1st Place - Jewelry Collection Couture/FINE
Sophia Hu is an architectural designer and jewelry artist. She was born and raised in Beijing, studied architecture at Texas Tech and has been working in the United States as an architect since 1995. Although she has transitioned from architecture to silversmithing, architectural motifs continue to appear in her work. Sterling silver, gold and other natural materials are her new "building supplies" in her small-scale sculptures. To her, jewelry design and making is an extension of herself and the world around her. Space, shadow and geometry play important roles in her aesthetic and jewelry design. Each piece is hand crafted in her studio, 6shadows, in Las Vegas, Nevada.
How did you come up with the title for this collection?
Helices are three-dimensional spiral curves, and to me, the most fascinating structures in mathematics. Helices are also important in biology, as the DNA molecule is formed by two intertwined helices, and many proteins have helical substructures. Through exploring mysterious helical structures, the Helices collection is trying to inspire people’s curiosity about the connection between the physical and spiritual worlds.
What did you learn from making the collection?
I believe a good collection needs to have depths and layers. The collection as a whole should convey a strong image or message, and so should each individual piece.
What obstacles did you have to overcome in making this collection?
Working with mixed metals in the same piece was challenging; their melting points are different so you need to be careful. Another challenge was making the design feel not so rigid but more organic as DNA structures are in the natural world. After some experiments, hinge connections were employed to make the designs more flexible and to move more organically.
Does this collection reflect your “brand”?
I design with this in mind: (1) Confidence: I design for those with the confidence to show their differences to the world; (2) Sophistication: my design has depths and layers in order to display good taste and wisdom; (3) Strength: individual elements in my design are not rigid, but when they connect with each other in a special way, they become a strong structure.
What did you feel when you heard?
I was very nervous even though this is my third time winning, and very excited. I can’t believe this is real.
Have you won other awards?
2018 Saul Bell Design Competition, Best of Show; 2017 Saul Bell Design Competition, Second Place, Alternative Material category; and 2017 Saul Bell Design Competition, Silver category finalist. Applying for the SBDA is like a habit to me. It is a challenge to myself every year.
Describe yourself in five words?
Independent, creative, persistent, confident and grateful.
What was the first thing you ever made?
I made a tiny jewelry set for my doll and dressed it up as I dreamed I would dress up myself someday.
What or who do you think has been the strongest influence or inspiration on your work?
I think the culture and history of Asia has given depths and layers to my designs. My background offers me a broader understanding of different cultures. Last summer my husband and I went to Italy, Germany and Switzerland for a month. I was really surprised at how this broadened my understanding of culture and history. People tend to come up with a common cultural language. Even if there are differences, there are also a lot of similarities.
In my mind designers in this fast-growing, global society need to be more open to other cultures and traditions. For example, I’m very interested in how western designers interpret Chinese symbols and images. I’m always delighted by fresh interpretations of Chinese culture from different points of view. This experience encourages me to see things from different angles, which often brings out new ideas in my designs.
Do you have any advice for those starting out in the jewelry world?
Be positive! It is not an easy journey; there is a lot of competition, and it is a very crowded market and field. I hope my experience of winning is encouraging to others who are starting.
What do you want your legacy to be?
After my creations leave my studio, my jewelry will be treasured and be a part of their wearers’ stories. Isn’t that an awesome thing!
What artist, dead or alive, do you most admire? Why?
Alexander McQueen, the British designer known for his groundbreaking clothes, shocking catwalk shows, and precise tailoring. I was born in the same year that he was, so I feel a closeness to him. He died early at the age of 40. I have a few of his pieces which I love.
Do you follow long-term trends? If so, why or why not?
I used to think I was not influenced by trends. But actually I am. I love fashion so much. I tirelessly browse through fashion magazines and watch videos of fashion shows. I think I also draw a lot of inspirations from fashion design.
When did you discover you loved making jewelry?
It wasn’t until I was in my early 40s, a rather late discovery. It made me decide to switch my career after 15 years of practicing architectural design. Quite a few people were skeptical with my choice, but fortunately I have my husband who supported me from the very beginning.
What is the best advice you received?
It was from my husband at the beginning of my jewelry career: “Don’t let money or profits influence you too much or you’ll never have a chance to become a good jewelry designer.”
Where did you learn to make jewelry?
I took a basic jewelry night class at a local creative center. After that I’m pretty much self-taught, which means I learn by making mistakes. I have also taken some classes including a stone-setting class with Phil Scott at Rio Grande. I learned so many tricks and advanced techniques in just one week. Otherwise, I think it would have taken me years to figure out everything by myself.
What is your favorite tool?
I love so many tools, I really can’t live without them. But I think now my favorite tool is my mind. I’m a very “handy” woman. I can’t wait for even a second to get my hands on a project without thinking all details through. Quite often I hear a voice in my mind telling me to stop. So how to start a jewelry design is no problem for me, it’s instinctive. Knowing where and how to stop is very critical to me.
Describe your studio.
It’s a private space in my home in Las Vegas, Nevada, which I think of as my secret garden.
What is your favorite material to work in?
I don’t want to limit myself to certain materials. I believe good design always uses materials to their best advantage. I’m excited to discover the unexpected characteristics of some common materials.
Interview by Marlene Richey