Lingua Nigra

Alicia, the designer and maker behind Lingua Nigra posted a bold gold necklace with vibrant beetle wings on Instagram and it came up in my feed. I needed to know more. Turns out, Alicia is a cool chick with an incredible sense of style. Although we haven't met in person yet, she has an energy that radiates throughout the interview below and all of her designs. Her jewelry is balances rough and refined as well as new and old perfectly. The pieces are textured, but plated in bright 22ky gold. They have a old world feel, but are also very modern. Keep reading to learn more about Alicia!

The Beginning

I’ve been creating jewelry since I was a child! I started with making these beaded earrings and selling them in the 6th grade, but took a sort of hiatus a few years after that until I was in college at FIT studying Fashion Design. After I graduated from the program, I moved over to the Jewelry Design program. I just knew that the fashion world was not where I would want to end up professionally, although I had absolutely no game plan for where I would end up with jewelry! There really is a such thing as destiny.

The program I was in was hard and tedious. It was 4 semesters packed into 2. I was the worst student, mainly because I had two jobs, so I was tired all the time. I wasn’t able to be creative, I was just barely able to understand the process and complete (most of) the assignments. The only time I was able to do any work was in the middle of the night at the school studio. You can’t do that anymore. What good times me and my friends had!!

Anyway, after I graduated, I worked for some really talented designers, including Philip Crangi (pre-CFDA days) to name a few. That time in my life was really about just learning and soaking things up. 

It was around 2003-2004 when I was able to finally create my style for my own jewelry. I would use my boss’ bench after hours and I started to cold connect coins from my travels. I would also reticulate brass (my favorite thing to do when I was in school!) and make really simple shapes from the sheet I reticulated. It was all about a process for me.

The Process

I usually make some really rough sketches. I’ll always have something in mind, and it’s always just for me. I love body jewelry and stretched ears, so I’ll draw up some different ways to make ear weights, or I’ll draw a wall hanging I want to make into a necklace. From there I’ll sketch a little more. If it’s a cutout (like my Mane of Gold earring) or something similar, I’ll scan the drawing and clean it up in Illustrator. I’m all about an “organic” process, so even if things are symmetrical in my design, they rarely are when I execute them onto metal. 

I’ll almost always have some kind of texture to my pieces, so I’ll either etch the piece or already have reticulated the metal. Sometimes I’ll have a large piece of reticulated metal and I’ll just cut out shapes and layer and make a section that I’ll want to cast over and over again. 

I don’t use a ton of stones in my work, I wear a ton of color, so I don’t really need it in my jewelry. That being said, when I do go for color, I try to find unusual things to work with. For instance, I have corn beads that look like turquoise (because they are dyed). I also use jewel beetle wings in my work because…nature.

I also love malachite and lapis. I use those colors all of the time when I do want to add a bit of color to something, but I with the exception of the jewel beetles (and my amazing collection of other beetles for jewelry), I don’t start my process with a stone.

The Inspiration

Nature. I know a lot of people say that, but it’s so true!! 

I love nature and I love a beautiful forest or park, lots of green everywhere. I love that things can look so similar, but every single thing is unique in it’s own way. I usually only work with one shape in a necklace or earring, but I’ll repeat them over and over again. It’s like how a tree has leaves. The leaves all look the same, but each one is uniquely different. 

The process of etching and reticulation is “controlled” but also very random – you don’t know what you might get after everything.

Personal Collection: The pieces I wear almost every day are the Hand of Trinity necklace, the Small Poetic Gold Hoops, oh and my bangles!! I wear my bangles each and every day!! A lot of people know that I love Victorian (and Georgian) era jewelry. I am so fascinated with death talismans and keepsakes and talismans in general that I love a good Mano Figa charm. The Victorian Era wasn’t just the British creating these wildly beautiful, odd things, but what everyone else nearby on the globe was doing as well. I own a lot of figas but regularly wear 2 tiny coral ones around my neck on a gold chain. I always wonder who wore them before me and how they got here.

I also wear a green plastic ring from the 60’s that my aunt owned. She was the only living sibling of my mother’s 8 brothers and sisters I ever knew so it makes me feel close to her spirit.

Daily jewels: I always wear my bangles.  Always. I also wear a ring I made with a stone that was cut by a person who passed away a few years ago. He was a dear friend and gave me a box of his lapidaried stones when I told him I was majoring in Jewelry Design. When he died his daughter gave me a ton of stones he cut because she knew I would love them. I have fire opals, opals, slabs of malachite. I mean! I chose a really pretty bloodstone cabochon he made for a really pretty ring I carved out of wax. 

I also wear a rather large pair of ear plugs (or spacers). The pair I currently wear are made of goldstone. Lots of people think they are just really large post earrings!

Favorite Designers: Oh man. That’s such a big question!! I don’t follow a lot of folks, but I will say that my favorite designers in the jewelry world are Art Smith and Harry Bertoia. Both created these amazing pieces of art that happened to be jewelry. Both were masters of the simple shape and silhouette. They really made creating beautiful “clean” jewelry look very easy.

Other than jewelry: When not designing I like to learn more about everything!! The other week I was telling a fellow jewelry designer that I wanted to perfect my belly dancing, but I also want to learn Karate and take up kickboxing!

Right now I’ve been on the quest to perfect my Spanish. Recently I visited Guatemala for an intensive Spanish course. Trust me, it wasn’t a vacation!!

In general, I like to do the most because life is so precious. I’m always trying to learn more about the craft of jewelry making every day, but in between I’m also trying to be a better belly dancer, photographer, karaoke singer, Spanglish speaker…you get my point!

Currently listening to: Oh my, I’m such a music junkie! I listen to a lot of older stuff so I’ll just go in my hat and say I’ve been listening to a lot of Candi Staton. That voice!! That pain!! These days since I work solo a lot I listen to podcasts to pretend like I have co workers!

I cannot wait to see these beauties in person and meet Alicia at the Capsule show in September! Also, if you are local to Chicago, don't miss a trunk show on Sunday, September 4th at An Orange Moon in Wicker Park. For more info visit her website or Instagram.