After seasons of hefty wood bangles, feathered earrings and blinged-out bib necklaces, statement jewelry is taking a more delicate turn. A handful of designers are dabbling in the nostalgic medium of porcelain—but to a darker, more witty effect than the demure pieces of yesteryear.
“Porcelain adds an heirloom quality. It’s hard to look at it and not reference dolls or an old sink, which are both very nostalgic,” notes Dana Lorenz of Fenton, who incorporated hand-painted vintage porcelain beads into her current collection. “One of our inspirations was an early ’90s Beverly Hills 90210 girl mixing pop with Liberty floral and broken down bleached denim. Porcelain adds to that idea of the innocent girl getting into trouble.”
Artist Megan Marrin also uses found porcelain in her jewelry line, M. Graves—but instead of sweet floral motifs, she opts for disembodied doll parts scavenged from a former factory in Germany. “The heart of my line is re-using existing components to make something new, and at the same time retaining a sense of some sort of darkened past,” she explains. “I think porcelain chose me, instead of seeking it out as a material to use. But after using it, I have fallen in love with its smooth, almost innocent quality.”
Other designers have taken the art of porcelain making into their own hands, using the age-old technique to create new pieces with a modern appeal. “I was introduced to porcelain back when I was at Parsons, and the more I worked with it I just could not put it down,” says Lorena Barrezueta, another artist who launched a jewelry line called Listen Lady. “The delicate combination of its strong, unchanging characteristics and its unexpected contradictions keeps me challenged,” she adds. Barrezueta’s signature pieces are oversized pendants bearing sign language symbols, inspired by an ASL card the designer found on the subway. Comfort Station designer Amy Anderson has also recently added porcelain to her handmade jewelry mix, juxtaposing pristine white porcelain silhouettes with decadent onyx beads, Swarovski crystal pearls, gold and silver.
While porcelain is undeniably beautiful, there’s also something to be said for its permanence in the face of a dizzying trend cycle. “The idea that porcelain is fragile also appeals to me, because I think jewelry is inherently precious and should be looked after and cared for,” notes Graves—a lesson that those of us in the fast fashion generation could definitely stand to learn.