Consider Wwake, and also you consider opals. They’re often rendered in teeny-tiny, constellation-like earrings, rings, and chain necklaces; when Wing Yau launched the road 5 years in the past, she set the development for dreamy, delicate opal jewellery. Actually, you’ll be able to’t actually name it a development anymore; opals are nonetheless Wwake’s bread and butter, and dozens of different manufacturers have embraced the stone of their work (or simply copied her designs). However Wwake’s iridescent items hit a particular candy spot: They’re distinctive, a little bit arty, and are sometimes priced underneath $500, making them irresistible to the millennial shopper.
Yau switched gears in a giant method two years in the past—however her buyer may not have observed. As a educated sculptor, she’s at all times approached her work with a reverence for supplies, however craved a deeper understanding of the place they have been coming from and—extra importantly—who was liable for unearthing them. “I was trained to believe in the simplicity and magic behind the materials and letting them speak for themselves,” she tells Vogue. “But if I’m talking about the inherent value of our [stones and gold], shouldn’t I know where they’ve actually been?” That led Yau to basically overhaul her manufacturing mannequin and develop new, sustainable sourcing strategies and a a lot tighter provide chain. “We switched our sourcing so we were only working directly with the miners, or with friends who are activists in the colored-gemstone industry,” she defined. “[The problem is that] there aren’t a lot of standards in gemstones. It’s super old-school. The industry is so big that the provenance of the gemstones becomes invisible, because they pass through so many hands. But that can’t survive in this new generation—we’re all looking for more information. People are really asking, ‘Who mined this stone?’ ”
She started to reply that query on a latest journey to Colombia, the place she met the women and men who work in a small, fair-trade gold mine she companions with. Yau photographed a number of of them holding or sporting her jewellery, and famous that the ladies have been significantly touched by the gorgeous, fragile outcomes of their onerous work. As a licensed fair-trade mine, their working circumstances—and the standard of their work basically—exceed that of many uncertified mines and factories, the place employees is likely to be susceptible to silicosis (a lung illness ensuing from inhaling mud in areas with out correct air flow). Gem stones from unreliable sources will be compromised, too; they’re usually spliced with glass or heated to change their coloration. “For me, it comes down to the magic of the stone—and if half of it is synthetic, it loses that integrity.”
With all of that in thoughts, Yau has radically modified the best way she designs her collections. “We design around the colors of the stones the mines give us,” she explains. “It’s the opposite of saying, ‘I want my collection to include these colors,’ and going to search for stones in those specific shades. That’s really not sustainable in the long run—only 3 percent of the material we unearth is precious gemstone material, and the quality you’re looking for within that 3 percent [for jewelry] is so much less. So it’s made me more conscientious about how we design. We have more limited options, but it becomes a lot more personal, because it connects you directly to the hands of the people who mined that stone. There’s something superluxurious about only a few people touching our jewelry.”
Prime instance of which can be the brand new Wwake Tonal and Wwake Blush collections, which incorporate high-quality, fair-trade blue and pink sapphires from a mine in Malawi, Africa. The stones appear like watercolors, and even higher, the mine is the realm’s major supply of revenue, and its success has introduced recent water, a well being heart, and new instructional alternatives to the native Malawi villages.
In the event you’re questioning about these fiery opals, they’re not “conflict stones” like sapphires and rubies, so there’s much less debate surrounding them. Yau works with a person in Australia who mines the tough opal himself—it is available in massive chunks, usually with only a trace of iridescence—and defined how a lot work goes into slicing it into the tiny, shimmering items you see in her jewellery. Her new mission is to repurpose the opal materials she doesn’t use, as a result of a lot of it’s the fallacious coloration, form, or end. To start out, she’s making jewellery shows with the large slabs and is utilizing shards of opals to make artwork objects. “What I really want to do is create a mineral shop where we can sell the rough opal next to the jewelry, to give people that connection to the earth and the story we’re trying to tell,” she says. “It’s really meant to be intimate.”
Right here, Yau shared a number of images from her journey to Colombia. You’ll be able to store her present number of items (guilt-free!) at wwake.com.