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Challenge of the New: Creating My Origami Line

Karin Jacobson design process

It always fascinates me to hear artists describe sudden flashes of inspiration, or ideas for new work that appear fully-formed in their minds. I’ve been lucky enough to experience this creative kismet a few times, but generally design concepts incubate in my brain for a good long time before emerging, ready for execution!

This was definitely the case for my new Origami collection. I let the idea simmer for several years before I even began tinkering with drawings. I have always been inspired by paper art, both folded and cut. Taking a flat sheet of metal and turning it into something sculptural seemed like the perfect conceptual launchpad for a new line of jewelry.

I had seen other origami-inspired jewelry, but I certainly didn’t want to replicate the techniques or designs of other artists. In fact, I always go out of my way to ensure my pieces are visually distinct from similar designs I’ve seen. (The whole “imitation is the sincerest form of flattery” idea definitely doesn’t carry over into the art world!) Plus, the origami-influenced designs I’d seen didn’t really capture the aspects of this art form that I loved most: The illusion of movement, the stark grace, and the sleek, geometric representations of the natural world.

From flowers to folds

I had been pondering ways I could take flat shapes and fold them into voluminous 3D forms. It was a design challenge I’d tackled several times, but none of my efforts yielded anything that I truly loved. Finally I landed on a solution that felt just about perfect.

I was working with some flower shapes for another project, and after I had meticulously saw-pierced a series of silver components, I sat with them for a while. Somehow they didn’t feel right for the project at hand, but I didn’t want to abandon them altogether. I turned the shapes over in my hands and let my mind wander. And then, that elusive flash of inspiration struck! These flat shapes were just begging to be turned into the voluminous, sculptural, 3D forms I’d been wanting to design. With a little alteration to the original shape, I could twist and fold the flower into a complex form that would have the feel—at least in my mind—of elegant origami. Lightweight and airy, and with a linear, mathematical quality.

The current collection is actually more inspired by Kirigami, which combines the arts of paper cutting and folding. I still refer to it as Origami, though, since it’s a more familiar, resonant concept for most people. I want customers to get the reference right away, without needing a lot of explanation.

Building the Origami collection

So the design problem was solved and now I had a theme, a bud of an idea, and a whole lot of excitement. But could I really expand it into an entire collection? Was the initial concept flexible and robust enough to create a whole group of work? Would I love it as much in a year or two as I did in those first moments? My inspirational flash was a thrilling beginning, but I needed to give it some careful consideration. I immediately loved the idea but I still spent months sketching and experimenting and trying different designs to determine if this was a direction I wanted to follow wholeheartedly.

New things are interesting … humans seem to have a propensity for liking things that they’re familiar with. Experts recommend that parents try introducing new foods to their babies multiple times because they often reject it the first time they taste it; it’s unfamiliar and therefore bad! Then there’s the famous story of Igor Stravinsky’s “Rite of Spring.” The first time the ballet was performed in Paris in 1913, the shocked audience was so unused to the new, dissonant style of music that they rioted in the aisles. A year later—after listeners had become accustomed to the work—it was hailed as a masterpiece, and today it’s considered a landmark of classical music. I have even noticed this behavior pattern, albeit in a much subtler way, when I introduce new jewelry designs. Customers aren’t usually drawn to new pieces the first time I show them. Sometimes, they even fail to notice them entirely. Only on their second or third (or fifth!) visit, will they say, “I love that! Is it new?” To which I reply, “!”

So I took my time getting used to the new work, and letting myself decide that I really did love it.  Of course, the next big question was, “Will other people like it too?” I was anxious to start creating, and was also eager to start using more one-of-a-kind stones and making more one-of-a-kind pieces, all of which I could do with this new work. But it was all a departure from my previous collections and I wasn’t sure what my customers would think.  

In the end, I just took a leap of faith. I decided that if I loved the new work this much, there would be people out there who would love it, too. It might not be for everyone, but the folks it was for were *really* going to love it. And it could take people a while to get used to this new direction, but it was worth a shot. I hadn’t seen anything quite like it and really wanted to give it a go.

The Origami Collection: Evolution in pictures

As you might’ve guessed by now, it worked out! Some people jumped on board immediately, and I was delighted to get some enthusiastic new stores at my first trade show with the new work. And I’ve also enjoyed watching people get excited after their second and third looks at the new collection. Now, my favorite compliment is, “I love this. I’ve never seen anything else like it!”

Here’s a visual summary of how the collection evolved:

I started out with this basic shape - which was just one of several simple shapes I played around with.  This is the one that I thought was just begging to be folded up!

Karin Jacobson Jewelry Design Origami Jewelry
Here's the flat piece before it gets folded up.
I turned it into this pendant, and fell in love with the shape. 
Karin Jacobson Jewelry Origami Collection Cloud fold necklace
Now I've taken the original simple shape and folded it into this pendant.

Then, I decided that it would beautifully offset the shape to add a line of 18-karat yellow gold along the edge of the pendant. (It’s a fussy bit of soldering, but luckily, I love fussy soldering!)

Karin Jacobson Jewelry Origami Collection Cloud fold pendant with gold edge
Doesn't the 18 karat gold edge really make this design stand out?!

I put the gold edge on this shape as well, and decided that gold edges should feature heavily in the collection.

Karin Jacobson Jewelry Origami Collection Peony Bud Pendant with gold edge
...and I love the gold edge on this pendant as well!

The best part about using these shapes to make earrings is that I can make them large (I love statement earrings!) but the cutouts make them incredibly lightweight and easy to wear (I hate the feeling of heavy earrings tugging on my ears). Folding them in opposite directions, so that they are reflections of one another, makes for a lovely symmetry with these organic forms.

 Karin Jacobson Jewelry Design Origami Jewelry Anise Fold Earrings
These earrings have a big visual impact without being heavy at all - its a win-win!
The next step would be to combine shapes and make more complex forms. This example is made of three identical shapes; two are 18-karat gold and one is oxidized silver.
Karin Jacobson Jewelry Origami Collection triple cloud fold necklace
I love how three folded parts put together create a complex shape with real volume in this pendant!
And remember how I said that I wanted to incorporate one-of-a-kind stones? Well, I’ve had a blast placing them in a variety of designs from this line! Here’s a pendant in oxidized sterling silver with an 18-karat yellow gold edge and a stunning Australian opal set in 22-karat gold.
 Karin Jacobson Jewelry Origami Collection triple fold pendant with australian opal
This Australian opal is so gorgeous!
Or these earrings which feature multiple reflected shapes in oxidized sterling silver with the 18-karat gold edge, with recycled diamonds and Arizona peridots.
Karin Jacobson Jewelry Origami Collection Kirigami fan earrings with arizona peridots
It really starts getting fun when I add gold edges, diamonds and Arizona peridots to this pair of earrings!
Oh….and these shapes make fabulous rings as well!
Karin Jacobson Jewelry Origami Collection Kirigami fan ring with sapphires
This ring combines multiple complex shapes with a couple of pear shaped blue-green sapphires set in 18 karat gold! get the idea. At this point it’s so easy to expand the Origami idea into a multiple-piece collection, that the bigger issue is editing all of the ideas. I have no concerns about being able to come up with new riffs off my original inspiration. The thought of designing more fun pieces makes me love going into work every single day!

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