Malaysian mixed media artist makes steampunk jewellery with vintage clock parts

  • People
  • Monday, 28 Sep 2020

Hogwarts Quartet miniature book necklaces, inspired by J.K. Rowling's Harry Potter book series. Photos: Winnie Thye

Winnie Thye, 51, is always happy to receive damaged vintage watches and clocks. Instead of repairing them, she dismantles the timepieces and uses nitty-gritty parts to create steampunk jewellery pieces.

Steampunk is a retro-futuristic subgenre of science fiction that fuses technology and aesthetics inspired by the 19th-century steam-powered machinery. To create such jewellery pieces, Thye combines vintage items, hardware objects and gadgetry.

"I have always been spellbound by the genres of fantasy and science fiction, from Middle Earth elves to imaginary flying machines. I am captivated by steampunk fashion, especially the Victorian era opulence and the industrial revolution's grime and grit. I cannot imagine steampunk without clock gears, dials, cogs and regulator gauges," explained Thye.

Thye's Oculus - Prime necklace is inspired by the All Seeing Eye (Eye of Providence).Thye's Oculus - Prime necklace is inspired by the All Seeing Eye (Eye of Providence).

The mixed media artist is among a growing number of people who upcycles to reduce waste. And by giving something a new life, Thye believes she is helping to treasure its history.

"Vintage items are like timekeepers with beautiful stories to tell. Things that are ravaged by time evoke a certain kind of poignant romanticism, and that spurs my imagination.

"Take an old key, for example. Imagine how many hands have held onto it. Imagine if that key, or a clock, could talk, what intriguing stories it could tell. I find this notion fascinating," said Thye in an email interview recently.

The Petaling Jaya-based jewellery artist has been involved in mixed media for 11 years. The mother-of-two employs many mediums (like assemblages and collages) in her creations. The components used range from paint and paper to ink and old clock parts.

Lady in the Mirror - Birdhouse Vessel steampunk necklace, handforged from recycled copper. Lady in the Mirror - Birdhouse Vessel steampunk necklace, handforged from recycled copper.There is a particular appeal to her gothic, whimsical yet beautiful designs. Some of them include rustic metal birdhouses, Eye of Providence pendants and elven inspired motifs, to name a few.

Her pendants measure between 1.5 inches (3.8cm) and three inches (7.6cm) each.

Thye mixes the unexpected in her assemblages, ranging from semi-precious stones, construction hardware to vintage barrel keys.

Lots of imagination goes into her creative artwork. And it's not surprising that it takes anything between two and four days to complete a piece.

For inspiration, she would imagine herself as a character in a fictional world. She’d wonder how she’d live or what her wardrobe would look like. She'd go to her workbench and start rummaging through her stash of items and pick out things that would remind her of that feeling.

Thye wearing one of her steampunk jewellery pieces.Thye wearing one of her steampunk jewellery pieces.

"I don't sketch my designs before I make them. I like to work organically and intuitively. Often, I'd start with an item on my workbench that catches my attention. It might not even end up in the final piece, but it is the catalyst. I am happiest and most creative when I see a story unfolding in my mind.

"Sometimes, I’d pair a rusty flat washer with a jasper stone or a brass clock gear with a red clay heart and a pair of trinket wings. It is unexpected and otherworldly, and that is what I like to capture in my pieces," said Thye, who uses different soldering (cold and hot connections) techniques to assemble the jewellery.

The must-haves in her creations include vintage clock gears, cogs and regulator gauges. But, dismantling clocks (to obtain gears and cogs) is a tedious and somewhat dangerous task, Thye explained.

"There is a spring in all winding clocks. When dismantling the clock, one needs to be careful because the spring can pop out aggressively. If you are not careful, it can cut you or worse, spring into your eyes.

"Plus, these clocks are old and their mechanism and parts are often stuck together in old grime. The gears are also attached to the central barrel, which can be challenging to remove," said the self-taught artist.

Thye also specialises in wearable miniature book necklaces. To make one, she tears pieces of paper and tea-stains them to create an aged look. Pages are stitched into a book block and attached to a cover made from recycled leather. The motif on the book cover can be an assemblage of various things like clock gears, metal components and old barrel keys.

Her best-selling book necklaces are the Harry Potter-inspired series. Thye has a fair share of customers from Europe and the United States. Her creations are available on Instagram.

Thye loves mixed media art because it allows her to dream, imagine and create beautiful pieces. And along the way, she gets to repurpose old things and evoke emotions and memories.

“Hopefully, this will inspire people to treasure vintage items and preserve their stories.”

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