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This week, from December 20-22, the Los Angeles-based fine jewelry designer Polly Wales is presenting a pop-up shop at the Foundrae store on Lispenard Street. Wales originally met the jewelry designer behind Foundrae, Beth Bugdaycay, at Couture week in Las Vegas. Quickly, they became friends, sharing a Paris showroom this year, and now, as Bugdaycay opens her doors to Wales for the holiday season.
For her first major retail event in Manhattan, Wales is showcasing the largest selection of jewelry she’s ever had in one place. Visitors are greeted by her signature style—a “cast not set” process where the designer sets her gems in a wax cast before pouring molten gold over it to melt the wax and reveal just parts of the stone.
For the occasion, Whitewall spoke with Wales about her beginnings, the meaning of community, and how her practice has evolved.
WHITEWALL: What was the first piece you ever designed?
POLLY WALES: I’ve always been intrigued and fascinated by the idea of wear on jewellery—wedding rings worn for so long they end up changing the shape of the bone. The patinas and marks that pieces acquire and speak of its journey add to its narrative and are a reflection of the love instilled in that that piece. So, from very early on, my jewellery was exploring these notions. I was making pieces that had a moment of change; that wore away to reveal hidden secrets.
Some of my very first rings were hidden in porcelain shells that you had to smash open to discover the jewels inside. Kind of a glamourous, lucky dip of sorts!
WW: Your “cast not set” design process is really unique. Can you explain how you created this method?
PW: I was lucky enough to go to the Royal College of Art for two years to do a masters in jewellery. It allowed me to focus and explore the ideas I had about the deep connection we have with jewellery and the beauty of a worn and loved piece of jewellery, or clothing. I love objects where you can read the narrative, understand its story. I love the imperfect beauty in them and wanted to capture that in my work.
The outcome of that research and exploration was casting stones directly into molten gold, hiding them to be revealed over time, making pieces that had ever-changing beauty. And that was it for me. I found my language. A totally new way to make jewellery, where I could carve my own path and put a new fresh voice out into the world. Since then, I have been refining and developing the process to what it is now. There are so many technical challenges that even after a decade it’s still keeping me on my toes.
WW: How has your design process evolved or stayed the same over time?
PW: The process is always evolving, we have our classic Confetti’s rings, which are still the same as when I started making them at the Royal College of Art, but there has been so much evolution. I am constantly trying new approaches to be able to make the pieces dance with the light in new ways, capture new colors, elevate the forms and structures. As we have been able to do with the Pagoda earrings that we launched the year from our Library of Collected Fragrances Collection.
Using “cast not set” to make pieces as complex as this is what’s thrilling to me and knowing that you really couldn’t make them in any other way than using this process I developed. I’m really excited about the next collection we are working on. It is taking the light delicate qualities of the pagoda earrings and pushing that sugar dipped quality to its limits. I think it’s going to be a very exciting collection.
WW: Can you tell us how your pop-up at the Foundrae store came to be?
PW: I met Beth at the Couture show in Vegas. I really love what she’s doing in jewellery—she has such a concise and clear vernacular and the work is so beautiful and strong because of it. She’s great, super down to earth, passionate, clever, and funny, and I felt very at home in her company. I’d been talking about doing a pop up and she instantly offered her Garden Room in her store. I jumped at the chance, so I’m so excited that we are getting this project off the ground.
It’s our first pop-up and I’m really looking forward to having the time and space to meet with clients and show them around the full collections. This will be the first time that we will have had the opportunity to showcase our collections in full. I’m excited to have a chance to represent in New York City and to be able to do it in such a beautiful space.
WW: You and Bugdaycay both value community. What does community mean to you as a designer in the jewelry industry?
PW: Community is everything. I’ve moved from the British jewellery community to the U.S. one and they are such different beasts. For me I see there being enough space for all our voices and I see us being stronger, more resilient and filled with joy from sharing our stories and knowledge. I love that there are so many strong, creative women in our community, I could mainline that kind of company all day, learn and grow.
I’ve been really overwhelmed since moving here by how supportive the U.S. jewellery community is and L.A., where I live is such a hub right now, it’s been so rewarding to be part of it and find my little place amongst it all.