Interview
Liberty Meets:

Polly Wales

The eponymous jewellery designer talks finding beauty in the unexpected

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There aren’t many brave enough to gamble with diamonds - but for Polly Wales, the British-born jewellery designer known for her rough luxe aesthetic - a Russian roulette style of setting stones has become something of a signature. Having cornered the modern market on direct casting, Wales and her LA-based team marry diamonds, sapphires and rubies with 18-carat gold to create ethereal, natural gem encrusted forms. This unorthodox process ensures every piece is completely unique; a treasure to be marvelled as further eccentricities emerge over time. We spoke to Wales about relocating to LA, inspirational oddities and finding beauty in the unexpected.

When do you feel most inspired?Working at my bench is my most inspiring place - when I’m working with the stones and cuts and colours. For me, making jewellery is very much like drawing or painting, it’s a very direct process. Working with wax is very immediate, I can translate my ideas very directly and that gives me space to be very spontaneous and to be inspired by the stones around me and the pieces we have just made.

You originally trained as a fine artist, has this influenced your work?Yes! I’m not limited by the traditional techniques of jewellery, my language is broader.

Why did you re-locate to LA?So much of my business has been in the US for a long time, I love it there and the passion people have for jewellery. I love how supportive and embracing Americans can be and obviously the landscape of the Californian coast is so special. We spent a long time trying to decide where to move when we wanted to relocate from Gloucestershire. We thought about London, New York and San Francisco. LA felt like the best option for us as a business and as a family. It was also the place where we thought everyone in the workshop would be happy to follow us to!

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Where is your current studio?We have 2500 square feet in DTLA in the jewellery district up on the 14th floor. It’s one of the oldest buildings in downtown and was, for a short while, the tallest. We have our casting machinery in our foundry there, a studio space and design room, offices and a little meeting space - it’s great. James, my partner, built it for us. All the air and water is filtered as it leaves the building, so it’s pretty environmental.

What are your go-to spots in the city?It’s such a huge city and I’m still getting to know it! In downtown we have Grand Central Market, which is a fantastic food hall filled with amazing Vegan Ramen and fish tacos and amazing ice-cream - we sneak out there for lunch some days. We love driving up the coast road and eating fresh crab, or going to Griffith Park with the kids. It’s near our house, the views are amazing and they have a little café with straw bales that the kids love dancing on. There’s also a fantastic little bar near work that’s like a New York style dive bar with live music. I’d love to get out there more, it feels really local. The music scene is LA is lively, but with two small kids my nights out are limited.

Has LA inspired any of your designs?Yes! Before we moved I was interviewed by the LA times and they asked if I thought the move would influence me. At that point I had no idea how much! The move has given me so much creative freedom that I really couldn’t have comprehended the difference in the work I’m making now. It feels like an explosion of colour and scale and energy. The sunshine pours out of it and it feels playful and vibrant and very alive right now!

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Where are your favourite places to visit in London?I lived in Hackney for nearly 20 years, so it feels like my stomping ground still. I love a pub garden - there’s nothing quite like passing a sunny day in the dappled shade of a London park drinking English lager! So Victoria Park and Broadway market are always on my list of places to say ’Hi’ to. I love Brick lane and walking along the canal. I lived in a canal boat from my early 20s and it meant I could afford to put myself through university and my MA at the royal college. It’s very different now from when it was just me bobbing around with some OAPs!

How has your jewellery evolved since you first founded your line?Oh My God totally! For me it’s all about the evolution, pushing the boundaries and trying to do new things, break the mould, be at the forefront of what’s happening. The process that I use to make my work has technical limitations, so trying to work around those restrictions and create more complex forms is really challenging and inspiring to me. I feel like we have evolved from art jewellery, jewellery that only saw the light of day in Dutch jewellery galleries, or in books to a fine fashion brand. When I say that, I’m talking about how I think we have elevated what we do, but we strived to maintain a classic quality to our work - a timelessness that makes it less transient than fashion.

When I started it was just me in a little shared studio in Hackney. Every time someone commissioned me to make a ring in gold, I would use the profits to make a second ring and that’s how I started my fine jewellery collection. Now there are five jewellers in my studio, plus office and sales people and James doing the casting and myself. We are getting stones cut especially for our designs, working on improving our sustainability and where we source our stones, marrying technology with what we do - I can’t believe how far we have travelled.

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Your pieces are known for their imperfect beauty, have you always been interested in this as a concept?Yes. It always has been. I want to make jewellery that has a certain type of beauty, which feels more approachable, more human. “Perfection” in its classical interpretation feels alienating to me. When I put on a piece of jewellery that is classically perfect it never feels like it fits with my skin, my life and how I live in myself. I wanted to make jewellery that reflected how I saw beauty and to make jewellery that related to how I lived my life. To me it was also important to try to make jewellery that aged well, that was as beautiful when it became an heirloom as it was when it was new. Aging gracefully…

Do you seek out beautiful oddities and eccentricities in other areas of your life? Interiors, for example?Yes! I could spend my life doing that! We spend a lot of time at the rose bowl swap meet, which is a massive flea market, trawling though crazy old weird shit! When we moved, we left all our taxidermy and farm equipment and antiquities behind - but we are fast amassing a new collection of textiles and all sorts

Do you have a favourite Liberty memory?Ever since I was little, Liberty was the place I would come with my mum on a day out to London. We would look at all the beautiful things and explore the haberdashery and smell the perfumes. It’s still where we meet today if I’m in town and we do exactly the same things. It’s one of my happy places!

Finally, what are your top three Liberty fabric picks?Betsy and Betsy Anne from the Tana Lawn collection always feel so classic to me and remind me of my childhood. My mum used to make me and my sister Liberty print smock dresses for the summer. I love Tree of Eden from last season’s collection and the little pineapples in the new Ibiza Berry Tana Lawn.

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