Have you ever discovered an artist whose work seems to slowly unfold to you, layer by layer? As you examine their creations, what first appears to be simplistic and uncomplicated becomes more intricate and purposed? I love discovering this type of artist and we have such in San Francisco-based Frances Chang, designer and creator of the WENWEN handmade jewelry collection.
On first glance, this geometric collection is minimalistic in its approach, the kind of jewelry that adds the right touch of understated elegance to your ensemble. However, the more you look, the more you see. Intricate overlays and laser engravings add a depth and texture to each piece, moving them beyond the mundane and into the realm of remarkable. It’s not over-designed, rather the WENWEN collection showcases an intelligent blend of detailing and restraint. The longer I lingered on this entire collection, the more I began to appreciate Frances’ patience and creativity.
Let’s get to know this talented maker and businesswoman in this Handmade Profile. It’s comprehensive and revealing. especially Frances’s thoughts about materials and social media. After you enjoy the interview, do the right thing and visit WENWEN for yourself.
What inspired you to begin your handmade jewelry collection?
10 years ago, I took up jewelry making as my elective class while at school studying advertising. My very first piece was selected for graduation show in sculpture department, and I made a promise to myself to continue pursuing jewelry making.
After graduation, I started my job as an art director in advertising, which left me very little time in the weekends. Also, I was mostly discouraged by the amount of tools needed to create when living in a small apartment. Fast forward 10 years, I was introduced the laser cutter, and other modern machines at TechShop, San Francisco. Years of playing with graphics and working on computer has gotten me immediately drawn to the clean die-cut, graphics-like quality of laser cutters.
It was also around the time when I started getting into a sustainable lifestyle. I couldn’t ignore the potential and possibilities of how these modern machines can replace the toxic fabrication process in traditional metalsmith, which hasn’t changed much over the last few thousands years. Natural hardwoods immediately became the choice of my primary material. More or so, I just love how graphics pattern transforms to intriguing engraved texture on the wood!
WENWEN designs is a San Francisco based jewelry design studio born out of the influence from graphic design and the love for pattern and texture. We create unique modern jewelry inspired by the classic jewelry designs using traditional artisan hand crafting process with the help of modern software and tools. Our mission is to create sustainable jewelry using all natural and sustainable materials sourced from Responsible Jewelry Council certified suppliers.
About The Collection – WENWEN
Describe your creative process. Where do you start?
Following the creative process I’m familiar for advertising, I start with picking out several concepts from my sketchbook, work on them simultaneously, and try to grow each concept into a collection. After a while, I’ll pick my favorite designs and keep the rest in my back pocket.
Because I have never been a good sketcher, and I find it difficult to sketch wearables on a piece of paper, when there’re correlations to body movements and proportions. So I would move very quickly into making rough mock ups, test drive them and get feedbacks from my friends. This process allows me to constantly go back to make changes until I’m absolutely happy with the designs.
What materials do you love to use?
Natural hardwood is currently my No.1 material as it is more sustainable. I mix in brass and gold-plated metals to add contrast to the wood texture, and elevates the overall character of the jewelry. Gold metals especially compliments hardwoods, since they all base off a harmonious yellow tone.
I make sure to source the all my metals from responsible Jewelry Council certified retailers, where more than 85% of the gold is recycled, and comes from American gold mines (practice clean and environmental friendly mining).
I am looking into using sterling silver and other precious metals using 3D printing technology in the near future. By utilizing modern tools and technology, I will be able to eliminate toxic and waste in the jewelry making process.
Every product has a story. Is there a story behind one of your pieces that stands out to you?
Instead of a certain piece, WENWEN designs’ current collection is an exploration of geometric shapes and pattern. All the pieces are composed from a family of geometric shapes – triangle, square, diamond, hexagon, arc, and sphere (beads). Some of these shapes were assigned with a related geometric engraving pattern, some just simply showcase the natural exotic wood grain.
I make chemical-free household cleaning and personal care products for myself, as I have a strong belief towards sustainable lifestyle, I applied the same belief to the my jewelry too, as it is such a personal and intimate accessory. The final wooden pieces are polished with all natural homemade beeswax polisher, which I shared the recipe on my blog.
Do you have a dream collaborator?
If we’re talking about “dream” collaborator here, I wish to work with multi-talented actress Blake Lively. She launched a new clothing line last year in collaboration with Amour Vert, a leader in the sustainable fashion moment brand based in San Francisco.
What are some of the challenges that you face as a maker?
There is never enough time in a day!
When I first started, I thought I’ll just be designing jewelry, making jewelry, selling jewelry and then make more- preferably in my pajamas. Now I barely have half of the time making the actual jewelry. There’s substantial amount of time and energy invested in the marketing and business side. I have to do everything and wear all the hats. It is especially tricky when a lot of those things are first time to me.
How do you use social media and blogging to promote your work?
Because Instagram is such a visual platform, I started using it to showcase my jewelry in a lookbook and lifestyle fashion. After a while I began to realize it’s really hard to attract attention based on the content alone. So I started to approach fashion influencers and have them dress up my product, post photos in their feed to increase visibility. Also, influencers are trusted for their opinions and they can add credibility to the products they promote.
Where do you see your handmade jewelry collection going?
I want WENWEN designs to be an icon of sustainable fashion, and I see myself getting hands-on in the making process for a long long time 🙂
What are you working on right now?
Many things. I’m trying to get my feet into local brick and mortar shops, be the developer of wenwendesigns.com, polish up on my photography skills, learn to be a market guru, etc. However – most importantly, I am starting to work on the next collection, because designing and making brings me the most happiness.