Shinji Nakaba entered jewelry along a circuitous path. Born in Kanagawa, Japan in 1950, he was first a fashion designer and dressmaker, hairstylist, shoemaker, and graphic designer. He began making jewelry in 1974, after taking a basic course at Hiko Mizuno College of Jewelry in Tokyo.
Nakaba believes all materials to be of equal value for jewelry-making, and treats them with the same reverence, whether precious metals and gemstones or discarded aluminum beer cans and plastic water bottles. The bulk of his practice, however, centers on glyptic art, a sculpting technique specific to jewelry. Nakaba carves gemstones, seashells, and pearls using this ancient process. Nonetheless, his necklaces, brooches, and rings look anything but traditional, even though the realistic images are rendered with utmost precision. Visages emerge at precipitous angles, tensely engaged with other faces or figures; lone female breasts or male genitalia are located front and center; pearls are transformed into eerie skulls or disembodied heads.
Throughout his lengthy career, Nakaba has been the subject of numerous solo exhibitions and been included in many group shows in Japan, the USA, the UK, France, Switzerland, Argentina, and Mexico. In 2020, he was selected for Schmuck in Munich. His work is represented in several public collections. Among them are the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston; Montreal Museum of Fine Arts, Quebec; Espace Solidor, Cagnes-sur-Mer, France, National Museum of Western Art, Tokyo; and Die Neue Sammlung, Munich.