Interview: Young Designer Creates Jewelry Fit for an 'Elegant Dragon'

Pratt Institute senior Lia Branning-Chen loves her grandmother. Her beloved "Popo" is with her at all times in the antique rings she never takes off. Even her latest collection of jewelry, being shown at Asia Society's AsiaStore, was inspired by Popo's zodiac sign, the dragon. That, and Branning-Chen's research on Chinese dragons, has led to a collection of stunning pieces characterized by timeless elegance and intriguing simplicity.

Branning-Chen gave us a sneak peek at her designs and spoke with about her collection via email.

Where do you get your inspiration for the pieces you design? Can you describe the process of taking your inspiration and turning it into a tangible piece of jewelry?

The inspiration for my pieces comes from illustrations of the mythical Asian dragon. In my research on dragons, I found numerous images of fantastic dragons painted on ancient vases, as well as from the traditional art form of paper cut-outs. From these images, I focused on the patterns that uniquely represent a dragon — namely, the scaled back and the ribbed belly of their bodies. I think I reinterpreted these patterns into a sculptural design for my jewelry. My work has been influenced by the Chinese dragon, but seen through a contemporary lens.

Once I have an idea for a piece of jewelry, I begin my design directly in wax. My process does not include an initial sketch, as I enjoy experimenting with the wax medium to explore potential concepts. I prefer using wax — instead of fabricating/forging a piece — as wax gives me more control to manipulate a design. Wax is also more sculptural and forgiving in comparison to metal.

Many pieces in my collection are based on the novel use of repetition and symmetry. Through repetition of a pattern, I am able to assemble a collage that is both simple and eye-catching. The result is one-of-a-kind pieces... that would suitably adorn the most elegant dragon.

What kind of woman is wearing your designs? Are these everyday pieces, or more pieces to wear for special events?

My collection can be worn by women of any age. My pieces have a delicate and decorative quality for those with a classic feminine style, but the size creates bold statements for those who are outgoing and trendy. The jewelry I make is versatile, adaptable for all events, day to night. A woman can wear a pair of earrings to the office and then add a necklace for a dinner date at night.

You went to China with your mother and your grandmother in 2004. Did that experience end up influencing your work in some way?

When I traveled to China in 2004, it was a complete culture shock. The bustling people of Beijing, humid summer heat, and towering monuments were overwhelming for my teenage mind. While the trip did not have a direct impact on my work, it triggered my interest in the culture. I hope to return to China — a land overflowing with potential inspiration — and broaden my understanding and appreciation.

Related Link:
AsiaStore Selects: Lia Branning-Chen, Jewelry Designer
AsiaStore 2013 Asian American Designer Showcase