Among the glittering diamonds and shimmering pearls, a more ordinary material has been making its mark this season: resin.
Consider the turquoise resin drop earrings accented by amethyst and malachite stones from the Italian designers Grazia and Marica Vozza, at $2,015. Then there is a $1,390 Saint Laurent gray resin cuff with crystals that Net-a-Porter advised should be worn “alone, with a sleeveless gown.” And a long 18-karat gold necklace with resin beads and five diamond drops by Gigi Clozeau, at $2,075, which Matchesfashion.com showed with a Bottega Veneta cotton-blend halter-neck dress.
Even the art jewelry world has been taking notice as resin offers “possibilities that metal and stones do not,” Corinne Julius, the curator of the “Memories Are Made Of This” group show at the Sarah Myerscough Gallery in London, wrote in an email. The show, scheduled to end Jan. 27, includes a resin brooch with layers of colorful tissue paper squares at 795 pounds ($999), by the British jeweler Kathie Murphy.
“Resin has a wonderful lightness that allows a luminosity not available in other materials,” Ms. Julius wrote. “It can be molded into any shape, allowing unusual forms.”
Natural resin, a substance contained in the gum or sap of trees such as pine and fir, was used in lacquer and varnish by many early civilizations, including in China and Egypt. But by the 20th century, natural resins had been almost entirely replaced by synthetic ones — for example, epoxy resin, used for repairs, was introduced in the 1930s — and other variations made with petrochemicals.
Resin became popular in art and art jewelry in the 1970s because “there was a reaction to preciousness,” Ms. Murphy said, and artists “wanted to do something new.” For cases in point, look to the work of two British designers: Peter Chang, whose polyester and epoxy resin bracelet in the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s permanent collection pops in green, red and yellow, and Susanna Heron, whose flying bird brooch in silver and scarlet resin is on display at the Victoria & Albert Museum.
The range of colors now available for resin has been driving its use in jewelry, said Paul Schneider, co-founder of Twist, a jewelry brand with stores in Portland, Ore., and Seattle. People are more comfortable wearing colors now, he said. “Wearing black can almost look dated.”
For example, the jewelry brand Completedworks in October used an orange version of bio resin, made from vegetable oils, to create earrings and a signet ring (£135 for a single earring, £165 for a ring). Anna Jewsbury, who founded the brand in London in 2013, said orange is “a vibrant, young color.”
Making a resin piece can be a lengthy process, Ms. Jewsbury said, noting in a follow-up email that it can take one to three weeks to go from drawing a design to polishing a finished piece, depending on the item’s size.
For example, she wrote, she drew the original design for her green resin Clash earrings, then a team member used 3-D software to recreate the drawing, improving the design’s precision. Ms. Jewsbury used that version to print a 3-D form in wax, then did a recycled silver casting and finally made a silicone mold.
She sent the mold to the factory she uses in Indonesia, where the resin was mixed and poured into multiple molds, allowed to set over several days and then polished.
Suspending materials like thread or tissue paper in resin is among the most creative ways to use the substance, but it also is one of the most difficult, Ms. Jewsbury said, referring to the amount of experimentation it took to create her pearlescent white Scrunch earrings, at £195.
She tried four or five different materials, including pearls, which, she said, “didn’t look good” and glitter, which “cheapened the look.”
Almost by accident she ended up trying some thread that had been discarded from another project; in the final version, blue thread was used in white resin. “As you pour the resin, you can basically add the thread as you go, as it is setting,” she said, so each finished piece is distinctive.
Grace Lee, a jewelry designer in Los Angeles, agreed that working with resin was more difficult than it might seem, especially when making rings like her glitter styles this season.
Rings are spherical, so they require multiple molds, Ms. Lee said. And “you can’t necessarily set on the entire piece,” she said, referring to adding gems or other accents. “There’s only certain areas that are flat enough to take a setting.”
The Paris designer Pascale Monvoisin said the painting on her blue, pink or green resin pendants ($115 to $315) was more delicate than it looked. Not only are there tiny spaces to paint around the palm tree, the text (“Steal Me A Dream”) and among the circles, she also wanted the resin on her green and blue pendants to be transparent so features like the sun rays at the bottom of the green pendant would be visible.
Despite all the skill expended on resin pieces, some shoppers still just don’t believe that resin is a suitable material for jewelry. Designers have been trying to overcome that negative opinion by elevating their creations.
Hirotaka Inoue, a jewelry designer in Tokyo who uses only his first name professionally, has his studs, ear cuffs and other pieces in black epoxy resin painted to mimic Cartier’s black onyx and lacquer panther designs. As a result, he said, they “convey a high jewelry image,” but cost about £206 to £1,731.
And, Mr. Inoue said, resin pieces also have a commercial value “because they strike up conversations” between customers and sales staff members, so he always tries to ensure that his resin earrings are in strategic positions, such as next to the cash register.
Designers are experimenting to determine what will come next with resin.
Ms. Lee has been planning to make a resin necklace — not just a charm, she said, as resin “gives me the flexibility of a larger scale without the burden of the cost of the material of like, say, gold.”
Ms. Monvoisin has been considering mixing resin with 18-karat gold and diamonds for her necklaces, bracelets or even rings “because it democratizes” jewelry, blurring the distinction between diamonds as high-level materials and resin as low-end.
Ms. Murphy wants to experiment with brighter or subtler colors, while Ms. Jewsbury has said she plans to step beyond jewelry: working with a furniture maker on small pieces of resin furniture, like stools.