How these malleable, colourful designs are winning buyers’ hearts.
A new wave of designers and brands are moonlighting as pr agents for their misunderstood medium of choice, silicone. With a barrage of new techniques and design angles, silicone is quickly becoming a material du jour for colour-obsessed retailers who want robust, wearable and cost-effective jewellery for their customers. Sarah Louise Jordan meets the industry insiders fighting the non-precious corner with bold silicone creations.
It doesn’t take too long when travelling down memory lane to reminisce about the plethora of rubbery bands that dominated the wrists of early 00s teens (and, let’s face it, lots of adults too) supporting various good causes.
Emblazoned with charity slogans, these early incarnations of silicone jewellery were more purposeful than pretty, but cut forward to 2014 and there are brand new breeds of rubbery designs on offer, with mix and match details and a veritable dossier of fashion credentials to boot.
Contemporary jewellery designer Jenny Llewellyn specialises in luminescent statement silicone jewellery in bold hues. Her vibrant hollow form necklaces and tactile designs show just how innovative and impactful the material can look when pushed to its stylistic extremes.
“I started experimenting with silicone at university because I was focused on colour and inspired by underwater life,” Llewellyn explains. “I was using silicone as a mould-making material, but then I discovered a translucent silicone which lent itself well to what I was trying to achieve.”
After months of trial and error, Llewellyn moved on to a type of silicone used for prosthetics and special effects make-up that proved particularly effective. However, this didn’t mark the end of her challenge. She admits: “It has been difficult using a non-precious material and getting people interested in my designs. It is the same for anyone working in the contemporary jewellery world, as soon as you start using a non-precious material it is difficult to work out what to charge.”
The next stage for Llewellyn involved combining her open shell silicone forms with 18ct gold plated silver, something she credits for adding a covetable factor to her designs. She reveals: “I started working with precious metals, particularly silver, because of the interesting contrast between precious and non-precious. As soon as I started using silver it made my pieces more wearable. My current Plume and Chromophobia collections have been the most popular and I think people are starting to recognise my work and have more trust in it.”
Llewellyn isn’t the only designer brand to notice how silicone needs the affirmation of a precious metal sidekick to achieve commercial viability. British jewellery brand Bouton’s new Riviera collection consists of wraparound silicone wristwear with glamorous accents of simulated stones set in sterling silver with 18ct gold and rose gold plating. Bouton’s creative director, Christina Lenihan, describes the silicone collection as a “fresh new take on a traditional bracelet” for customers who want “a premium way to wear casual styles”.
The brand’s move into silicone is arguably more of a practical necessity than a creative need. It’s lightweight, robust and waterproof nature makes it a perfect alternative to leather wrist wraps. Plus, they are designed to be layered with other pieces like the brand’s Joie sterling silver mesh bracelet collection to tap into the stackable and collectable jewellery phenomenon.
Leniham continues: “The use of silicone is a trend that is growing within the jewellery industry and has been evident across the latest trade shows. We believe the use of silicone as a primary material has the potential to expand in the future.”
Whereas Bouton is building on its existing collections with a small silicone offering, brands such as DuePunti, Curbbz and OPS Objects are building their portfolios with silicone as the headline act.
Nick Ede, who is part of the creative team at British-born Curbbz, explains: “We felt that silicone was the best material to use to create the individuality and style of our core pieces, whilst allowing us to add in additional lines as the brand evolves.”
Curbbz’s chain bracelets might be silicone, but the addition of gold-plated steel elements is an essential part of the brand according to Ede. He admits: “Curbbz can be worn with casual looks but also be used to compliment smarter and more glamorous styles.”
Italian company DuePunti has similar views as to the versatility of silicone but it follows an ‘Unconventional Diamond’ approach – setting the precious stones in flexible rings and bangles. UK brand director Laurie Milne, explains: “The jewellery world has changed a lot in the past 10 years and jewellers are now more confident in selling different materials. We want the perception of diamonds to change and our objective is to create a new community of creative individiuals ready to change the way of wearing and interpreting them.”
At the fashion end of the market, Italian brand OPS Objects is targeting the trend-focused 18 to 24-year-old category with its bright and bold silicone jewellery with hints of polka dots and florals.
For fine jewellery designer Sarah Ho, of SHO Jewellery, silicone’s partner in crime, rubber, offers an entry-level price for customers who admire, but perhaps can’t afford SHO’s precious collections. Her colourful POP bracelets are made from six shades of flexible rubber held together with ‘poppers’ – two distinct styles of metal clasps in three different sizes made in silver, rose gold vermeil or yellow gold vermeil. With retail prices between £40 and £85, the range is collectable, customisable and in-keeping with the trend for mixed materials.
When asked about the collection, Ho admits: “Each collection I design has a story to tell and the POP bracelets were an inspiration whilst on holiday by the sea. Choosing jewellery that is versatile and will look good with swimwear by day or cool linen for dinner is not easy. The POP bracelet fits this niche in the market and builds on the fabulous trend for stacking wristwear.”
However, Ho is quick to argue that her designs don’t fall into the disposable fashion jewellery category. She explains: “The initial response we have had from both trade and consumers is very positive and because we have positioned them alongside our fine jewellery collections, they are not just a disposable fashion item. The sterling silver and vermeil poppers position the bracelets within the jewellery wardrobe that everyone aspires to.” If the concept proves popular, Ho plans to add to the collection with different popper designs, including alphabet letters, and more rubber colourways.
Curbbz creative mind Nick Ede is also thinking ahead to the future of silicone. He confidently explains: “The scope for building Curbbz is definitely there and we intend to do so to meet consumer needs whist staying in tune with fashion trends.”
DuePunti’s Milne agrees: “We’re studying the next material to be combined with our stones. Silicone is only one of thousands of potential materials that can be combined with diamonds.”
With fashion credentials trumping precious materials more than ever before, consumers are impressed with the affordability of silicone and the seemingly endless colour options the medium provides. The addition of precious metal clasps, diamonds and plated beads for silicone jewellery pieces creates differentiation in price points for retailers – ensuring there is still an entry-level and aspirational product on offer for customers.
View a photo gallery of the silicon trend here.
This Trends feature was taken from the May issue of Professional Jeweller. To read the issue in full online, click here.