In a large loft studio in Greenpoint, Brooklyn, Wing Yau and her small team of five are piecing together tiny treasures and reinventing the classics. Yau is the founder and designer of WWAKE, which uses ethically sourced diamonds from India, precious metals, fiery Australian opals and—most recently—sparkling green emeralds to create innovative rings, necklaces, and earrings. The result is a collection of geometric fine jewelry that are more like pieces of art than accessories (which makes sense considering that Yau studied sculpture at Rhode Island School of Design).
When it comes to their rings (their most popular pieces), one is good, but these beauties are made specially for stacking, which we—and tons of celebrity clients, like Cate Blanchett, Rihanna, Emma Watson, Dree Hemingway, and Carrie Brownstein—can’t get enough of.
When did your fascination with opal begin?
When I was a kid I loved all things holographic and rainbow—I like to think that the opal is like the “mature” version from mother nature!
How did you first get into jewelry design?
I simply fell into it! I was making small textile sculptures in my bedroom and found myself trying to make them wearable—they were like, really oversized knot necklaces. I experimented with dyeing them and adding metal elements to make them read more precious—more like jewelry—but found myself hitting walls since they really were still more like sculpture than anything. I decided to work backwards and make jewelry out of metal, then make the jewelry feel more like art. And that’s how our sister fashion collection CLOSER x WWAKE, was born. It’s more tactile take on jewelry, which encourages the customer to stack the pieces and build their collection into something big and sculptural. As I learned more about jewelry with that collection, WWAKE Fine Jewelry bloomed into what it is now: a more conceptual take on fine jewelry, in which we try to break down the traditions of antique jewelry. The stone settings are light and airy, and there’s a lot of focus on the space around the stones rather than the stones itself. Like the CLOSER Collection, the WWAKE Fine Jewelry designs encourage customers to stack their pieces and make an artistic statement.
What’s the story behind the name WWAKE?
WWAKE’s name stems from the dual meaning of “wake”—it symbolizes both the past and a present inner awakening. WWAKE aims to put tradition to rest and introduce a new and exciting perspective on jewelry. The repeating Ws are emblematic of the series of waves in a body of water. It’s a visual metaphor and reminder to appreciate even the sketches of an idea; it’s a reminder that the process of building a design should be appreciated too.
What are some of your favorite pieces you’ve created and why?
I’m really excited about the Flat Collection! It’s not as pretty as some of our other pieces feel, but it’s a refreshing statement to turn a center stone on its side on split it in two—it makes you rethink how we design and wear rings. Stones are almost always centered and facing up on a ring. Why?! We live in a time where the Internet makes anything imagined possible, so why not make a change in heirloom jewelry as well?
Your pieces are all very geometric and innovative—what inspires the shapes you create?
I’m inspired by a lot of generic, mainstream jewelry, actually! Like jewelry at Walmart and Costco. I’m fascinated by why people are attracted to jewelry like that—the designs are always so safe, but the fact that they’ve existed for so long says a lot about them! I spend a lot of time thinking about how these traditions can be reimagined into something more risk-taking. That said, I also look to a lot of artists for inspiration. I’ve always loved sculptures by Donald Judd, Richard Serra and Eva Hesse.
What’s the significance of opal?
They have a history of being symbols of hope, innocence, and purity. Opal was said to protect children and transmit the power of invisibility. They’re are also known to be “live” stones, containing life of their own and reactive to the true character of their wearer. So, a selfish person may wear an opal and they may be punished with bad luck, but a loving person may be graced with good fortune. They’re said to be at their brightest, most fiery state up until the point of its wearer’s death, when they lose their color completely.