GBC grad creates ingenious neckpiece

Yiwei Zhang’s wins emerging artist design award for her creation Sprout Spring

During her final year of the jewellery arts program at George Brown College (GBC), Yiwei Zhang designed a neckpiece that won her first place at the recent Emerging Artist Design (EAD) competition.

The Canadian Gemmological Association (CGA), for the first time this year, organized the competition to give recognition and celebrate the works of young designers and jewellery makers. 

Prior to the jewellery arts program, Zhang studied interior design at a university in China.

“It’s one of my dreams, to make jewellery,” Zhang said who had this in mind even before university. 

The limited jewellery programs in China did not make it easy for her, and so she decided to pursue another interest: interior design.

In fact, even while studying interior design, Zhang was constantly looking for ways to incorporate her technical skills into making jewellery. 

She despised having to sit and work at a computer all the time as a student of interior design, which led her to studying jewellery design at GBC.

“It feels very special when you use your hands to make it,” Zhang cites as a reason for wanting to create jewellery. 

Having studied interior design, she already had a way with design, placing her ahead of the competition. 

“Sprout Spring,” the name of her winning item, was not initially created for the EAD competition, but was instead the product of an assignment in her final year of the jewellery arts program. 

Sprout Spring by Yiwei Zhang

The winning piece had silver sterling draped around the neck and separated into branches as it extended towards the chest, imitating growing vines. Sapphire, amethyst, pink tourmaline, prehnite and diamond stones decorated the silver with two gold butterflies spotted on the wires.

It took a month of coming to campus and working during her free time to build this inventive piece.

“We just learn when we make it,” Zhang said, explaining her first attempt at making something this big. 

She had worked on smaller projects in her program but nothing to this extent. 

She approached this project by choosing a theme first, and decided on the season of spring. 

There were many challenges. It had to follow the curve of the neck. Not all parts of the jewellery had the same thickness, so she had to account for that when making it. 

There was a lot of planning involved which often took to the form of drawing. 

Suitable stones to be used were discussed with her professors who assisted with the setting stone process.

“I really want to thank my professors, they give us a lot of help,” Zhang says.

Martha Glenny, a professor at GBC, brought personal stones for one of Zhang’s classes, some of which ended up being used in Sprout Spring. 

Another professor, Paul McClure, closely guided Zhang through the whole process of her big project. 

The designer also thanked goldsmith Shona Kearney for her contributions in the making of Sprout Spring. 

Zhang hopes to embark on similar projects in future, as her first big jewellery piece turned out to be a success.

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GBC grad creates ingenious neckpiece