Holding the Universe in Your Hand: Optic Opals Leading Edge Wearable Art
Written by Lauren Goldstein / Photography by Kenda Bradford
Kenda Bradford has spent the last year and a half iterating new designs for Optic Opals, her cosmic-inspired interactive jewelry line, in partnership with New Mexico silversmith Mark Anderson. Optic Opals is interactive, one of a kind statement jewelry created with natural gems and minerals, hand-styled from the inside out in a process that cannot be reverse-engineered.
Her pieces are shaped in pyramids, domes, and crystals of multiple sizes. Kenda, a New Mexico native, uses real semi-precious and precious gems (including diamond and opal) and mineral inclusions. The resin medium of Optic Opals allows for inclusions of minerals which might otherwise be too fragile to wear. Many pieces can take on another look altogether thanks to UV-reactive elements.
“I’m inspired by the infinite combinations of patterns and combination found in nature,” Kenda says, “I recreate that wonder and experience in my pieces—wearers never see it the same way twice.”
Kenda began making simple resin pours and beaded jewelry in 2011, experimenting with using high end gems and minerals along with glass beads. She and her work have steadily evolved, and she has been doing professional-level resin work for over a year and a half.
This July, she decided to take her business to the next step, by participating in Arrowhead Center at NMSU’s BizSprint accelerator program. BizSprint, a cohort-based program with curriculum modeled on National Science Foundation Innovation Corps (I-Corps), guides entrepreneurs through customer discovery. It is Arrowhead’s community-facing business accelerator program powered by New Mexico Gas Company, an Emera company.
BizSprint teams consist of an entrepreneurial lead, technical lead, and business mentor, and conduct 30 customer interviews in the course of five weeks. In the fifth week, teams participate in a Strategic Doing workshop—a discipline developed at Purdue University Agile Strategy Lab. The workshop, which I facilitate, helps entrepreneurs leverage their assets to take quick action toward collaboration.
Hernandez, technical lead, joined Kenda in a different business venture last year became fast friends and business partners, so collaboration on Optic Opals made sense. The three of us share aesthetic sensibility and creative vision.
“The experience with BizSprint was wonderful. I learned so much quality information through the course—‚more than anticipated. There is so much opportunity surrounding BizSprint, and I met the best innovative people who were in the cohort. The process improved my entrepreneurial work and boosted my confidence,” Kyla says.
Kenda’s rapid iteration and entrepreneurial spirit have led her to refine her techniques over and again, each round of experimentation resulting in a dazzling, color-shifting experience unlike any other. She’s always prioritized collaboration with other artists, and her work during BizSprint reinforced this priority.
“Without the pressure of selling, since customer discovery does not focus on sales, it was a knowledge quest to find as much out as we can about the ‘pains and gains’ of owners and employees of high-end galleries, interactive art exhibits, jewelry stores, gem suppliers, and more,” Kenda explains. “Across the board, we found that many top artists consistently engage in collaborative projects. For example, customer discovery led to finding out there is a market for Optic Opals collaborations in precious metals such as gold and platinum.”
Though the curriculum for NSF I-Corps (and hence, BizSprint), was developed specifically with high tech companies in mind, the team found that it was equally as suited to creative entrepreneurs.
Kenda says, “The structure and approach fit for what we set out to do—accelerate the coordination and refine direction for future Optic Opals endeavors.”