The Story Behind Jewelry Designer Polly Wales’ Beautifully Handmade Line
The care that goes into Polly Wales' handcrafted, bespoke pieces is It evident upon seeing them: recycled gold rings, pendants, earrings, and more often flecked with candy-colored jewels, creating a beautifully whimsical yet earthy aesthetic. For the English jewelry designer, who now resides in Los Angeles with her partner and two daughters, compromising the sustainability or handmade element of her line was never an option, even as the brand continues to earn more acclaim and notoriety.
Wales has long been passionate about jewelry making, having studied the subject at London's The Royal College of Art, and before starting her own line she mostly exercised that passion by lecturing at universities and teaching the art to women and young offenders at Holloway Prison. With the help of her partner, James, she was encouraged to put her whole heart and all of her focus into creating her own jewelry collection, and her leap of faith as been met with considerable success. In light of her inspirational journey, we wanted to ask Wales a few question about why her mindful approach to jewelry making is so important, and what it's like to work with your significant other.
You've been designing jewelry for a decade. How did you first become interesting in the art form?
I initially studied sculpture, but somehow it felt too impersonal and I was driven to make more intimate objects and jewelry was that: small intimate sculptures and totems of love. I love that jewelry is nearly always a gift of love and a gift of celebration.
What was the moment that you knew you wanted to design your own line and stop teaching?
I had always wanted jewelry to be my main squeeze. It wasn’t until I had a really successful trade show in New York, when our oldest daughter was one, that things really started to change. I came home from the show and my partner James said “it’s time to quit your jobs.” I was so scared of losing the extra money, I cried. It took a few long talks and several days before I had built up the courage to see sense and focus full time on the creating jewelry. It was six months later at the next trade show, where I had even more success, that James said he would quit his job and look after our daughter, so I could really focus all my effort and start to build a business. He has been behind me all the way.
James also helps out with the business, which begs the question, what's it like to work with your partner?
Like everyone says, it’s not easy. I love what he brings and the creativity and skill he offers. He also challenges me and pushes in ways that no one else can. On the flip side, when I look at his bored face during meetings I have to remind myself that I didn’t look at him 17 years ago and think “Geez, this guy is going to be so great in business meetings in the future!” That’s not why I fell in love with him. It is tough always being side by side on the same roller coaster, strapped in together and experiencing the same highs and lows. Some days I wish I could come home and hear someone else’s news. I still ask him “how was your day at work today?” even though I know the answer!
The line is all one-of-a-kind and made by hand locally. Why was that important to you?
Neither are things that I adopted; they're how I’ve always operated. The idea of mass production and mass producing things bores me and I wouldn’t want to build a business unless I was doing it in a way that I felt was really positive and constructive, taking care of people and being mindful of sustainability. It’s important to me to train people up, give them new skills and make sure they are well looked after. I can’t do that if they aren’t working under my roof.
Polly Wales is sold at some of the coolest boutiques internationally and worn by so many stylish women. What other goals do you have for your business?
I’m really into the idea of building community, of finding like-minded designers and working together to better what we do and how we do it. We have been doing charity auctions for a few years now and last week we just did one for Skid Row Housing Trust where we invited other designers to take part, so we had make up by Rituel de Fille, ceramics by Mquan Studios in New York and lots more. It went really well and I’m super excited about building it for next year, creating a beautifully curated and elegant auction of pieces from a community of talented and big hearted designers. And if Tilda Swinton and Bjork where to be seen out in my jewelry, that would be a pretty good day!
On that note, any other local, mama-owned designers you love to support?
I love what Sonja from Posterchild’s Prints is up too. She creates high quality, limited edition artist’s prints and and I love who she curates for her site. I also have become obsessed with my friend Michelle's make up line, Rituel de Fille. Its 100% organic, small batch produced in downtown Los Angeles and the colors are lush! She’s going to blow up pretty soon with what she does, she’s definitely a name to watch.
Lastly, how do you James spend off-duty days with your daughters?
They both seem happiest when their imaginations take hold: scratching in the dirt, drawing and dressing up. James is building a den in our front garden; it’s a pretty serious structure already with a balcony and a skylight for stargazing. We've been spending lots of our free time enjoying that, covering it in blankets and flowers, reading and playing with Legos. I think we might end up just moving in!