Polly Wales creates ethereal rings that balance ruggedness and elegance. Wales marries diamonds, sapphires, and rubies with 18kt gold and the result is timeless.
I chat with the British designer, who works in a converted, 400-year old barn in the Cotswolds, England, about her innovative technique and the evolution of her brand.
Rebecca Mir Grady: I first saw your cast in place crystal rings and necklaces a few years back - they’re gorgeous! They remind me of treasures that have long been at the bottom of the sea. When did you first start casting with stones? How did you first start making these pieces?
Polly Wales: Thank you. I started exploring the cast-in-place process during for a research project I was working on while at the Royal College of Art. I loved the random and unpredictable nature of working with stones in that way; I can never be sure how any piece will turn out, but that’s what lends each piece its own individual character.
Compared to the perfect symmetry, crispness and pristine-ness of jewellery made more traditionally, I knew I wanted to make jewellery that felt warmer and more wearable. I’ve continued to explore and develop this process ever since.
RMG: Where does the inspiration for you designs come from? Do you begin with the stones, or the idea first?
PW: The aesthetic of my work is very much dictated by the techniques that I use to make it. Many days I have little idea of what I am going to make until I sit down at my bench. I enjoy working with and playing with color so it’s probably fair to say that many of my pieces have come about as a result of having found unusual colored stones that I want to work into something.
I’m also inspired by seeing how women wear and live in my jewellery - how it changes with them as they wear it and live in it. I’m proud to make fine jewellery that can be lived in and worn everyday—and looks better for it—rather than jewellery that demands to be kept and preserved like a museum exhibit.RMG: Does your background in sculpture inform your jewelry making techniques and design process?
PW: Undoubtedly my grounding in sculpture encouraged me to explore more unorthodox ways of working with my raw materials and led me to experiment with casting metals and stones together…but I never got on entirely with sculpture or the world of fine art because it felt too intellectualized and too far removed from the joy of making for making’s sake.
When I started my jewellery course, I loved being able to indulge in making things from a more aesthetic perspective as well as a concept-driven one. I was interested in making pieces that would evolve and change over time, and its that thinking that eventually provoked my methodology, although its now my methodology that seems to be the guiding force behind what I make.
RMG: When did you first launch your line? What lessons did you learn in the beginning? Do you have any advice for designers just starting out?
PW: I have been making and selling jewellery for years, but it wasn’t until I made the move into fine jewellery three to four years ago that it all started to come together. When I look back now at the pieces that I was making then, I can really see how far we’ve traveled - and that’s from doing things, taking risks, and making mistakes.
All of that is what has propelled me and the business forward. I wouldn’t have got nearly so far if I’d played it safe. Having said that I feel like I’m learning more now than ever!
RMG: You just moved into a new office and workshop this past year - can you tell me a bit about the new space?
PW: Yes, we made a big move earlier in the year from working out of a shoebox, where we were tripping over each other, to a beautiful space inside a converted 400-year old barn in the Cotswolds. It wasn’t without its hiccups but it’s a joy to work in and its changed our worlds - I’m glad we did it when we did because our team seems to keep on expanding.
RMG: What are you working on right now?
PW: At the moment we are primarily a ring business, so my big challenge at the moment is to expand my work to include a better selection of earrings, bracelets and necklaces - especially bracelets...
“R&Design" is a monthly interview series that features jewelry designer Rebecca Mir Grady, who launched a debut jewelry collection under her eponymous label in 2013, in conversation with new and established designers. The monthly column is a platform for the exchange of ideas, advice, and fashion-focused research and development strategies. This post first appeared at Past Fashion Future.