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Q&A: Petrichor Jewelry founder Esther Hong on being impulsively artistic and the freedom of making one-of-a-kind art

The maker of avant-garde conversation starters, Esther Hong is a junior who started the jewelry company Petrichor in the spring of 2020. Her one-of-a-kind, upcycled necklaces have become coveted statement pieces for varying punk-inspired and vintage jewelry collections across campus and beyond.

The Chronicle sat down for an interview with Hong to discuss the development of her company and her creative process when making jewelry. 

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

The Chronicle: How did you come to start making jewelry? 

Esther Hong: This whole jewelry thing was an effect of quarantine after my mom lost her job. I was looking for work, and no one would accept me. So, I decided to start making beaded earrings and chokers, because I had seen them on Instagram in the Y2K trend. They're extremely simple, because they’re supposed to look childlike, so I just made those and sold them on my Instagram story.

I experimented starting with beads and then with clay a little bit, but I didn't really like how clay was so fragile. So, I started looking into upcycling certain pieces, and then transforming it into new jewelry. That has become my selling point, what makes my brand so unique right now. 

Since then, my world has expanded so much. I look at inanimate objects in a new way every day. I would have never considered myself particularly creatively inclined, but it seems that over time, I am becoming a more creative person because of this endeavor.

TC: I didn't know what the word Petrichor meant when I first saw your Instagram before I Googled the definition. How did you decide on that as the name of your company?

EH: Petrichor is my favorite smell and sensation. I remember my mom describing it to me in choppy English and Korean when I was around seven years or old. [Petrichor] reminds me of youth. 

When I first started making jewelry, I was working with beads. I was labeling my brand as going back into time and embracing your inner child. Now, I still really like that name because I want to keep my jewelry really experimental.

TC: The pictures of your jewelry are unlike anything I've seen before. Where do you get your inspiration for creating jewelry?

EH: @InfinitePieces_ on Instagram is a fashion brand that’s really experimental. They use inanimate objects like keyboards, telephones and circuit boards in their work. They make a lot of weird garments, and I'm in love with designers who make people confused with their art. That's my goal with Petrichor. 

But my biggest inspiration would have to be Vivienne Westwood. She first started making jewelry by herself, and she had a boyfriend who was in a punk band. They worked with each other: She would give him pieces, and he would wear them at their shows. That’s how she segued her brand into this booming punk era at the time. 

My boyfriend is in a band called Weston Estate, and we do this funny thing where we try to emulate Vivian's past. So, in concert, they always wear my pieces.

TC: You talked a bit about the trend of one-of-a-kind jewelry pieces, and I've noticed that all of your jewelry is one-of-one. How did you come to decide that this is how you want to make and sell jewelry?

EH: When I first started making clay pieces, I found myself duplicating a certain design 10 times and being so tired of it, because clay is so hard to work with. I wasn't doing well; I would have to destroy half the pieces I made. 

Overall, the feeling of reproducing a design felt so static to me. I felt like a worker in my own enterprise, and that was the opposite of what I wanted to do. I actually got the idea from my boyfriend. He said something like, “Just don't do any of the stupid shit. Just go straight into having fun with your work and doing what feels good. If that's just investing into one piece, and making everything else an independent, beautiful piece, then just do that. And the demand will follow.” 

TC: If I asked you about the most rewarding part of the process, is there anything that comes to mind?

EH: The most rewarding part is seeing my jewelry on other people and seeing them happy about it. Wearing it with a complete outfit and dressing up with it. I love seeing people radiate with my pieces on. 

TC: When it comes to making jewelry, is there a part of the process you find the most exciting? When do you feel the most creative?

EH: It's definitely when I’m first starting, and I need that one piece to upcycle. Whether it's a watch or a circuit board or something. I was thinking earlier that I could maybe break off the water faucet, like the little label that says “hot” on it.

I'm always thinking of something. Making the jewelry is fun, but it's more about the ideation for me. That's the coolest part.

TC: You are going to be releasing new jewelry March 12. Is there anything you’re excited about for this upcoming drop?

EH: For the drop, 100% of the proceeds we're giving to Ukrainian refugees. I don't really know how to support during this time, but I feel that donations are a safe and sure way. It always feels weird doing something as frivolous as jewelry-making in an actual world crisis, so I want to do what I can. 

TC: You mentioned how you get a lot of inspiration and support from your boyfriend, but is there anybody else that contributes to your jewelry brand, or is this mostly a one-woman show?

EH: It's mostly a one-woman show, but I definitely have characters in my show that are whispering in my ear and giving me great advice. One day [a friend and I] were looking at these old keyboards and she was like, “You should have old circuit pieces on your necklaces.” And I was like, “Yeah, I've been thinking of that, but I don't know how I would be able to do it.” She was like, “Just drill holes in it.” And I was like, “This is genius.” That's when I started doing that. 

And then Brandi Martin is a girl from Duke. I love to use her as my muse all the time. I have a video ad promo coming out soon with her in it, and it's just gorgeous. I love using my friends as models.

TC: Do you have anything in mind — any goals — for the future of Petrichor, whether it's new designs you want to try out or just ways you want to develop your brand?

EH: Right now, I definitely want to have bigger jewelry pieces, and then maybe move into clothing and accessories. But I don't know how far in the future that'll be. I think what's cool about having your own business is that the sky's literally the limit. There's nothing that can hold you back from doing anything. So, you can just see how far it goes and where it takes you, which is really exciting. 

TC: That actually perfectly leads into the final question I want to ask you: Do you have any advice or words of wisdom for other small artists or for people who want to pursue a similar business as you have?

EH: This will sound stupid on the other side; every advice sounds stupid on the other side until you experience it. But just do it. I think my impulsive nature has made me very successful in things like this because I don't care too much, I don't deliver too much, and I kind of just did it. 

My jewelry was so bad when I first posted online and first started selling. But it was that push into the public sphere and then the fatigue that I felt that was weighed against my work that motivated me to go to the next step. 

If you keep all your great ideas in your head, you'll either forget about them, or they'll age away and they'll not be great for the later moment. Sometimes you just have to be a little bit irresponsible, and then you’ll have a lot of fun with some crazy stuff.

You can check out more about Petrichor Jewelry on Instagram and the website

Petrichor’s newest collection can be purchased via Instagram starting March 12 at 7 p.m. Each new item will be shared on its own post, and people can bid for it in the comments. The highest bidder will receive the jewelry, and all of the money paid will be donated to Ukrainian refugee support efforts through care.org

Correction: This article has been updated to reflect that 100% of the proceeds from Petrichor's March 12 drop will be donated to Ukrainian refugee support efforts.The Chronicle regrets the error. 

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