai swords and knife handles called kozuka.

However, modernization meant that samurai culture fell out of popularity during the Meiji Restoration (1868-1889). These intricate techniques were able to survive as sword makers applied their expertise to decorative elements such as jewelry, plates, and kitchenware.

Over the past few decades, Shibuichi has been introduced to the West by certain artisans who studied under traditional Japanese metalworkers

Combinations Of Shibuichi

There are different names for each shibuichi variation, and different gray colors are achieved depending on the proportions of copper and silver used by the goldsmith:

How Is Shibuichi Made?

NameAlloy CompositionDetails
Shibuichi25% silver / 75% copperDark gray with a slight hint of gold.
Shiro-Shibuichi60% silver / 40% copper / trace of gold“Shiro” means “white” so this possesses a lighter gray color.
Ue-Shibuichi40% silver / 60% copper / trace of goldA deeper gray color and harder surface.
Nami-Shibuichi Uchi-Sanbu30% silver / 70% copper / trace of goldA lighter color than standard Shibuichi
Nami-Shibuichi Soto-Sanbu23% silver / 77% copper / trace of goldA deeper color combination than standard Shibuichi

Just like Mokume Gane, thin pieces of precious and semi-precious metals are cleaned, stacked, heated, and hammered into a billet. Using only hammers, pressure, and heat, billets are forged and shaped into jewelry pieces.

Modern Shibuichi and Mokume Gane

To create its unique, wood-grain patterns, Mokume Gane often uses Shibuichi as an alloy. In addition to a wide range of jewelry, Shibuichi can be used to decorate boxes, spoons, hairpins, and even cufflinks. However, there are considerable drawbacks to using Shibuichi alloys.

The Disadvantages of Traditional Shibuichi Jewelry

While noble metals (like silver and gold) are corrosion-resistant, copper and brass are not. No matter how the metal billets are fused, sweat and moisture will eat away at the copper. This is referred to as “galvanic corrosion”, and the integrity of a jewelry piece will be destroyed. In fact, some rings crack straight down the middle!

While traditional Shibuichi jewelry pieces are more affordable than a gold or platinum piece, copper-based jewelry will inevitably break and need to be replaced.

What’s more, once the metal begins to corrode, people with metal sensitivities and allergies typically start to experience reactions to copper-based jewelry.

Why Jaume Labro Traditional Japanese Jewelry Is Different

Kao Mokume gane Ring

Jaume Labro works with noble metal combinations of 14K golds, silver, palladium, and platinum. In our Japan-based studios, we keep time-honored Mokume Gane jewelry traditions alive – but with modern designs that are handcrafted to last generations.

Find Your Perfect Mokume Gane Design With Jaume Labro

Using ethical diamonds and carbon-neutral metals, each of our one-of-a-kind designs follow in the steps of ancient Japanese artisans. From handcrafted Mokume Gane engagement rings to other fine jewelry pieces, Jaume Labro ensures that our clients receive only the best experience and products.

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