Higo-zogan, or Higo inlay metalwork, is a traditional craft in which gold and silver leaf are used to inlay intricate designs onto an iron base. The production of this craft started with inlay designs being used to decorate gun barrels and sword guards 400 years ago in the early Edo Period. Higo metalworking was renowned across Japan for its high quality throughout the Edo Period.
Currently, Higo-zogan techniques are used to inlay gold and silver designs on a black iron base to make pens, jewelry, and other accessories that emanate a deep sense of elegance and refinement.
Higo-Zogan Production Step-by-Step
1. A design is sketched onto the iron base in ink.
2. A chisel is used to finely carve into the iron base in preparation for inlaying the gold and silver.
3. Carved areas are given texture by being carved in four directions – vertically, horizontally, and diagonally.
4. Gold and silver are set into the carved areas using a deer antler. Any carved areas leftover outside of the design are rubbed out and erased.
5. The gold and silver surfaces are pounded with a small metal hammer.
6. A design is engraved into the gold and silver.
7. A corrosive liquid is applied, causing the iron not covered with gold and silver to rust.
The iron base is submerged in a tea solution for 30 minutes. Although the gold and silver design remains unharmed, the tannic acid within the tea reacts with the rusted portion of the iron base to form a film of black iron rust on its surface. This prevents the oxidation of the iron.