Wwake designer Wing Yau collaborated with friend and artist Colin Lynch on a limited-edition series of glass vials containing opal castoffs.
New York—In addition to the inherent challenges that come with being an artist running a small business, Wwake designer Wing Yau has tasked herself with a greater goal: making her line as traceable and eco-friendly as possible.

Ethical sourcing is a process—and Yau is knee-deep in it—but she’s found one creative means of limiting her business’s footprint.

Launched last week in collaboration with glassblower and jeweler Colin Lynch, whom she met while studying at the esteemed Rhode Island School of Design, Wwake’s “Art Objects” are a limited-edition collection of glass vials based on Greek Hellenistic artifacts filled with the opals that couldn’t be incorporated into Wwake jewelry.

“When you make jewelry, there’s such a strong focus on the most rare, beautiful material,” Yau explained. “But when you trace your materials from the mine to the cutting process and then to the jewelry, you see exactly how much precious material doesn’t actually make the cut; it becomes waste. As such, jewelry can be expected to represent our most perfect selves and not the whole of what we do.

“For me, the process and the imperfections are beautiful too—they show intention—and this is so much of what Colin and I do as designers. Our vials are intended to highlight the beauty of our ‘imperfect’ opals in timeless artifacts.”

Yau studied sculpture at RISD, and while she also produces larger-scale jewelry under the moniker Closer by Wwake, her delicate 14-karat gold and opal earrings and rings are what really caught the attention of stores, editors and consumers.

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Opals are now synonymous with the brand and have become even more meaningful to Yau as she educates herself on their provenance and becomes more involved in their sourcing from mines like Coober Pedy, Lightning Ridge and Mintabie.

“I told (Lynch) how much our opals mean to me, being that we’ve started to work directly with our miner and cut our stones custom for Wwake jewelry, so we bring the material to life from start to finish,” Yau said. “Opals really hold a sense of place for me. So, naturally, we began collaborating on making vials that captured this emotional quality behind our materials.”

Lynch has his own line of jewelry called Keane, comprised of glass vial necklaces containing sand from different beaches around the world.

Riffing off of that concept, the Wwake Art Objects function as a sort of altar to the opal itself—the combination of rough and cut stones is preserved in the vials the way a painting might be protected by a frame or behind glass.

“The vials’ shapes are modeled after Greek Hellenistic artifacts,” Yau said. “It’s a nod to items that hold value for the history of mankind, because they’re rich with clues about how and why people made things. I hope that our customers feel this way about our opals too.”

Yau, who took home a CFDA + Lexus Fashion Initiative Micro Award for her dedication to developing a fully traceable jewelry line, said that working in a category outside of jewelry felt “like coming home.”

The Art Objects are available at The Primary Essentials and on wwake.com. The limited-edition group of 75, all of which are handmade and one-of-a-kind, is priced at $180 to $300.

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