Innovative jewelry designer Paula Ortega’s new line is as fleeting as beauty itself. Made from an impossible-sounding mix of metals and milk proteins, the “wearable sculptures” are actually biodegradable! Although these pieces aren’t meant to be your next family heirloom, their organic shapes and unique origins make them an ephemeral must-have.
Ortega is no stranger to outside-the-box sustainable materials, using recycled silver and vegetable loofah to make her first collection called Liminal. Exploring the idea of combining a mundane material with a precious metal, Ortega stumbled upon casein after ruling out the too-toxic materiality of resin. Historically, dating back to Ancient Egypt, the milk derivative has been used as a fixative in paint, and so the designer decided to push its structural properties by transforming casein into wearable art.
After two years of experimentation, Ortega perfected a process of mixing casein with anti-mold stabilizers and setting it in a silicon mold cast from the delicate spindles of a loofah skeleton. Around seventy days later, the casein mixture is finally dry, and ready to receive a layer of conductive ink in the places where she will then adhere her precious metals. The casein loofah-forms are then places in an electroforming bath with copper or silver, and the two materials are fused together.
The resulting pieces feel like a mesh between a fantastical fossil and a microscopic organism, sparkling with metal and gleaming with the white casein. The ephemerality of these pieces are thought to last just twenty years, when the sculptural jewelry returns to the earth and biodegrades, leaving no waste behind.