In this month's BIPOC Artist Spotlight, we asked Xiaoyu about her background as a maker, what her inspirations are, her process, and her favorite pieces of jewelry.
Xiaoyu Zhang: I was born in Beijing during the period of the Cultural Revolution in China. There were not a lot of material items sold in stores, including toys for kids. Hence, as a child, I had to be creative with what I had at hand. I learned to crochet, knit, and sew. I would save candy wrappers and insert each one in a book to flatten out the wrinkles. My dad would take film negatives to make a lamp shade. We had to make our own tools. So I grew up with a mindset of making my own things. I got interested in making jewelry after a trip to General Beads in San Francisco about 20 years ago. I bought my first plier there and the process began.
RD: What are some inspirations for the shapes in your jewelry design?
XZ: One toy I did have as a child was a kaleidoscope. It fascinated me. It made me think of nature as a kaleidoscope of colors and reflected objects with beautiful repeating patterns. When I design jewelry, I think of the light and geometric shapes of nature. I believe in simplicity and that “less is more”. My jewelry design reflects this principle by using clean lines, with simple lightweight geometric shapes. The creations are refined and meant to match with every outfit for most all occasions.
RD: Walk us through your process of creating a piece of jewelry, from concept to the finished product.
XZ: Each piece of jewelry is handmade and unique. To make the piece, I first cut the wire, then smooth and polish them, wherein I forge the metal into the desired shape through a process of hammering, concluding with a final polish. Generally, I have a shape in mind when I begin, but sometimes during the course of hammering the metal, I get ideas for a new form, shape or texture. If I am making a piece for a specific person, I try to visualize how the person might wear that piece of jewelry and how it will look on that person. It’s true that each piece does tell a story and is one of a kind.
RD: What does the future hold for your business?
XZ:My daytime job is an analyst at the Judicial Council of California. I design and program legal forms. My night passion is jewelry making. Since this is not a full time business, I am limited to small batch production. But I love the process of jewelry-making and the day/night balance it provides. It gives me a creative outlet.
RD: What is your favorite piece of jewelry that you've designed? What is your favorite piece of jewelry that you didn't design?
XZ: Isn’t there an old saying that “you can go out without makeup, but you can’t go out without a pair of earrings”? Jewelry is a very personal thing, but my favorite piece is a pair of sterling silver, large sized oval hoops, about 2 inches long. I wear them all the time. I created them when I was thinking of a "feather”. By the way, my Chinese name, Xiaoyu, means “little feather” in Chinese. My family name, Zhang, means “open”. Indeed, I opened my little feather to cross the ocean from China to California.
My favorite piece of jewelry that I didn’t design is a pair of earrings worn by Juliette Fontaine (played by Kristin Scott Thomas) in the movie “I’ve Loved You So Long”. As she finally attempts to come out of the dark world she was living in, and arranges to meet the man who might change her life, she dresses for this occasion with great care concluding with the selection of a pair of red chandelier earrings. At that moment, I literally heard those earrings speak. It’s such a powerful scene. Jewelry can both give us pleasure and help to transform how we feel about ourselves..
Xiaoyu’s jewelry can be found online. An expanded collection is also available at our San Francisco store. Stop by and see for yourself what makes Xiaoyu’s jewelry a customer favorite.