Cast Jewelry Founder Rachel Skelly and Artist Windy Chien Talk “Knot Life”

Windy and Rachel working

Rachel Skelly, founder and Chief Creative Officer of Cast Jewelry, and artist Windy Chien have teamed up to create a unique new collection, Knot Life.

Chien, a California-based artist known for her sculpture and site-specific installations, is also the author of 2016’s The Year of Knots. Launched in 2021, Cast Jewelry’s mission is to craft timeless and elegant pieces that transcend trends. In October 2022, Cast opened its first Bay Area boutique at The Village at Corte Madera. The one-of-a-kind Knot Life collection celebrates the art of the knot, and is set to launch this summer.

Below, Rachel and Windy explain how they came together for their collection and their love for knots.

What does a knot symbolize to the both of you?

Windy: Knots are artifacts of human ingenuity. The difference between a knot and a tangle is intention. There are almost 4,000 named and documented knots, and the vast majority were invented to be functional — to do one thing and to do it perfectly. For example, the knot we used in this collection is called Ringbolt Hitch, which sailors traditionally apply to the outside of metal ringbolts on boat decks. It protects the metal (and sailors’ hands) from chafing. This notion of protection aligns perfectly with the jade circles in our Cast pieces. Symbolizing protection and good fortune, jade bracelets are often worn by Chinese women, and given to Chinese girls when they are young. Our collection unites my love of knotting with my Chinese culture in an utterly contemporary form — the black jade is modern, and the clean lines of the jewelry elevate knotting from its crafty roots.

Rachel: I love the timeless visual of knots, and as Windy has always passionately shared, that they are a universal language. They are such simple and organized sculptural forms that can create a dramatic statement especially when playing with scale, materiality, and composition.

Rachel, what do you love most about fine jewelry and working at Cast? What drew you to Windy’s work and made you want to collaborate with her?

Rachel: I think what I love most about fine jewelry is that every silhouette is a wearable piece of art. Jewelry is such an amazing form of self-expression and I’ve always loved that these pieces become an extension of you. Their forms wrapping around you in an almost protective nature and the fine materials are something that will last. It’s like putting on your little suit of armor each day. Cast has been the culmination of my love of jewelry, my background in design and my collaborative nature. I have followed Windy’s knot journey since the beginning and have always been so inspired and enamored with her work and eye. I love her modern and graphic take on such timeless, traditional forms. Since the early days of Cast I knew that at some point I wanted to do a collection that celebrated knots in a fresh way and of course Windy was the obvious choice. I was so thrilled when she agreed to collaborate with us on this collection.

Windy, what is it about the art of knot-making that drives you to create?

Windy: Knots sit at the intersection of function, history, and mathematics. They’re humble objects we take for granted, that we tie our shoes with. No one really thinks about the design ingenuity in knots, and how beautiful they are. I add aesthetics to this intersection; I make knots into sculpture whose beauty is undeniable, and this quality is intended to draw the viewer in and provoke awareness of the concepts behind the visual harmony: a deeper clarity of looking.

Tell us more about what it was like working together and behind the scenes of creating Knot Life?

Windy: I make art depicting knots at massive scale in order to elevate the practice to the level of fine art; I want to invite the viewer to marvel and reach a state of clarity about how beautifully designed each one is. Cast’s Knot Life has a similar goal — to elevate the humble knot to an object of awe and beauty, this time by using precious stones and metals. Working with Rachel was a gift. Her eye is unerring and she is a kind and fun leader. Her and the Cast team’s expertise with translating my work to a different scale, with precious materials at that!, are amazing.

Rachel: Collaborating with Windy has been a dream — she has been nothing short of a delight to work with. There were certainly challenges in figuring out how to take her macro works into a more micro world using fine materials, but she was so collaborative and thoughtful at every turn. We have both learned so much along the way.

The Woven Mesh pendant necklace features charcoal jade. Why did you two decide on that gemstone? 

Rachel: We were on the hunt for a luxurious material to use for the ring in the hand-knotted pendant. We wanted something that would really set off the knot forms and rich metals. Windy suggested Jade given the personal connection, as it’s known in Chinese culture for its protective qualities, which also emulate the protective nature of this particular knot. We began sourcing different types and charcoal jade became the natural choice the moment we saw how the gold and silver played off its rich color. We’re all obsessed.

Windy, was there ever a time where your knot-making skills came in handy outside of work?

Windy: All the time! Just this morning I tied a Figure 8 stopper knot at the end of my cozy pandemic sweatpants strings, so the string doesn’t disappear inside the garment!

Rachel, what do you love most about Knot Life? What do you hope people would take away from wearing a piece from this collection?

Rachel: I love how graphic and artful each piece is. I have to say my favorite is the gold mesh hand-knotted pendant. Each knot is so precise and the way the light catches in the detail of the gold and turns of the material is just stunning. I hope people feel emboldened when wearing a piece from this collection. There’s truly a creative energy radiating off every silhouette.

I heard Windy used to own the legendary Aquarius Records in SF. What’s an album or song that inspires the both of you every day?

Photo by Plateaueatplau via Wikimedia Commons

Windy: Black Sabbath “Paranoid” — not the lyrics, the vibe. It’s my walk on music for artist talks, and our soundtrack during last years SFMOMA Artists Soap Box Derby. Or, if you’d prefer something more knotty, it’s gotta be Christopher Cross “Sailing”— the OG yacht life (Knot Life!) song.

Rachel: Windy is the master here, I think she captured it perfectly with the Christopher Cross reference.