A look behind the scenes of ORA-C jewelry
Caroline Pham, the founder and designer of jewellery label ORA-C, travels the world collecting semi-precious stones and turns them into wearable art. She invites us into her fantasy world, reveals her newfound love for knitting socks and shares how COVID-19 has affected her brand.

How do you live a wild and meaningful life?

I always try to live each day with the least amount of responsibility possible. This is not to avoid feeling responsible but more that any change of mind or sudden desire can be easily implemented in my daily life. I’ve always disliked being tied down to things or answering to any kind of direct authority. So, I have no routine, no kids, no mortgage, no boss … and I feel great about it.

Creating miniature wearable sculptures in my studio all day is my dream job. Although my work feels like a demanding child at times, I have to remind myself of the creative freedom I am lucky to have. Especially in this ever-changing retail and fashion industry landscape. Accepting change as it comes, in all its forms, is a great way to live a wild and meaningful life.

What inspires and influences your jewellery designs?

I see myself as a sponge. From growing up through fragments of multiple cultures (my father is Vietnamese and my mother French Canadian), I have always had the ability to be a great observer and a dreamer. I take in something foreign, digest it and eventually create my own world out of it.

Topics of inspiration have been various but are almost always processed in the same way. I create fantasy worlds out of my desire to explore forms and textures that remind me of treasures from another time, craftsmanship from a foreign culture, museum-worthy finds to be given to someone to wear in their daily modern life. I first had a wave of fascination for embroideries, weavings and tassels, then turned my attention to metal casts of the Bronze age and archeological treasures.

As of late, I am fascinated by the simplicity of nature, florals, vines and my fingerprints, as well as the opulence and the tragedy of the way royal families ruled throughout history (and, of course, their gem-stacked jewelry!). From Versailles to the Romanovs and from their oblivion towards the people they ruled to their seclusion and their delusions. I find the duality compelling, especially in the COVID-19 era when our fragile nature revealed itself gloriously, while we secluded ourselves and slowly dissolved our toxic society in a shouting fit of political disillusions through internet memes.

What are your favourite materials to work with and why?

I love working with various semi-precious stones I gather from my travels. I add these pieces to my Stone Series, a limited-edition one-of-a-kind side collection that I make whenever I have time. Last December I was in Vietnam and then in February I traveled to Mexico right before the world closed its borders. I was able to bring back gorgeous stones from these two destinations, which most likely will sadly be the last batch for a little while.

This way of working allows me to create pieces that are not necessarily reproducible, which makes the designing process a lot less restricting and allows my creative juices to go the extra mile with wilder pieces. In fact, my new series came out in June so be sure to check it out. Featured are baroque pearls, zebra jasper, chain linked agates, yellow opals, amber and many more.

What is the making process behind ORA-C?

I started my work hand-making everything as I never wanted never wanted my pieces produced by others to grow my numbers and my company. I had the opportunity a few times to scale up and establish a system where my pieces could be manufactured but chose to stay a small designer. This means I have full control and I’m and deep in my own making process.

At first, this used to embarrass me. I found myself pretending to be bigger than I was on the outside, just to keep up with what the industry seemed to require. But I quickly understood that my stubborn approach was worthy, and that standing my grounds to sail happily in my small business status was enough to earn me a spot as a respected jewelry designer, locally and abroad.

What are some of the ways you’re reducing your impact on the planet?

I’m a small business so I produce less and on-demand. Most of my pieces are made to order or are one-of-a-kinds. I can’t really say I’m a “green” company, as I think it pretentious to greenwash a practice when you do not have a 100 per cent environmentally friendly solution on all fronts of your business. For example, simply by shipping any product abroad creates a significant carbon footprint. I do, however, strive to reduce my impact on the environment the best that I can.

I attempt to reduce the use of chemical products as much as possible in my minimal packaging and also in my choice of materials. In small bulk, I buy unique end-of-series or hand-carved stones from my travels or I hand-cast my metals from my local foundry. It’s a joy to work this way. My fingerprints are pressed in all my pieces; it’s my hands that form and finish them.

How has COVID-19 isolation been for you?

I had many ups and downs. In the beginning, it was hard to imagine putting all my past months efforts to a halt. A lot of what I do has to do with momentum, and when this finally stops, it can feel like there is no more rewards to claim after so much work.

When I realized there was nothing I could do about it and that the entire world was going through the exact same thing (and some a lot worse than I was), I found total peace of mind. I started eating really well, I took up knitting socks and although I felt a little crazy at times, I was lucky to have my loving partner next to me. Since early April, I’ve been able to work at the studio again and things have slowly picked up. Just this week my foundry started casting again so, really, there is nothing to complain about at this point. In fact, it feels great to live without the pressure of time and expectation.

My business has been spared by being such a small entity and having little economic responsibility attached to it. I’ve heard of so many horror stories from fellow designers who had to deal with large cancelled store orders and factory debts building up. I kind of feel like an ant who survived the COVID-19 storm.

What’s next for ORA-C?

Honestly, it’s hard to say. Hopefully great things are to come but I would rather not presume too much as we live in a bizarrely unstable economy – especially in the retail and fashion industry. Luckily, I am not too closely linked to it and have maintained quite an independent stance for a while. My online sales are what sustain me for now, and hopefully store buyers will start their purchases again.

I guess I will rely on the survival skills I have armored myself with from my freelance hustle days in New York City and power through with the beautiful things I can still push out into the world.

For more, visit ora-c.com or @oracjewelry on Instagram.