Experimental and Inventive: Craft and Creativity from Jewellery Designer Fei He
When I purchased one of my favourite pairs of earrings a couple of years ago, little did I know I would go on to collaborate with the designer. From the moment I saw the rose gold figure of 8 earrings, I knew they were for me. I was impressed with the elegantly marbled packaging and the fact that the earrings came with antiseptic wipes – and this was long before the Coronavirus pandemic! Although I have pierced ears, I tend to find clip-on earrings less irritating to wear, so it was wonderful to discover these were super comfortable, and light as a feather, as well as being works of wearable art. After I wore them to a wedding in the South of France - one of the most joyful and enjoyable occasions I have experienced - they brought back memories of love and happiness whenever I wore them, and rapidly became my lucky earrings.
The unassuming designer is Fei He, whose FOLD collection of jewellery is now available at ShopCurious. Fei’s pieces are made in Birmingham’s Jewellery Quarter, where he studied for a degree at the School of Jewellery, following on from an initial training at the Gemological Institute of China. His design process is highly experimental, in fact he stumbled upon the manufacturing techniques used to create his FOLD range almost by accident.
The collection originated from a curious coincidence several years ago when Fei scrunched up some waste paper to throw into the bin. He had accidentally trapped some silver foil under the paper. When unfurled, this revealed a fascinating texture on the metal, which appeared to shimmer with multiple reflections of light. At the same time, after a series of experiments mixing metals and trying to match their thickness, Fei invented a new rose gold formula, enabling each piece of jewellery to be large, yet extremely light and strong. He also created a white gold, by polishing the metal and plating it with silver, and then rhodium, in order to secure colour stability.
In addition to this exploratory design process, Fei looks to abstract and natural forms for inspiration - encompassing anything from exclamation and question marks to daisies and lilies. His tree-branch shaped pieces are designed to mimic the shape of plum blossoms, a common element in traditional oriental art. As someone whose education and development has spanned both Eastern and Western cultures, his aim is to break down barriers and create jewellery that appeals to people from many different backgrounds.
Feihefeihefeihe is rapidly becoming a brand synonymous with a multi-functional, slightly edgy chic, and is also associated with gender fluidity. From the outset, Fei defined his jewellery as ‘unisex’, a word he later found referred to a more normcore and minimalist style - not the meaning he originally intended. He would like people to be able to wear whatever style of jewellery they like, regardless of how we define masculine and feminine dress, and for jewellery to be truly genderless. Fei believes that jewellers share an ethical responsibility that should be expressed through their work, and says his collections are a statement relating to what he feels are the wrongs in society.
Observations from visits to several major jewellery manufacturers’ factories brought home to Fei the polluting effects on the environment of some of the processes they employ, which he says, “later encouraged me to recycle metal from unwanted jewellery, offering it a new life, and offering our earth a better life.” Fei finds some of his materials – mainly brass and copper - in a shared recycling bin in his studio, he buys silver and gold dust from other jewellers, and also recycles his customers’ existing jewellery into new pieces. Slow living comes naturally to Fei, whose parents even recycled their dishwashing and shower water when he was a child. He’s also a big fan of vintage clothing; buying and selling the clothes he wears on preloved clothing websites.
Fei claims that contemporary jewellery intersects with many art forms. As a result, he is able to apply a variety of skills - demonstrated by his previous production of eyewear ranges, and a graduate collection consisting of a series of sex toys made with the precision of a silversmith. He doesn’t want to sound arrogant, or “like Sheldon Cooper,” but he does not “celebrate mediocrity” and is, “curious about magnificence”. Fei’s first ever solo exhibition, curated by IBU Gallery in Paris, has been put on hold because of COVID-19, though he’s looking forward to showing his collections at the cutting edge AUTOR jewellery fair in Bucharest, and is working on a new collection for Shanghai Fashion Week in October. He’s also applied to a course at Bishopsland in Reading to improve his silversmithing skills.
I’m looking forward to seeing more from this curiously creative young jeweller. Are you?