The beauty of Edo kiriko: Glassware made with traditional engraving sparkles

They look more like jewels than drinking glasses.

Made in Tokyo using a traditional engraving technique, Edo kiriko items are beautifully transparent and feature elaborate patterns in bright colors.

A cold beverage poured into an Edo kiriko glass makes for a perfect summer treat - cooling you through the eyes as well as the mouth, thanks to the sparkle produced by the elaborate patterns.

The tradition of Edo kiriko - which means "cut glass of Edo" (now Tokyo) - is said to date back to the latter half of the Edo period (1603-1867), when a glass manufacturer and retailer in the Nihonbashi district started to carve items using hard emery powder.

The art was developed further during the Meiji era (1868-1912) by incorporating European glass-cutting techniques.

Edo kiriko works are still produced today, mainly in old-fashioned shitamachi areas of Tokyo.

In 2002, the technique was designated as a traditional craft by the central government.

"Edo kiriko craftspeople put their soul into each and every piece they produce," said Toshio Takizawa, who heads Takizawa Glass Crafts, Ltd. in Koto Ward.

In a showcase at his home, which adjoins his workshop, glass products with impressive engraved traditional patterns in navy blue, crimson, green and many other colors are displayed - from guinomi small sake cups to tumblers and wine glasses.

Edo kiriko pieces were originally made with transparent, colorless glass.

Since the Taisho era (1912-26), the popular approach has been to overlay the clear glass with coloured glass.

Currently, the industry produces pieces made from either soda-lime glass, which is light and sturdy, or crystal glass, which has better transparency and refraction.

Takizawa usually uses crystal.

Takizawa's workshop has grinding wheels with diamond particles to carve the patterns.

They are rotated by motor and wet with water as they engrave the glass. After several stages, beautifully delicate patterns start to appear on the surface.

There are about a dozen major traditional patterns treasured by Edo kiriko practitioners, such as kikutsunagi-mon, which is inspired by chrysanthemums; kagome-mon, which resembles stitches on a bamboo basket; and nanako-mon, which resembles fish scales.

Takizawa has several hundred diamond wheels in his workshop.

He chooses the most appropriate one depending on the pattern and depth required.

"I rely on the experience I've collected over the years as well as my intuition," the artisan said.

Takizawa's pieces are sold at the workshop, his online store and at some major department stores, with prices starting at ¥18,000 (S$222) for a small sake cup and ¥25,000 for a tumbler. They are often purchased as gifts for retiring bosses or for parents in celebration of their longevity, Takizawa said.

Edo kiriko glassware's profile is rising thanks to increased promotion by the Tokyo metropolitan government.

Takizawa has also been expanding his activities, such as engraving patterns on a glass chandelier for a newly opened hotel.

"I hope people enjoy the beautiful patterns and the sparkles, which change depending on the reflecting light," Takizawa said.

Takizawa's workshop also produces pendants and other accessories using the Edo kiriko technique.

"No product is the same because we cut the glass into small pieces and carefully assess each of them before deciding on the design," he said.

Each piece is given a traditional pattern, such as a round pendant engraved in the shape of a single chrysanthemum flower, a design called kikka-mon.

Pendants sell for about ¥8,000 to ¥15,000 each.