The idea for PER INCISO – my jewellery collection – was developed during my MA at Central St Martins (CSM). My interest in sustainable materials was born whilst studying for my bachelors at the Polytechnic University of Milan. After I graduated, I did some initial research into the coral and cameo jewellery industry in Torre Del Greco in Italy, which is the centre of production for this kind of jewellery. As you might know, coral is an endangered species, it’s already in the CITES appendix II (this is a list of species that are have the potential to be threatened with extinction unless trade is closely controlled). As the coral becomes more at risk, more companies have stopped producing such jewellery and shops have stopped selling it. This means traditional techniques are becoming endangered too – there’s about 400 families in Torre Del Greco, working only with this technique and these materials. But then there’s this booming market for coral jewellery, with growing demand from developing countries, such as China.
I saw the potential to replace coral with a sustainable material, but still using the same artisanal production methods. So this formed my hypothesis when I was applying for my MA at CSM. Of course you can never be sure that your idea will work, but the issues were clear – an endangered material, and an endangered technique.
Of course diamonds are forever, but you have to destroy mountains to get them.
During my course I started looking for materials that were sharing the same features as coral. So I started with shellfish by-products and then I teamed up the University of Maine. Maine is one of the main producers of lobsters in the world. However, the shells are usually wasted or they become fertilisers for the soil. The university is also interested in using the shells in a sustainable way and have been making golf balls with the lobster remains – a product which is completely biodegradable. So the biology department has been mentoring me for three years – they are my scientific back up. Working with both the university and departments within CSM, I have come up with a material that shares the same features as coral that can eventually be introduced with traditional production methods for coral jewellery, but it can also be used to create others things – tyres, tiles, a handbags. You can make fabric out of milk and fabric out of orange, so why not out of shells?
I feel that our responsibility as designers is to think about the afterlife of objects. Of course diamonds are forever, but you have to destroy mountains to get them. Coral necklaces will be part of your heritage eventually, but you won’t have a sea environment because of that. I think that my role as a designer is to push innovation within sustainability, it’s not just about aesthetics, but thinking about how materials and aesthetics go together.
As well as conducting the initial research on my course at CSM, I designed and launched a jewellery collection that incorporates lobster and mussel shell waste. The name of my company ‘PER INCISO’ is Italian for ‘what goes to the engravers to be carved.’ I came across the name when visiting one of the jewellery producers in Italy.
I’m currently trying to find stockists for my collection – I’m doing part of the production in Italy because the materials can only be found in Italy. Alongside that, I’m aiming to have a patent on the material that I’m using in my jewellery, on all of it – the techniques as well. And then I’m also conversation with resin producers talking about how we could make a biodegradable resin – the one I’ve used so far is kind of yellow-ish, but I want it to be perfectly clear.
Running this initial pilot for my BA course has helped me understand that there’s a lot more that can be done with this material, aside from just jewellery. So this summer I’m going to be spending a residency period inside the University of Maine where I’ll work with the art department and the biology department developing the material and the project further.
My longer-term goal, for the next 15 years or so is to develop a sustainability network – there’s the British Council, and there’s the Fashion Council, but there’s no Sustainability Council. I envision it as a place where different practices can share knowledge about the best practise in their field. I feel that it’s so important as I have spent a huge chunk of my own project talking with people from outside the jewellery industry and sharing ideas. These plans are all quite ambitious, I know!
Thank you Giada for helping others craft their own career story.
This YourStoree interview was edited for the web.