Making It ... Big

Making It ... Big


Braided yellow fringe recalls Native American beaded chest plates Lenon remembers from childhood.

Mark LaFavor

Five artists with a striking range of methods, materials and perspectives are all finding expressive possibilities in larger-than-life neckwear.

Q: What do a chemist, artist, art director, graphic designer and product designer have in common?

A: They're all jewelers. And it's a propitious time to be one. For whatever reason-the austere economy? Our dependence on impersonal technology? The deluge of information pouring into daily life?-people want to express themselves in a big way.

Literally: Look around, and you'll see manacle-like cuffs, rings the size of bouquets and, in particular, oversize necklaces.

As the Great Recession drags on (despite official pronouncements), you may not have the cash for a new car or health insurance. But you can probably afford this emphatic neckwear. The pieces by these inventive jewelers are not tiaras from Tiffany's. But you could argue they are richer in concept, larger than life and, because some use sustainable materials, healthier for the Earth.

Not least, they are labors of love rather than mere symbols of it.


Jointed Jewels
Alissia Melka-Teichroew

Cut emeralds, impossibly large diamonds, pearls of unusual size, chandelier-like Victorian pendants and tiered Bulgari-style chokers fill a vitrine still exhaling fine vestiges of the white nylon powder and pigments from which they are made.

Nylon? Powder? Pigments?

The Netherlands-born, Brooklyn-based Alissia Melka-Teichroew has taken advantage of Selective Laser Sintering technology-used in the auto industry and by architects and furniture and product designers-to create jewelry based
on the ball joint, a part typic-ally found in cars and hip replacements.

Ball joints are usually assembled from multiple components. But Melka-Teichroew, a product designer, employs SLS to make a movable ball-within-a-ball; she uses a high-power laser to fuse small particles of nylon powder into rings, bangles and, most dramatically, necklaces-Jointed Jewels.

The laser fuses select areas within layers of powdered nylon, leaving a blanket of powder around the object that must be tumbled out after the piece assumes its final form. The process allows the artist to create, (or "print," the SLS term of art) in three dimensions, fabricating beads with non-contiguous surfaces; for example, a sphere that rotates freely inside the semi-spherical joint around it.

The Jewels resemble pop beads that can't pop all the way out; the virtue is that the beads can be designed in a plethora of kinetic forms that allows even the most elaborately latticed or perforated pieces to drape naturally over the chest.

Trained at the Design Academy Eindhoven, Melka-Teich-roew plays not just with shape and scale but gradients of color: One strand, for example, is a Bubblicious spectrum of pinks. Her Jointed Jewels, inspired by but updating traditional designs, prove again that a rose is a rose is a rose-even in powdered nylon.


Unwearables & Readymades
Camilla Prasch

Camilla Prasch's necklace Kragenstück stands up from the neck, like a veil in reverse, woven from a nylon net so light that it can carry its own weight. The Danish designer makes jewelry, like Kragenstück or her cumbersome string of large wooden ink stamps, from found objects that "invade the body," forcing the wearer to move differently or be more aware of her physical self. The stamp necklace weighs more than 3 pounds, but is visually even heavier. "It is not," Prasch notes, "very practical."

She turns objects that are small in their original form-garment fasteners, price tags, fishing line-into large objects, at least compared to the human body. But it's not an exercise in scale: "It's more the desire to work at the edge of things, to stretch, press and challenge. ... I play with the idea of wearability and unwearability," she explains. "Where is the limit?"

Prasch repurposes ordinary materials that she finds in hardware stores, sewing shops, flea markets and secondhand stores, describing the results as readymades. Wear her collar of gloves as neckwear and slip your hands into a low-hanging pair, as pockets. Some materials have been used and retain the patina of their first life, but the snaps and tags, for instance, are new. "I chose those because they are materials we use all the time, that we are surrounded by, but that we don't see anymore."


Paper Maze
Francesca Vitali 

Italian-born, rochester, NY-based Francesca Vitali earned two degrees in chemistry and has been working as a researcher ever since. After taking a metalworking class in 2006 at the Penland School of Crafts, however, she began moonlighting as a jeweler-in paper. "Paper was at first a choice of convenience," she says. "It was the easiest raw material. But over time it has become my preferred media for completely different reasons." Vitali discovered that, despite its flimsy look, paper is durable and offers a wide range of color comparable only to polymer clay and enameling. Working with paper also allowed her to re-animate discarded material-pages from books, catalogs, newspapers, magazines, parts of shopping bags, museum newsletters, gift wrapping and,
recently, the Yellow Pages.

She also incorporates sterling silver, pearls, glass beads and steel cable with acrylic and a mixture of clear mica for a shimmering finish. For the Gold Keycooz necklace, she modified a weaving method based on the old "scoubidou" technique that kids use to make keychains from vinyl thread.

She has begun to create pieces that can be manipulated to reveal different colors on each side of the pendants, allowing the wearer to determine the final look of her neckpiece. She wove maps into three concentric movable circles to make Compass: "I'm always homesick for Italy," the artist admits, "so the maps and compass represented my nostalgia, the idea of looking for my way home." 


Fringe & Braids
Annie Lenon

"I've been making jewelry ever since I was a little kid," says graphic designer Annie Lenon, who grew up in Bozeman, MT, with a family cabin in the woods near the Canadian border and Glacier National Park. She and her brother loved playing with beads and stringing jewelry for their mother, constructing tiny wire cages to hold lichen, moss or anything she could find in the woods and hang as earrings or pendants. Much of her work has to do with her Montana roots: the shapes and colors of Native American culture, her memories of powwows and driving through reservations. "A few of the HUE pieces, specifically the fringe and the braids, feel like chest plates," she suggests. "They hang lower on the body, and the long rectangular shapes remind me of the leather and beaded chest plates I saw as a kid."

Lenon created her line of HUE jewelry for the 2009 "HUE Are You?" exhibition mounted by the American Design Club, a curatorial collective (which she helped found) that looks for emerging product designers in every corner of the United States. Lenon uses sterling silver chains and German silk thread for the colors. "I am now working on a collection of crocheted chains and I'm loving it," she admits. "The chains turn into these rope-like forms that look like salt formations."


Return to Me
Michele Outland

The DIY return to me necklace is a flat, asymmetrical gold or silver chest plate (or vastly oversized pendant, depending on how you see it) perforated with a dot matrix pattern. The necklace kit comes with three skeins of thread, instructions in plain language and an illustrated template on which to test potential stitches, using colored markers. The dot matrix pattern of the template lends itself nicely to a variety of formats, allowing the wearer to spell out words or design her own pattern. But to make the Return to Me necklace-and it must be made-she will need to learn a bit of rudimentary needlepoint.

New York-based art director Michele Outland was in London, writing her master's dissertation in communication design at Central Saint Martins College of Art & Design, when she created the Return to Me brand, her only jewelry design to date. The dissertation, about branding versus the individual in the late '90s and early '00s, explored a market saturated with big-name labels that are used as status symbols, with consumers dressing themselves in logos "rather than really saying anything about themselves as individuals," explains Outland. "Return to Me was designed in an attempt to let the individual ‘brand' herself and express her creativity."

Freelance arts writer Shonquis Moreno is based in Brooklyn, NY. Photography by Mark LaFavor, with producer Laura Bonicelli; stylist Alice Sydow, I've Got Your Style; model Jill Van Sickle; and Janell Geason, hair & makeup.