Partly inspired by the vibrant blue gemstone and partly by Beach House's musical hit, "LAZULI" is the name of a handcrafted jewelry line by the multi-talented Erika Young. More than just a rock, the sheer sound of the word "LAZULI" evokes a particularly charming quality, also reflected in each unique piece. Every mineral ring, crystal necklace, copper cuff, and pretty pendant features an array of brilliant stones. And with a with a background in Geology, Erika is able to combine her love of art and science to introduce this comfortable and casual, high-quality jewelry line to Aquidneck Island.
How did you become a jewelry designer? What is the back story of LAZULI Handcrafted?
When I was a kid, crafts were my favorite. I grew up a creative and introverted only child, and when I was left to entertain myself, I'd build something or do "experiments" with stuff that I'd find around the house. As a 90's child, I was totally into hemp necklaces, friendship bracelets, beads, and gimp - so teaching myself how to make jewelry is something I've done as long as I can remember.
My love affair with crystals began in college. I was a Geology major, which is a super hands-on program. The courses required me to go on camping and hiking trips with my classmates. We would crack rocks open with rock hammers to identify and classify them, and learned to measure and map the different geological units of a given area. This obviously requires a lot of science and data collection, but the interpretation depends a bit on imagination and creativity, which was fun for me.
I got to study crystals and minerals in-depth when i took Mineralogy. I'll admit, this was probably my least favorite course because I really struggled with the chemistry. Whenever I'd be in the lab late at night, studying hand samples and practicing the different mineral identification techniques, I'd drift off and daydream about turning my study materials into pendants and cuff bracelets. It's almost like, whenever I'd get weighed down by the science to the point where it was no longer fun, I'd use creativity to escape, and to start doodling necklaces in my notebook margins.
After I graduated, I landed a job working for a small underwater research company, which is what I now do full-time. I work on boats, using sonar to map and image the seafloor. My job requires a lot of travel, which can be fun, but also exhausting and can leave me feeling kind of unsettled. I turned to making jewelry because it helped to ground and center me. There's something about working on a very small thing that can be very meditative and soothing. I started just using drilled crystals like beads and dabbled in wire-wrapping un-drilled stones, but the results were too bulky visually and too flimsy structurally. I wanted another way to make these little earth-derived wonders into wearable art, and after some Googling, I found electroforming - which allows me to use science to create totally unique pieces. The rest is history!
How would you describe the general aesthetic of your line?
I make jewelry that I would call "boho-minimalist". I am really inspired by geometry of nature and different Earth structures, but I also love clean lines and patterns. Electroforming provides an awesome raw texture, which gives each piece an "unearthed" feel. When it comes to working with rough stones and raw crystals, I like to juxtapose irregular, organic shapes with structures and geometry. The cabochons and cut stones i use are enveloped in electroformed copper, which I hope reminds the wearer that their perfectly cut and shaped stone was once held in the clutches of Earth's crust.
From the ideation to sourcing of the gems, what is your process for creating these incredible pieces?
Everyone loves to learn about the process of electroforming! Each stone is first affixed to whatever is being turned into jewelry, let's say a blank ring, which is hand-formed out of pure copper wire. This is typically done with a strong adhesive-like epoxy, just to provide an initial hold. The next step is to paint the piece with a conductive paint, which is basically tiny metal particles in paint form. Anywhere I want cooper to form is where the paint is applied. The piece is then submerged into a plating bath, which consists of a breaker that contains a bright blue, acidic liquid and a copper wire that coils around the inside of the breaker. Each ring or pendant hangs off a thin wire that I usually wrap around something like a chopstick, which I lay across the top of the breaker; The idea is to avoid touching the workpiece to the surrounding copper coil. A power supply called a rectifier has one positive wire and one negative wire coming out of it, each have an alligator clip on each end. I clip the positive lead to the copper coil, which is called the anode, and the negative leads is connected to the wire that is connected to the submerged workpiece. Copper particles essentially leave the anode and flow through the liquid and onto the workpiece, and the copper slowly builds up and wraps itself around the workpiece over the course of 8-12 hours. I then follow a series of polishing and finishing steps to make the piece nice and shiny, and ready to wear.
I find my stones at rock shops, gem shows, and the internet. I have a lapidary (stone cutter) in Oklahoma, who supplies the majority of my turquoise, and I sometimes receive crystals and stones as gifts from friends and family members. Designs usually start with the stones - I let the shapes and angles of the crystals and stones I work with dictate to me how they'd like to be made wearable.
How do you market your line? And is collaborating with other brands, like your recent pop-up event with Madewell, a big part of the LAZULI mission?
The Madewell pop-up was so fun! I was actually just in the Providence store shopping with my friend, and one of the employees complimented me on the necklace I was wearing. When I told her that I made it, she suggested I do a pop-up there! I was thrilled to have that association with Madewell because their clean and classic aesthetic is what I'm all about. I try to market towards those who have more minimalist sensibilities, but want to add a bit of delicate interest to a look, or a pop of natural color in a neutral wardrobe. My pieces also work for the more free-spirited types who like to stack and layer. My customers tend to be women in their 20's and 30's, but jewelry doesn't discriminate. I hope that people of all / any shapes, sizes, colors, genders, and ages feel beautiful when they wear my pieces.
What's your favorite stone? And do you make unique creations just for yourself?
Do I have to pick just one?! Aquamarine is winning me over right now. I love those soft blue hues and I'm currently working with a bunch of watery blue aquamarine crystal and they are just so soothing to look at. I also love the allure of flashy moonstone / labradorite / opal, I spend the most time staring at those stones than all the others. My all-time favorite has to be turquoise. It is so classic and wearable.
I have a few pieces in my personal collection that I just can't sell, like the first Half-Moon Turquoise necklace I ever made (I've since made over a hundred). I get really attached to turquoise - I have three Half-Moon necklaces, which is totally unnecessary. I don't tend to make pieces exclusively for myself, though.
What inspires your creations?
I'm totally inspired by Geology, obviously. My friends and loved ones will tell you how excited I get when I find some cool rocks or if I drive past a really cool road cut. I read an article called "Your World, Rocked: Any Good Course in Geology Is Actually a Course in Time," which explains everything perfectly. After you learn a bit about Geology, it's like you have a superpower that allows the Earth to speak to you. The article says, "...there are a few courses - Geology, Astronomy, perhaps Particle Physics - that force students to confront true vastness, that make you consider the insignificance not just of your life, but of your entire species. Geology is a gorgeous way to contemplate the abyss." Having been exposed to this field of study makes me feel this connection to the Earth that verges on spiritual, which is the real root of my creativity.
Living in Newport / on the Aquidneck Island is also a major source of inspiration. The cliffs and rocky coastlines are stunning, all 365 days of the year. Being by the ocean is a must for me; a deep breath of salty air can be the best medicine if I'm feeling anxious or stuck. What I love particularly about Newport is the architecture of many of the old houses and buildings. I see a lot of arched windows, some look like little sunbursts, as well as cool shingle shapes and patterns. It's a goal of mine to pick up some architecture knowledge so that I have the vocabulary to describe many of the geometric, ornamental touches on some of these houses that end up manifesting in my work.
What is your favorite thing about the Newport creative community?
Rhode Island is funny. I was born and raised here (so were my parents, and their parents, and their parents..., but because much of my creative presence is online, Rhode Islanders and New Englanders seem a little bit slower to present me with opportunities. I have a number of retailers, almost 20 now, around the country, none of which I've actually visited in person. They found me online (mostly through Instagram, some through Etsy), but it took a while for Rhode Islanders to know me and my work. I think this is because I don't do many shows and I'm not out in person very much (because I have to balance my full-time career as well as family, etc.) Rhode Islanders don't seem to care as much about how many followers I have on Instagram or how nice my feed looks; They want to meet me and see my work in person. I think it's an East Coast thing, the West Coast seems to be really "switched on" when it comes to finding creatives via social media and the internet.
This is not a criticism, though. The more I put myself "out there", the more events I show up for, the more people I meet, the more support I get. My work is currently at Curated in Tiverton and Queen of Hearts in Providence, and people seem to be catching on. my work will actually be in the Newport Art Museum soon, and I'm working on getting a few local shows lined up this summer. The creative community here is amazing because it's an area that's really dominated by women who are their own bosses and totally run shit. For example, the women who run Curated encouraged me and another designer, Anne Jenkins of 10 Pounds of Feather, to collaborate and we made some really cool pieces! It was so nice to have someone to chill and make jewelry with, and we even did two pop-ups together. One of them was called an "Art n' Beer" at Mission (the best burgers in Newport, by far, also run by badass women), which was such a blast. Every woman I've met, worked with, and collaborated with have all made me feel like we're all on one team. It's really empowering and inspiring to see these women put themselves out there creatively and crush it! If I didn't feel that kind of support, I'd probably make a lot less jewelry!
Photos by Visual Manor