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Japanese Kintsugi Repairs

Kintsugi is a traditional Japanese ceramic restoration technique. Rather than try to hide all traces of damage, a kintsugi repair lines the breaks of repaired pottery with 24K gold. The message is clear: imperfections, scars, and evidence of healing are to be valued and treasured as indispensable parts of beauty.

A strong tradition of finding beauty in imperfections is reflected in Japanese philosophy.  Wabi sabi is the  

Broken slab-formed bowl

idea that true value is to be found in the imperfect, impermanent, and incomplete things in our lives. Probably originating in the 15h century, and frequently associated with the Japanese tea ceremony, kintsugi is a technique that can continue to welcome wabi sabi into our modern perspective when it is responsibly and thoughtfully carried into contemporary restoration work.  

Slab-formed bowl repaired with kintsugi, two views

A traditional kintsugi repair relies on urushi lacquer as an adhesive.  Urushi is the sticky sap drawn from the urushi tree, which is related to poison ivy.  Urushi is organic and highly toxic, so modern adhesives are now frequently used in its place.  Typically, optical grade thermosetting resin is used as a bonding adhesive, and chips are filled with a similar but thicker putty, then burnished smooth with the surrounding ceramic.  A good kintsugi repair relies on an excellent underlying repair.

Stoneware vase repaired with kintsugi, two views

When the repair is complete and the pieces have been well-bonded, the break lines are carefully overpainted with a glaze made of thickened sizing,  then powdered gold is sprinkled on the painted lines.  After the sizing dries completely, the excess gold is brushed away. 


There are many options to consider when choosing this type of treatment. Powdered silver and other metal colors can be used as well as gold, and less expensive gold-colored powders can look almost as good as 24K gold while dramatically reducing the price.  And because the powder method produces some waste, it can be more affordable to use 24K gold leaf, which is a thinner layer and so is more delicate, but offers the warm shine of real gold without using as much metal. 

Stoneware vase repaired with kintsugi

If a break is stable, other creative options sometimes present themselves.  Chips can be lined with gold, stable firing cracks can be subtly treated with a flash of gold, and entire missing pieces can even be created and colored gold. Every piece is different, and will yield different opportunities and results.  

Kintsugi is not for everyone, and not for every object.  But occasionally, it offers a perfect solution to a damaged object while reflecting a collector's philosophy. 

The inside edges of a stable firing crack in the pedestal of this bowl were lined with 24K gold. 

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