The making of a jewellery Icon

An interview with designer Thakoon Panichgul reveals how the Balance line is at the heart of success for Tasaki.

Balance collection by Tasaki

Today I am talking to the designer Thakoon Panichgul who will share his special, very privileged insight into how an iconic jewellery design is born. And the jewel in question is Tasaki’s Balance line, which is now ten years old and has proven to be an enduring success

Tasaki is the largest and most respected jeweller in Japan. It was founded in 1954 by the Tasaki family of pearl farmers and today is the number one producer of Akoya pearls in the world.  The company is also the only De Beers sight holder in the country meaning it has first-hand access to top grade diamonds that it cuts and polishes in its own Kobe workshops and uses its own alloy of Sakura gold inspired by the pink of the cherry blossom that is highly flattering on the skin, thanks to its warm colour, particularly apt for engagement and wedding rings. Tasaki has an excellent standard of craftsmanship that goes above and beyond the famously rigorous Japanese standards of perfection. And nowhere is this more evident than in the simple, but devilishly difficult to produce lines like Balance.

Thakoon Panichgul, is a multi-talented Thai-American fashion designer known for his functional and well-designed wardrobe essentials loved by women the world over. Thakoon has had a hugely successful and fascinatingly varied career. As well as running Thakoon Collection, his own brand of stylish, easy to wear women’s clothes, Thakoon collaborates with Tasaki. Prior to this, he was a fashion editor at Harpers Bazaar in New York from where he decided to study fashion at the Parsons School of Design and by 2004 he launched his first collection that was an instant and runaway success. 

Thakoon’s work for Tasaki taps into his rich knowledge of both design as well as a deep, and almost inherent understanding of what women really want. Amongst his many designs for Tasaki, the Balance has become an icon. Simple and bold, the Balance collection elegantly breaks convention by presenting pearls in a totally contemporary and daringly minimalist guise. Symmetry meets the soft allure of pearls, the most feminine of all the gems, expertly crafted by Tasaki’s team of skilled jewellers. 

Balance Signature Akoya pearl ring
The Japanese jewellery brand Tasaki offers a very modern take on that most classic of gems: pearls. June’s birthstone, this Balance Signature ring, set with five Akoya pearls, is perfect for lovers of minimalist jewellery.

Witty, mischievous and unconventional Thakoon’s other designs include Refined Rebellion with a punky feel, the Danger collection that gives the innocent pearl playfully menacing fangs. 

Q&A with Thakoon Panichgul

Can you tell me about your vision of who the Tasaki woman is and your inspiration behind the collection?

I don't have one particular woman in mind but I always think in terms of the energy of the women. Taking the reins in revamping the Tasaki brand, I wanted to re-envision and re-imagine the pearl and making it quite young and modern for today's women. Pearls have been around for centuries but the foundation for the Balance line is around an urban, contemporary woman with a busy lifestyle who wants to wear pearls with jeans, tee-shirts and casual clothes. 

The Balance Collection is ten years old, and one of your house classics, what in your opinion is the core appeal of this longstanding favourite?

I believe it is the simplicity and pureness of the design where pearls are floating on a simple gold bar that captivates the eyes. It showcases the pearl in its true beauty. This simplicity is timeless and powerful. 

How do you keep Balance so fresh and relevant? 

When simplicity is the core, you can play with different codes around this major theme. If you take the recent evolution called the Balance Step, for example, the pearls are not on a single gold bar as we twisted the code and made it slightly more playful and whimsical than the original design. 

Do you have any preference for a particular size or colour of pearl for your designs?

When I first started this collaboration with Tasaki, it did not have much training in jewellery design so I spent time in Tokyo and in Kobe with the pearl technicians and they helped me to find the right pearls that would fit my design. They would select  a pearl and put it on my drawings so that it matched the sketches. In a way, my lack of experience in the jewellery field helped to prevent too much technicality interfering with my design. And I prefer to keep it that way today even if I have acquired quite a lot of knowledge. For example, even if I know that a size 6 or a size 8 are the most wearable pearls, I prefer to concentrate on the look of my creations rather than on the sizes of the pearls. And for the colours, I really love the off-white but it really depends on the design as sometimes a darker hue works best.

Balance Ring from Tasaki
A classic design from the Japanese jewellery house Tasaki takes a turn to a darker place with a version of the Balance Ring with greyish South Sea pearls.

What about the role of craftsmanship in the creation process?

Craftsmanship is extremely important and is one of the key factor of the brand's  success. We would not be as successful as we are without the technicians. They have been with the house for a long  time, more than 30 years for some of them. Jewellery design is very precise especially when you are working with something as natural as a pearl but this precision applies also when Tasaki cuts diamonds in-house. Tasaki excel at precision and technicality which is why the products look effortless. 

Tell me about the design process behind the new Step line. 

I like to rebel as I think it brings new ideas. I challenge myself  to break my own rules when I design jewels or fashion as it creates a sense of fun and of newness. That was the starting point for the Step line, to mess up the straight line of the original design. 

And you also have brought new forms to Balance with the Loop, Divine and Neo. How did you come up with these variations on the classic?

When I design something, I never look at it thinking twenty years down the line. I look at the immediacy but in the context of what I perceive as classic and timeless. The Balance came to life as it was so simple and so modern but at the same time it was timeless. If you concentrate on that idea and that energy, you can really evolve the original concept and make it drift to new iterations and I believe there is still a lot to mine from it. 

Is there an overlap between your creative approach as a fashion designer and a jewellery designer?

As a creative person I think in term of creations all the time and this energy can be applied to anything from fashion to jewellery to interior to florals... All is about aesthetics. I take learnings from jewellery design back to fashion and vice versa so they help each other. 

What for you is the key feature of a successful jewel?

I think a successful jewel is about the joy of wearing it every day. It is the most important thing for me. In the history of fine jewellery, women have cherished  their jewels as an heirloom for the next generation but don't wear them that often. For me, a jewel is a success if you can wear it every day in different circumstances from a cocktail party, a dinner or a gala but also during the day and the week-end. 

What makes a design, be it fashion or jewels, avant-garde?

Avant-garde to me is sense of rebelliousness. It is taking the balance out of something and twisting it like the approach of the Step line. I have done other collections for Tasaki one being called the Rebellion line which could be seen as avant-garde. I have done a stud, for example, where I have hidden the diamond at the back of the lobe when traditionally this precious stone is in full view. 

Tasaki Balance Akoya pearl and gold necklace
Seemingly simple, Tasaki’s Balance necklace relies on excellent standards of craftsmanship to achieve this clean and contemporary look.

How do you find inner balance in your life?

I am a Libra and balance is a key element of my personality. If I am putting a lot of energy into a certain idea for a period of time, I need to go to the opposite side for the following project. I take great pleasure in work and I fully embrace the creative process during the week but  I enjoy shifting to inspiration mode during the week-end so that I can relax and take the stress out. 

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