Mokume-gane jewelry is equal parts eye-catching and uncommon. This rare metalworking technique, which translates to “wood grain metal,” was developed in Japan more than three centuries ago to decorate swords. Though it was nearly lost to history, there are still a small number of living mokume masters– and one of those masters is located right here in Bellingham. 

James Binnion crafts wedding rings and other jewelry with the mokume-gane technique. His creations are renowned for their distinctive wood grain pattern, which is achieved through fusing and manipulating several layers of precious metals. Each ring is custom created and designed to last a lifetime or more. 

Mokume-gane was revived and brought to the U.S. in the latter half of the 20th century, and Binnion adapted the technique in the 1980s after coming across it in academic papers. He continued to refine his process for years, but business truly took off in the late 1990s.  

In the early days of the internet, Binnion was working for a Silicon Valley company that administered domain names. This meant that he was able to establish mokume-gane.com as his personal website. Suddenly the work was available to an unlimited range of potential clients– and orders came in quickly. 

“Within six months, I was now working two jobs,” Binnion says. “Very rapidly, it became apparent that I needed to decide which job I was going to do.” 

Needless to say, Binnion chose metal arts. He relocated to Bellingham 20 years ago and continues to create custom jewelry alongside bench jeweler David Blowes. Binnion’s wife, Terry, also runs the business side of the operation.  

Binnion’s specialization has awarded him opportunities that range from awards to speaking engagements and even an appearance on a Japanese reality show. Though roughly half of sales come from international retail stores, many clients contact him directly. He invites local customers to consult with him face-to-face in his studio. 

“We are a little different than a lot of people who do business on the internet,” Binnion says. “We’re really focused on trying to develop a relationship.” 

Most rings are custom-made, and clients can select everything from the metal combinations to the stone. As a result of this policy, Binnion is often presented with projects that are highly personal.  

In a recent example, a man requested that his late father’s silver coin collection be worked into a ring. 

“We made what we call a liner. It’s like a sleeve on the inside of the ring,” Binnion explains. “Now he’s got this ring that he really likes the design of, and it’s got this liner on the inside of it. That’s this coin that came from his father.” 

In addition to his ongoing research and experimentation, Binnion says it’s projects like these that keep him inspired. 

“That’s kind of what keeps me going– the challenges that my customers bring to me,” Binnion says. “Trying to take their ideas and work with them [to] create something that’s meaningful for them.” 

More information about Binnion, his work, and the mokume-gane technique are available on his website. Bellingham, mokume-gane.com