LONDON — Remember WALL-E, the little Pixar robot made from e-waste and tech junk?
A new luxury jewelry collection, Oushaba, captures WALL-E’s landfill look — and beautiful soul — with designs made from e-waste mixed with precious gems and recycled gold.
Far from looking drab or ersatz, the Oushaba creations are full of color and personality. Some of the designs have Art Deco flair, while others recall the ancient Egyptian, Greek and Roman jewelry on display at the British Museum.
Called Connection Salvaged, the 38-piece collection melds mobile phone circuit boards, charging cables, USB sticks and plugs with sustainably-sourced diamonds, rubies, emeralds and sapphires.
The designs are made with 22-karat yellow gold, 18k white gold or sterling silver. All of the precious metal is 100 percent recycled, sourced from industrial waste.
Gillian Carr, Oushaba’s managing director and cofounder, said it’s sad that so much e-waste ends up in landfill and “we wanted to think about it differently, to challenge people’s ideas about what is waste, and what is luxury.”
She founded the company with two fellow art collectors and they set out to make one-off pieces of wearable art with the aim of breathing new life into discarded materials.
“These e-waste components are really beautiful, with amazing jewel-like colors, shapes and characteristics,” said Carr, whose green earrings and matching ring look like they’re made from jade. Instead, they’re tiny green circuit boards adorned with emeralds and rimmed in gold.
Likewise, Carr’s chunky brushed gold ring appears to be set with bits of turquoise. Instead, it’s dotted with tiny blue tubes cut from the inside of a mobile phone. Her cuff bracelet is made from a series of charging cables that look like black leather strips. The cluster of cables is fastened with circuit boards that have been cast in gold.
The partners also wanted the jewelry to have a retro feel, and create “future artifacts.” Even the name looks to history. Oushaba comes from a classical Arabic word meaning alloy. Carr said she and her partners want to “mix ideas and influences and collaborate.”
Carr also sees romance in the e-waste.
“We upgrade our phones so often because of built-in obsolescence. It’s crazy to think that something that has connected you to your loved ones, something that has been such a big part of your life ends up forgotten in some dusty drawer in your house, or in landfill,” she said, adding that customers can also hand over their old phones to Oushaba and have bespoke jewelry made.
The idea for Oushaba evolved during lockdown, said Carr, when phones virtually became extensions of people’s hands. It also grew out of the three friends’ love of art and determination to do something with all of the waste pouring into landfill.
Carr, who studied art history at university and who later worked at Christie’s, added that she was always interested in creating wearable art.
All of Oushaba’s jewelry is one-of-a-kind, made by hand in a family-run Sicilian workshop. The jewelers source the e-waste from a local electronics repair shop and work it into the jewelry using traditional, lost-wax casting techniques.
It is fitting that this unconventional jewelry is made in Italy, home of Arte Povera and Futurism, two art movements that were direct reactions to a fast-changing society.
Arte Povera saw Italian artists of the late ’60s and early ’70s rebel against convention and capitalist institutions, making works with found materials such as twigs, soil, rocks and bits of rope.
The Futurists, working in the early 20th century, embraced modern invention, technology and objects such as cars and planes. They worked propulsion, movement and machinery into their paintings and sculptures.
Those artists set out to challenge the norms of their day and, like Oushaba’s founders, channel unusual or everyday materials into their art.
The pieces will sell on Oushaba’s website, which launched in mid-March, and by personal appointment at the brand’s showroom in South Kensington.
In addition to making bespoke orders, customers can personalize certain pieces with initials. A diamond-edged initial mounted on a discarded charger cable certainly makes a strong statement about tech, wealth and waste.
The jewelry comes in bespoke wooden boxes lined with cork and fabric padding. Each piece is by the London-based furniture maker Jan Hendzel Studio. The plastic-free and foam-free packaging is 100 percent recyclable and compostable, created using FSC-certified materials and soy-based inks, according to Oushaba.
Prices range from around 500 pounds for the silver jewels while the gold pieces start at around 3,500 pounds. Prices can stretch to 40,000 pounds and beyond for designs made with 22k gold chains, diamonds and other gemstones.
The jewelry is only the beginning of the Oushaba story.
The three founders are hoping to ply waste and recycled materials into other forms of art and craft, with future collections in fashion, accessories, homeware and decorative objects. They also want to draw on the expertise of different artisans from around the world.
“Our driving principle is to give new life to forgotten material,” said Carr.
She added that another core principle behind Oushaba is that every collection should do good, so a percentage of the profits from every sale will be donated to a charitable cause.