Oyler Wu Collaborative partner delves into jewelry design.
Oyler Wu Collaborative partner Jenny Wu had long dreamed of designing jewelry—just as soon as she found some spare time. Last fall, she realized that she might wait forever for a break from her busy architecture practice. “At some point I decided, ‘I’ll design some pieces, and the easiest way to make it happen is just to 3D print them,'” said Wu. She fabricated a couple of necklaces, and brought them on her just-for-fun trip to Art Basel Miami Beach 2013. “I wore my pieces around, and I was stunned by the response I was getting,” she recalled. “People kept coming up to me, literally every five seconds. After a while, I thought, ‘Maybe I do have something that’s unique, especially for a design crowd.'”
Back home in Los Angeles, Wu began prototyping necklaces and earrings for retail sale under the name LACE. Though she originally planned to use 3D printing only to mock up her designs, she decided carry the technology through to her finished pieces. “I’d like to do more high-end, low-run pieces,” said Wu. “Especially for jewelry, when you’re making custom pieces, people are willing to wait for them. It just made sense from the production point of view for me to use 3D printing.”
Wu’s next step was to design additional pieces and test materials. Typical 3D printing materials like nylon “might look great, but they’re extremely fragile and brittle,” explained Wu. “Especially resins—they don’t have the right tensile quality. Like if you’re wearing a necklace and someone hugs you too hard [it can break].” Wu’s current line includes necklaces in an elastic nylon material. She also offers earrings and rings in polished nylon that takes advantage of selective laser sintering (SLS) technology, plus a premium cast-metal series that utilizes 3D-printed wax molds.
Wu, who is collaborating with Stratasys on certain designs in addition to partnering with other professional 3D printing firms, aspires to use the technology as more than just a production expedient. “Pieces that push the technology are important,” she said. “There’s so much detail you can introduce in 3D printing, even in metals. You can create this nice edge detail—it’s something I notice, but it isn’t necessarily something you’d see in jewelry.” Nor is the speed with which she can materialize a concept typical by jewelry-world standards. “I can make these chain-link pieces as part of one print, because the support material is something like powder that you can basically wash off,” explained Wu. “That’s what’s amazing, where in the traditional jewelry-making process you’d have to make individual links that you’d eventually assemble.”
In a neat closing of the circle, LACE returned to Art Basel Miami Beach last week, this time in a pop-up shop at Aqua Art Miami. One year into her experiment, Wu is comfortable having one foot each in the worlds of jewelry and architecture. “If you look at the jewelry pieces, you see how they could relate to our architecture: our emphasis on line-based geometries, the interesting bundling and layering of material, and creating something very spatial, not graphic and flat,” she said. “I don’t see a separation between my architecture and my jewelry.” As for the day-to-day reality of spearheading two creative businesses at once, that seems to be working, too. LACE is in Wu’s name, but “the work’s happening simultaneously with all the same people,” she said. “While it may have its own identity, it’s very much part of our office in terms of production. We like how it keeps things fun.”