HAWAII AT WORK
CRAIG T. KOJIMA / CKOJIMA@STARBULLETIN.COM
Donna Shimazu has been a jewelry designer for Maui Divers Jewelry for almost 14 years. Above, Shimazu worked last week on a setting for a large pearl.
Crafting a fulfilling career
Donna Shimazu brings her artistic talents to bear at Maui Divers Jewelry
Donna Shimazu, a senior designer at Maui Divers Jewelry
, says she went into jewelry design because "life's too short, so I wanted to do something I'd always wanted to do." But jewelry design wasn't her first career choice. Initially she had intended to be a teacher.
Who: Donna Shimazu|
Title: Senior designer
Job: Designs jewelry and trains production staff for Maui Divers Jewelry
"That was the original plan," she said last week, explaining why she attended the University of Hawaii to earn a bachelor's degree in fine arts and a professional diploma in secondary arts education. "But after I student-taught (as part of obtaining the diploma), I decided I didn't want to teach. So I went off and got my MBA (master's in business administration) and did the business route."
After getting her MBA, at Northwestern University in Evanston, Ill., Shimazu went into advertising, first with Leo Burnett
in Chicago for three years, and next with BBDO/West
and then Young & Rubicam,
both in San Francisco, for a total of two years.
"Then I just decided to go all the way back to square one and get back into art," she said, "because my advertising wasn't in the creative end, it was in the marketing end."
Shimazu said she has always been interested in art, and grew up in a creative household, beginning with her father, Don Shimazu, a civil and structural engineer who would often bring home old blueprints for the six children to use as drawing paper.
Shimazu said a key factor in establishing herself as a jeweler was working as an apprentice to German goldsmith Walter Kentzler, who has a jewelry shop in Burlingame, Calif.
"I was just super lucky he was willing to take me on as an apprentice," she said. "It's quite rare. So I promised I would stay there two years minimum, and I ended up staying there five."
At Maui Divers Jewelry, which she joined in 1994, she is a senior designer in its 13-person design department, responsible for helping create both complete lines of jewelry, such as its new Kim Taylor Reece line, as well as one-of-a-kind pieces.
In 1999, Shimazu became the first woman to earn certification from the Jewelers of America as a master bench jeweler.
Shimazu is single and lives with her sister Esther in Kailua. She declined to give her age, but did note that her graduating class at Roosevelt High School is having its 35th reunion this Friday.
CRAIG T. KOJIMA / CKOJIMA@STARBULLETIN.COM
After a couple of career starts and stops, Donna Shimazu finally found her calling as a jewelry designer, currently with Maui Divers Jewelry in Honolulu. Above left, Shimazu collaborated last week with fellow designer Michael Ly on a piece. Above right, she reviewed designs she's drawn in her sketch book.
What is your work title?
Donna Shimazu: Right now I'm senior designer in research and development.
Q: What does that entail?
A: Well, in terms of longevity, I think I've been here the second longest - there's one guy who's been here longer. But it also means I'm fairly autonomous, and I work with the design director, Michelle Hulme, regarding assignments. But it's autonomous in the sense that I'm not working with somebody who's telling me how to do it, whereas a junior designer would work with a senior designer and have their work checked in process to make sure they're following specs and doing it right and all that stuff.
What is it you're designing?
A: Various things. For instance, if we're launching a new line (of jewelry), I'll work with various people on various aspects (of that line). Like right now I'm working on carved pendants for the new Kim Taylor Reece line.
Originally when I was hired I was doing one-of a kind pieces, to try and pick up the perceived value of cases.
A: Yeah, because we manufacture a lot of things, but we also make one-of-a-kinds, to boost the prestige and excitement.
Q: So when did you join Maui Divers?
A: In 1994. So it's almost 14 years. It will be 14 years on Sept. 6, in fact.
Q: Have you always been a designer since you joined Maui Divers?
A: Yes, yes.
Q: What would you say is the main artistic skill you need to be a designer?
A: You have to be able to fabricate. You have to be a goldsmith to be a designer. I can sketch well, but all of us have to be able to realize what we do in metal.
If you take a tour of the factory upstairs, the people are split up in terms of specific tasks. While skilled in their specific tasks, they're not full spectrum. Even in our department of 13 people, there's a spectrum. You've got junior people to senior people. So that's part of our task (as senior designers), to train the manufacturing staff.
Q: What kinds of designs are you working on right now?
A: I'm working on large South Seas pearl designs. I'm making pendants - premium-priced pendants.
Q: Do any of your creations carry your signature?
A: No. We're all anonymous here. (Laughter) We work for the greater cause, the greater good of the company.
Q: Do you sometimes have to get up out of bed at midnight because you just had a design idea?
A: I always keep a sketch book around, whether it's scratch paper or whatever. So every once in a while I clean out all these pieces of sketch paper out of my bag.
Q: What is the process of designing a piece of jewelry, from beginning to end?
A: It depends in what sense you're talking about, because now we're working more in designing collections, so we can put more marketing push behind the offerings. We can start a collection based on a particular theme, or a particular material. So (for example), chocolate pearls are doing really well right now.
Q: Chocolate pearls?
A: Yeah, it's a real beautiful, bronzy, chocolaty color.
Q: They're real pearls?
A: Oh yes, they're real pearls. So we've been working on that.
We're just about ready to launch the Kim Taylor Reece line, that we worked on with Kim Taylor Reece, using a lot of his photographs as the source material for inspiration.
Q: What material do you work in mostly?
Q: Would that mostly be settings, or total gold pieces?
A: We would usually do gold pieces in conjunction with gems, but the main focus of our company is coral and pearls. That's what we've made our name on.
We started in the last few years of working with prominent artists, and creating lines for them, such as Wyland, and we're working with Mikel, and the latest one is Kim Taylor Reece.
Q: What kinds of tools do you use on the job?
A: The usual goldsmithing tools: pliers, gravers, files, saws, hammers, torches ... Then if I'm doing wax carving, it would be electric heating pens, dental tools ...
Q: What about computer-aided design work? Is there any of that?
A: We have two people that are doing computer-aided design, so that comes in real handy. That's opened up a lot of possibilities for us, because we're able to do rapid prototypes.
Q: In all your years of designing, is there any favorite piece you recall - and did you get to keep it or did you have to sell it?
A: Oh, I don't get to keep anything. (Laughter) One thing you do is you don't get really
attached to the actual thing. It's just fun getting the privilege to make it, of getting to work with expensive, beautiful materials. Otherwise they're just in my head or in the sketchbook.
Q: What drew you into this field?
A: My background is in fine arts. I have a bachelor in fine arts, and my whole family is in the arts, in one way or another. And I really like jewelry, because it has a very technical, engineering aspect to it, as well as a strong aesthetic aspect to it. I'm not the usual left-brain/right-brain kind of person. I really like both sides. I really like the accumulation of skills that jewelry offers, as well as being able to express my aesthetic sense.
Q: Do you ever design jewelry as a hobby?
A: Oh yes.
Q: How about for sale at art fairs or whatever?
A: Not art sales. I do one sale in December, with my sister Esther (Shimazu, a professional ceramicist), and five other artists. That's it. I don't bother consigning or selling to anyone else.
You know, after you work a full week, the last thing you want to do is work Saturdays or Sundays. And after you pass 40, your body starts to wear down. (Laughter)
Q: How long to you plan to keep working at Maui Divers Jewelry?
A: As long as I can still see and still do. I used to think my fallback would be - when my hands got too arthritic or I went blind - I would go toward CAD (computer-aided design), but I'm not ready to go toward CAD yet.
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