Some four or five centuries ago in Japan, a lavish technique emerged for repairing broken ceramics, Kintsugi.
Artisans began using lacquer and gold pigment to put shattered vessels back together. This tradition, known as kintsugi, meaning “golden seams” (or kintsukuroi, “golden repair”), is still going strong and gaining a lot of attention in Europe and America.
In the past few years, kintsugi has spread outside of Japan, with people using the centuries-old technique to repair everything from cups to vases. In fact, you can go online and buy a kintsugi kit for $25.
When broken ceramics are repaired using kintsugi, the cracks are usually left exposed and highlighted with lacquer or gold. Unlike in traditional Western ceramics, where cracks are often filled with putty or paint to blend into the surface of a piece, kintsugi makes them stand out as part of the artistry. The result is sometimes referred to as “aesthetic damage”—like something that happened by mistake but actually adds character to an object.
The Japanese tradition is not just about appearance; it has philosophical underpinnings that emphasize imperfection and impermanence. “Kintsugi restores broken pottery with gold or silver in such a way that it highlights and celebrates the breakage rather than concealing it,” writes one kintsugi enthusiast “It is believed that this process allows us to see ourselves as being beautifully imperfect like our repaired ceramics.”
The story goes that Ashikaga Yoshimasa a shogun of the 15th century broke his favourite Chinese ceramic tea bowl. He sent it for repair and when it returned the broken pieces had been very roughly put back into place with staples. This inspired him to find a way to fix broken pottery in a beautiful way. Kintsugi was invented. Or so the legend goes.
Kintsugi embraces a number of long-held Japanese beliefs and transitions. Wabi sabi the appreciation of beauty in imperfection and Mottainai pronounced Moat Ty Nye which is the feeling of regret one has when something is wasted.
Traditionally urushi (Japanese lacquer) and rice flour were used to bind the ceramics together. Today, you can try the Kintsugi tradition with accessible materials or kits which can be bought online or in your local craft store.
Artists will take a broken ceramic and apply an epoxy resin or adhesive and mix it with liquid gold leaf or gold mica powder. This acts as a bond for the broken pieces to be reassembled. These cracks appear gold once dried. The ceramic is repaired and has a new beauty.
Artists can use a few different techniques within the process. From creating thin delicate lines and the Makienaoshi method which uses the epoxy to fill in where missing pieces may be, and finally some artists like to use Kintsugi to bring different ceramics together, known as jointing.
When using gold mica the artist will mix it with the resin before applying. If a gold leaf is used then the adhesive is used to bond the ceramic elements and the gold leaf is applied after.
Kintsugi is a centuries-old technique used to repair and restore broken ceramics into something beautiful, rather than conceal the damage. Rather than using plastic or other materials to patch chipped or cracked ceramic wares, Japanese artisans would instead use gold and lacquer to bind the pieces together, making the imperfections more obvious than before. The result is breathtaking, whimsical, and also incredibly durable. Kintsugi takes a slightly different approach than other traditional ceramic repair or restoration techniques because the primary goal wasn’t to hide the damages but rather to highlight them. The cracks are highlighted with a piece of gold, giving the object a beautiful new look.