What do you get when you mix precious metals with circuit boards? The artisanal jewellery by designer Ashley Heather. In her small studio based in South Africa, she has combined the unique, techie element with conventional fashion through age old metalsmith techniques. The result is contemporary design with quite the social and sustainable integrity everyone can feel great about.
Heather, who comes from a photography background, originally avoided the art of jewellery making due to the social and environmental issues associated with precious metals and their extraction. But after seeing smelted silver in person, she was convinced to find an ethical way to create beautiful and sustainable art. But let’s back track and address the elephant in the room. Why circuit boards? It’s a far stretch from the plastic recycle initiatives we’ve heard and covered in the past.
Turns out they possess quite a bit of silver because it’s a good electricity conductor. And if you think about it, there is an abundant source of thrown-out circuit boards sitting in landfills. As she mentions on her website, “It takes 245kg of fossil fuels, 22kgs of chemicals, and 1500 litres of water to manufacture one desktop computer. Ultimately 80-85% of all electronic products are discarded in landfills or incinerators releasing toxins into the air and soil.” It’s a win-win situation because she gets her silver and in turn the earth has one less circuit board to deal with.
After a design and manufacturing course in technical metalwork and armed with her fine art background she set out to establish her eponymous brand to create bespoke, contemporary and minimalistic fashioned pieces. Working with a large metal refinery, the circuit boards are shredded to be fed into a furnace. The result is a copper and silver sludge which needs to be separated and purified before being melted again. According to Heather, silver obtained here is 99% less impurities than mined silver, making it a more ideal form of the metal to work with. What happened with the copper, you may ask? It’s the brut element to her design. Silver on its own is gorgeous but it isn’t that durable. About 7.5% of copper is added to her silver to make it stronger to make it functional beauty. And that’s not the only source of silver she uses. As per an interview with the Design Indaba, Heather reclaims and reuses silver from photograph negatives and x-rays through the photographic waste process.
The result is a conscious-driven product that can hold its own not just on the African continent but in the international scene as well. But perhaps what is so inspiring about this designer is her ability to think outside the box and create something conservatively beautiful through unusual means. It’s ethical design that offers solutions attesting that fashion doesn’t have to be destructive and that waste can be a beautiful thing. Plus, with a creation story like that, you’re guaranteed a piece of art that’s a conversation piece and great on the conscience too.