A gifted designer is almost always a gifted designer no matter the materials, processes, venue or the end “product.” Sophia Hu is a perfect example of this. She has brought her knowledge, skills and experience in designing buildings and creating interiors to the jewelry world with breath-taking results. It is no surprise that this elegant and extraordinary jewelry collection, inspired by the ancient art of origami, was honored as the Best of the Show winner in the 2018 Saul Bell Design Award competition. The Call for Entries for the 2019 Saul Bell Design Award has just opened, and Sophia sat down to share a bit about her thought process as she designed her Best of Show winning collection.
Sophia Hu: My thoughts about designing fall into three areas:
At the beginning of my jewelry career, I constantly had a debate over whether to call myself a jewelry artist or a jewelry designer. In my architecture practice, which spanned over 15 years, I had both an architect’s and an interior designer’s license. I was definitely an architecture designer whose ultimate goal was to creatively serve my clients’ needs. So I feel more comfortable thinking of myself as a jewelry designer, since my jewelry creations also aim to serve my ideal customers’ needs. After clarifying this, my design approach and direction become more focused.
During my first three years in jewelry design, as a newcomer, I struggled with how to define my own style in this already crowded jewelry world. Whether you think of yourself as a jewelry designer or jewelry artist, I’m sure we are all very creative people or we would not choose this career. I have so many ideas and have tried so many techniques. One month I worked on one idea, the next two months I was attracted by another exciting thought. You can see from some of my early sketches how varied my inspirations are. It wasn’t until the fourth year, when I developed a collection, that I discovered my voice by going further and deeper into a concept and cultivating this concept from different angles and layers. In this process, not only did I discover something new that I never thought of before, but also my style was more mature, my voice was stronger.
When I look back to see how my Window with a View collection was shaped, I think the experience and knowledge from my architecture practice played an integral and important role.
Architecture design normally starts from a master plan—identify the main structure and its relationship with other buildings, landscape, traffic patterns, etc. This whole master plan acts as a design guideline for all the individual structures on the site. When we design a jewelry collection, we also need to have a guideline in mind that helps to identify focal pieces and composition, scale, proportion and relationship in the collection.
In architecture design, after a master plan is nailed down, each individual structure’s design starts, including the interiors. The success of the overall design is decided by not only by the relationship among all elements on the site, but also by the success of each individual structure. The same principal can be applied in jewelry collection design as well. I see some jewelry collections that only use one common design element, simply make it bigger for a pendant, smaller for ring or earrings, or connecting a few together for bracelet. There are too many repetitions, the formula is like 1+1+1. In my mind the more interesting formula would be like 1+2x3+4/2.
I believe good collection design needs to have depth and layers. Not only does the whole collection convey a strong image/message, so does each individual piece. When the person is holding a piece in their hands, looking at it from different angles, there’s always a surprise, a new discovery. You can also look at the structure of a jewelry collection as a family tree. Each member shares the same genes/DNA. They may look similar in some ways, like the same hair color, same skin tones. At the same time, each member has their own personality, taste, ideology, experience in life. It’s a vivid living family tree. This living structure is the most ideal structure that a good collection should have since it has a life—it can grow.
Looking at the 20 pieces in this Best of the Show collection, I can’t forget the other 50-plus pieces that were eliminated and replaced, I can’t forget the days and nights in the past three years that I’ve been working so hard on this collection. I can’t forget the frustrations over difficulties and joyfulness when problems were solved. I also can’t forget the encouragement from my loved ones and support from my clients.
I draw my inspirations from origami. My architecture design background provides me with confidence to play with volume and complicated geometry. The magic of origami moves from paper to metal in this collection. Through “folding,” these angled surfaces become not only geometrically beautiful but structurally sound. Vivid effects are achieved with hand-pierced perforations that allow light, shadow and reflection. Keum-boo applied gold adds the right touch of color.
My favorite piece in this collection is the large necklace. It’s actually the very first piece I finished in this collection. All the other designs are inspired from it. Believe it or not, reflecting my architect’s sense of scale, the original first necklace is about two times bigger. After more pieces were added into the collection, I adjusted the scale quite a bit to achieve a well-balanced collection.
I named it after my husband’s and my architectural firm. We often worked late into the night in our studio and our neighbors would joke that they saw two shadows in the window. So the architectural firm was named 2Shadows. When I named my jewelry studio, I simply added my lucky number, 6, to “shadows."
"Drawing from my architecture training and practice, I truly believe the logic of beauty is embedded in every form of art creations as the critical role of golden ratio in ancient Greek architecture. I envision my creative life as an everlasting journey in search of the golden ratio."
Six years ago, after I switched my career from architect to jewelry designer, from an established profession to a new, almost unknown world, there were several times I doubted my decision. My husband, Bin Yu’s, unconditional support has been my strong back up, which keeps me going through the toughest times. He told me once, “We only have one life to live, live the way with your passion. I’m certain, one day you’ll make me very proud!” When I hear something like this, I think I just don’t have any excuse to give up, right?
Award-winning artist, Sophia Hu only started making jewelry six years ago when she left a career as an architect to pursue a career as a jewelry designer. She was born and grew up in Beijing, China, studied and has been working in the United States since 1995 as an architect. This cross-cultural experience influences Sophia’s ideology and encourages her to see the world from different angles. Perhaps by fate, as she has moved away from architecture for a new career and advanced in her skills as a silversmith, more and more architectural features have appeared in her work. Sterling silver, gold, and other alternative materials are her new ‘building materials’ in these small-scale sculptures. Space, shadow and geometric aesthetics play important roles in her jewelry design. To her, jewelry design and making is an extension of herself and the world around her. Learn more about Sophia and her work by visiting her website, 6SHADOWS.net.
In 2017, she won second place in the Alternative Materials division of the Saul Bell Design Award. In 2018, she won the Best of Show award in the Saul Bell Design Award for her collection, Window with a View.
The Saul Bell Design Award competition is accepting submissions through Oct. 25, 2018. Just submit a drawing, rendering or photo of your jewelry or hollowware in your choice of nine categories.
Marlene Richey owned and ran an award-winning jewelry design firm with little prior business experience. During her 40 years in the jewelry world, Marlene has run a wholesale business and a retail gallery, participated in hundreds of craft and trade shows, and traveled across America selling jewelry to small galleries and major retail chains. She has served on the boards of SNAG, CJDG, Maine Craft Association, Metalwerx and WJA. Marlene consults with artists, teaches workshops and was a professor at the Fashion Institute of Technology and Maine College of Art. She writes articles for jewelry and craft publications and wrote an award-winning book, Profiting by Design.