Polly Wales (Est. 2011) studied Fine Art Sculpture in London before following her passion for jewelry and retraining at the Royal College of Art. She is the Creative Director and Founder of her eponymous brand of fine jewelry.
Polly was born in London and gravitated toward the arts from a very young age. She later taught art to juvenile offenders.
She discovered her passion when she began to design jewelry making intimate, wearable sculptures. It was at University where her naturally anarchic spirit combined with her classical training to inspire the creation of her signature “cast-not-set” process.
Globally celebrated for this groundbreaking technique, where brilliant gemstones are hand set into molten gold and produce unique, lush, organic forms, Polly explores the natural character of the elements. Her work is a celebration of the spontaneous and sublime that also become an exercise in finding magic in the everyday world.
According to Polly’s official website, “Casting gemstones directly into molten gold has enabled her to push the boundaries of traditional fine jewelry and produce unique collections year after year. In 2016, Polly moved the company from the rolling hills of the English countryside to the sunny grit of Downtown Los Angeles where the company is now based. She currently lives…in the hills of East Los Angeles with her partner and two daughters.
“We make jewelry that lends itself to reminiscing. It feels ancient, travelled, lived in, and handed down. We are the antithesis of pristine and reserved; I like to think of our pieces like an old friend and also the most intriguing person at the party – at once intimate and captivating.”
The Polly Wales brand has grown a cult following for her signature “Cast-not-set” technique. Unlike traditional jewelers, Polly’s work celebrates the natural character of these elements and does not seek predictability or perfection. The “Cast-Not-Set” process requires a high level of precision, expertise and craftsmanship. A team of highly-skilled bench jewelers in her Downtown Los Angeles facility have been specially trained in the brand’s unique process. The company does not outsource any of its jewelry production.
Most jewelry is made in gold and then, as a last step, the stones are put into their settings. At Polly Wales, the process is reversed and the stones are in place before the gold has formed.
Instead of trying to restrain and restrict these natural elements, the process encourages the organic forms, unique variations and character of each piece allowing them to shine through. One of the major attractions of her pieces is that they are not celebrations of uniformity, but instead a vessel for a client’s unique story and personality.
Each and every piece is made by hand in the brand’s workshop. This means that there are no overseas factories and no outsourcing of any kind. Due to the nature of the technique, pieces will have some natural variation and that is part of its appeal. No two pieces are ever exactly alike so precise replication should not be expected.
The brand currently offers 18K yellow gold and rose gold only. White gold, platinum or anything other than 18K gold is not available. The gems used include sapphires, diamonds, and rubies. The brand does not work with turquoise or any other semi-precious stones as they are not strong enough to withstand the casting process.
While the brand can customize a piece, it usually cannot incorporate the metal from a vintage jewelry piece directly into a new piece. This is because it is very difficult to verify the quality of the gold in vintage pieces plus any mixed metals will significantly degrade the structural integrity of a finished piece.
However, the brand invites the opportunity to create custom pieces with heirloom stones. The feasibility depends on the style of ring and condition and size of the stones that clients provide. All stones need to be inspected in-person by the brand’s Senior Jewelers to assess for quality, size, color and cut.
The brand has worked with many customers who have supplied their own stones. Before that process begins, the company first needs to ensure that the stones are high grade, quality cuts and in good condition to work with the designs.
As stated above, all stones need to be inspected in-person by the Senior Jewelers prior to finalizing any orders. If the client has GIA paperwork for the stone, arrangements can be made to have it sent to the Wales’ workshop along with the stone for review.
All pendants and necklaces are sold with chains and can be customized for a longer or shorter chain.
Current collections of in-house designed and created pieces include Stardust that celebrates the sexiness of Studio 54 and the fluidity of the disco era. Forms in crystalline color marry the intricacies of elegant beadwork and antique sequins with the bass lines of late-night discos and exploding stars. Celestial rather than earthly, these pieces capture glamour in their weightlessness.
The Library of Collected Fragrances is a collection that represents a journey through East Asia on 17th century merchant ships filled with the aroma of opium and exotic spices. It is a voyage into the opulence of Chinoiserie and the unorderly grace of Sharawadgi that transports the wearer through jade gardens where cherry blossom petals flutter as they fall and to ponds with clouds in still reflections. In contrast, the lacquer black and bright gold architecture bring modernity to romance. The pieces are a play of light, a moment of transience, and a celebration of the intoxicating scent of adventure.
The Blossom Crush features deep purples, acid greens, peaches and teals. It displays magic in a lush floral palette inviting onlookers to lose themselves in the cobblestones of gold, sapphires, and diamonds. It also boasts a bruised rainbow palette with a deep and mesmerizing effect.
The Père Lachaise collection conjures visions of secret gardens and conveys the magic of Voodoo treasure hoards. These are jewels hidden deep within tangled vines and undergrowth. Beautiful flowers of saturated pinks and dusty rose bloom among creepers of deep teals and classical golden forms. In this collection, the brand continues to build upon the mysticism of their Ourika Collection with an elegant color palette and refined shapes.
Polly Wales’ current collections use a serendipitous approach to lost wax casting techniques married with the rich colors and beautiful cuts of fine gem stones. Polly uses sapphires and rubies directly cast into gold, creating pieces that resemble natural gem encrusted forms like sparkling geodes split open or discoveries from the deep. This unorthodox process is unique to Polly and has become her signature style, gaining her international recognition at major exhibitions and in craft and jewelry galleries. She also sells her creations in numerous stores in the UK, Europe and USA.
Through jewelry, Polly set out to make pieces that are molded and evolved as is the person who wears it. It is a treasured relationship designed for pieces of jewelry that are designed to become more and more precious over the years. This philosophy has always compelled Polly to explore her now signature casting process and develop the look that has become synonymous with her collections.
Everything one needs to know about Polly Wales can be found in her yellow gold skull ring studded with candy-colored sapphires. Equal parts masculine and feminine, barbaric and beautiful, earthy and ethereal, the piece is over the top without taking itself too seriously.
The one-of-a-kind design is the result of an organic collaboration between Wales and her partner, James, who is also the father of their two children. At the time he made the ring, they weren’t working together yet.
“He was just…making stuff,” explains Wales. “It’s what James does.” Lucy Peacock, Wales’ lead wax sculptor, had the inspired idea to apply Wales’ signature stones to James’ skull. James gave them his blessing to incorporate the design into the collection.
These days, James is an essential element of their mom-and-pop business. Not only does he do all of the casting, he handles their photography and 3D modeling much of it on some MacGyver’d contraptions of his own design. “He can kind of do anything he puts his hands to,” says Wales, who wears the original skull ring, the one without the stones, every day.
Having a business was never really what Wales imagined for herself. “I make this peculiar jewelry,” she explains, “out of the realm of the expected norm. I used to make things that would end up in German jewelry art books, so having a full-time career making weird jewelry was not something anyone expected. Until now, I never had anything to lose. It’s always been just about the journey, about taking people on an adventure.”Sell Polly Wales All Artists