If you’ve ever fancied owning a luxury car – a Porsche or Maserati perhaps – but just can’t quite afford one, jewellery designer Christi Schimpke of CRASH Jewelry has the perfect solution. She designs and makes sustainable cuffs, bangles, earrings, necklaces, rings and cufflinks from the metal of late-model luxury cars such as Maserati, Porsche, Ferrari, Mercedes-Benz and more. What a great idea!
With a husband who runs an automobile collision repair shop, Christi was in an ideal position to see the amount of cast-off sheet metal and parts being replaced on such luxury cars and work out ways in which to upcycle them. It’s an idea that has taken off since she began four years ago. So much so that her pieces were featured on the runway in the 2016 Style Fashion Week LA with clothes by the designers Fuschia Couture and I-Am-Zoe.
Please introduce yourself. Tell us about your background and how you’ve got to where you are today.
My professional background is/was in art history. I have my masters in Italian Renaissance art and worked at the Getty Museum and UCLA (University of California, Los Angeles). I took a metal fabrication/metal smithing class a few years back and fell madly in love with the entire creative process. I had already left UCLA because I was unhappy and for the first time in my life I felt passionate about something.
I started a more traditional jewellery business originally (called Minabea after my grandmother) and moved my studio into my husband’s automobile collision repair shop (Beverly Coachcraft) in LA. While working on silver smithing, I hit upon the idea to work with the cast-off sheet metal from the parts that were being replaced on these new, luxury cars. It started as an idea and I had to create a process which has developed into a much better process now (four years later). I stopped doing Minabea and am now focusing solely on CRASH Jewellery.
When and why did you begin exploring with old car parts with the idea to upcycle them into jewellery?
There are no ‘old’ parts. These are all late-model (new) cars with original factory paint. This is an important distinction because I cannot work with any metal that has been repainted and I only have access to new cars since that is what we take in.
I began CRASH during a period when metal prices were sky rocketing and wondered if I could make jewellery from car metal and aluminium metal.
What challenges, if any, did you face along the way?
The physicality of the job is difficult in that I am bending car metal all day – cutting it, sanding, drilling, shaping etc. Also, the process and product keeps evolving. In the beginning I had no idea how the paint would behave if I cut or bent the car metal and I had to figure out a way to keep the paint intact. Other challenges have been trying to explain that the jewellery is actually from a car part!
Can you share a bit about the creative process?
I usually just start making things, rarely do I sketch designs out or think them through. I see the car metal and the paint and try to associate it with the car it came from and often designs grow from that. Mostly I observe life around me, mostly industrial and urban life, and that inspires me. I usually make a prototype, wear it, and work out any kinks that may arise before I replicate. I tend to make a lot of one-of-a-kind designs that are often difficult to replicate.
Tell us about the importance of upcycling and sustainability for you in both your work and personal life?
This is very important to me. I try to use as much of the cast off car metal as I can. I save the scraps to use on other projects. I reuse packaging from the parts department and anything else I can think of. I hate that we are such a throw-away society and it sickens me to see the amount of waste that we humans create. I try to also practice sustainability in my personal life but I can do always do better.
Who or what are some of your influences eg other makers and creatives?
Elon Musk (South African-born) billionaire entrepreneur, engineer and inventor), Zaha Hadid (Iraqi-born British architect), Alexandra Mor (New York-based jewellery designer).
What’s one thing other people may not know about you? I believe in justice.
It’s not very cool, but I really like … Playing Yahtzee.
Have you ever had a ‘who’d have thought’ moment?
Yes, currently! Who’d have thought I would go from an office environment to an auto body garage. Who’d have thought I would feel more at home in work boots and getting my hands dirty.
Thanks so much, Christi!