Talented designers live with a burden. They’re surrounded by objects that they believe they can design better, make more beautiful or push the limits of production potential. With the help of SolidScape, a Stratasys company, that’s how noted architect Jenny Wu found herself creating a jewelry line called LACE.
DIY haute couture?
She explained recently by phone, “I didn’t set out to do jewelry, but as a designer, I wanted some jewelry that works with my own fashion sense. So I decided to design some pieces for myself. And when it came down to producing them, I asked, why not use 3D printing?” As an architect, she’d been exposed to 3D printing for more than a decade. At a minimum, she hoped to create some prototypes to see how they look and fit.
So how’d she make the leap from prototyping to producing? She wore some of the pieces out in public. Well, not just anywhere, but to events like Art Basel Miami where the discerning eyes of attendees saw something special.
I was overwhelmed by people asking where I got this or how I made that piece, and that’s when I thought, maybe there is something in this that I should pursue.
The delicate line between avant-garde and approachable
That was three years ago and she’s still driven by what she sees as a void in the industry.
“I want to create unique, timeless jewelry that is not just another version of a trendy piece but something that is true to my own design aesthetics and architectural background. There is a delicate line between avant-garde and approachable and that balance is something I was striving to achieve when designing pieces with 3D printing technology in mind. There are currently many cool 3D printed pieces out there that are not really wearable, due to their material limitations or fit with the body. I considered all of those issues when designing my collection.”
In addition to the tactile qualities, Jenny’s work is shaped by her architectural design strategy of ensuring that static pieces or structures have the potential for motion.
I don’t want to design one-liners, I want people to take in the design from multiple angles, and for those angles to offer something unique. I want people to understand the larger form from afar, and the details up close.
Take for instance her Flora bracelet – each petal’s edge is chamfered to scatter light.
Viewed from the front, you understand the overall geometry, but from the side, you start to see implied movement. I love that different angles bring new perspective to the piece.
Nearly impossible without 3D Printing
The world of 3D printing has unlocked the imaginations of engineers, designers and artists. What it’s also done for jewelry designer like Jenny is facilitate production.
“If I were to make a necklace through traditional jewelry fabrication methods, I’d have to make each module individually and assemble them together to make the larger piece. In 3D printing, we can build print the entire interlocking necklace in one print and built into the design, subtleties that aren’t feasible otherwise. For instance, on the Tangens necklace, none of the modules are the same size. This would be difficult to create through traditional methods, because of the associated labor and cost.”
Jenny’s work offers a few different finishes, to allow clients to capture a special look. Some pieces are left in a natural state, where you can see the built up layers of material, while others are polished via sandblasting or laser sintering in the case of jewelry made of nylon. For metals, Jenny works with binder jet technology where bronze infiltrates the pores of the metal structure to be melted in a furnace, and smoothed and polished by a machine.
What’s next? More precious metals
Jenny’s jewelry journey has come a long way in a short amount of time.
“In the last 3 years since we have been working on our collection, the cost of 3D printing has become much more reasonable to produce decorative pieces. Now we’re phasing out of the plastic materials to work with more metals, stainless steel, pure stainless steel, and interlocking pieces in metal. We’re also interested in direct printing in precious metals. But that process is not yet ready at a commercial level, these machines have to be completely airtight so that you don’t lose any precious metal powder through the printing process.” Because they don’t call them precious metals for nothing.
An indelible mark
Jenny set out to create personal jewelry that captured her unique design aesthetic. In the process, she captured the attention of the fashion, entertainment and tech worlds as well. Her pieces have been worn recently by Carrie Underwood, Christina Aguilera, Meghan Fox and many other celebrities. And Jenny has appeared in Forbes, Elle and Dwell magazines, as well as in online publications 3Dprinterworld.com and PSFK, to name a few.
Even so, her work remains accessible and available to anyone seeking comfortable, intricately detailed jewelry with a modern, yet approachable, aesthetic.
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