Ausra Bankauskaite is the designer behind ‘AKA Jewellery’, a boutique brand of wonderfully elegant hand-made jewellery. Trained in metal-working and jewellery-design, Ausra creates pieces that could easily be exhibited as sculptural art in a gallery. When not worn, they could be placed on a table or mantlepiece and people would mistake them for decorative pieces. Ausra named her brand ‘AKA' the abbreviation for 'Also Known As’ to reflect the multidimensionality of her work. Her jewellery is based around two fundamental ideas, structure and functionality, which are combined to create minimal aesthetic forms to have the maximum function. Essential to ‘AKA jewellery’ is the idea of harmony with the human body. The jewellery must not disturb the body, instead, work with the human form to enhance and extend its aesthetic lines.
We were eager to talk to her about her work, her processes, and her experiences of the industry so far. Here's what she had to say...
Solstice: Tell us about yourself. Where did you grow up? What were you like as a child?
Ausra: I am an artist and the creator behind a jewellery brand situated in Brooklyn. Lithuania is the place where I was born and where I studied at the Academy of Arts. About twelve years ago, I moved to New York City, where I was involved in various projects with fashion designers and artists, including Donna Karan, Rick Owens, Alexis Bittar, and Federico De Vera. Ever since I can recall, I have been engaged with my hands in some activity, such as playing the piano, molding in clay, or taking apart electricals. I was lucky to be exposed to the art world through dance, music and art classes, so I always experimented with different mediums, but I think my love for construction came from being surrounded by tools and blue prints from my engineer father.
Solstice: How did you get into jewellery design?
Ausra: To be completely honest, that happened by accident. In high school, I imagined I wanted to study interior design, but when I got to know more about it I found it boring and changed my mind last minute before applying. To please my parents I promised to try to get into jewellery design, where I was 100 percent sure I won't be able to get in. As it happened I did get in and had to keep my promise and study jewellery design, later I did grow fond of it, because I loved working with tools and the construction aspect of it.
Solstice: How are you finding being a designer? What are the highs and lows?
Ausra: I enjoy the part where I create, and try to do it whenever and as much as I can, unfortunately, creativity is a very small part of being a designer and a business owner in one. I had to learn so many things and aspects of business that I never had and still don't have interest in, but are essential to keep going.
Solstice: Where do you get your inspiration from for your designs?
Ausra: As you can see from my work, most of the designs are very simple and based on the way different parts connect, sometimes making the connections themselves to be the main part and focus of its design. That inspiration comes from my observing and studying various objects in our everyday life and how different parts of those objects connect. Either a door hinge or the construction of bridges is based on connecting different parts and maximizing its function.
Solstice: How do you decide on which metals are used for your jewellery?
Ausra: I use mainly silver for making prototypes in wearable jewellery and brass in bigger art pieces. The choice of material is pretty much determined by the price of it, I like to create in metal when designing new pieces and that can become quite pricey. Not every experiment comes the way I imagine from the first try, some ideas sit in a form of unfinished parts for years until the right time comes and I create or get an idea of where they belong.
Solstice: Describe the process from concept to final realised product? What is your favourite part of the process?
Ausra: My process when creating can differ from project to project. If it is a private order I try to know what the customer wants, what they like from my previous work most, and what part of the body I need to integrate with. Having all that information I try to put it via "aka jewellery" filter - purifying the form, sticking to the concept, and using connections in design to bring something unexpected.My favourite part is to solve this "problem" so that my customer and I would be happy with the result. Sometimes the solution comes very fast, and sometimes it takes even a couple of years. When some sort of construction element catches my eye, I always make a note - either a quick drawing on my phone or in a notebook I always carry around. Then if I'm creating, let's say a new type of earring, I always go through these memos and see what I could use in a way that could be incorporated with the body. Second I make prototypes in metal and see how they feel and work when wearing them. If everything feels right, I make a new product, if not I modify it until it does.
Solstice: Modularity and versatility are a big part of your design ethos, why have you gone in this direction, and how is it advantageous for you and the consumer?
Ausra: I have always been obsessed with functionality and construction and try to make my work do more than just adornment, so modularity happened very naturally. When I started creating wearable jewelry pieces I didn't have modularity as my goal, but I was trying to make some parts, like earring closure to integrate into the design of the earring itself. That made my pieces modular and the more I experimented with different designs, the more options were born out of it. My clients and I enjoyed the idea of making their version of my work, so I decided to move in that direction and give my customers the possibility to express themselves via my designs.
Solstice: Do you have a favourite of your designs? If so, which one and why?
Ausra: Some of my favourites are the most simple ones.
Number one - BETA series - because of its simplicity of it and focus on the connection, pure in its form.
C-line closure cuffs, that can be worn with any other post earring and transform it into an unexpected statement piece.
Latest - CO line, where I have approached a simple hoop concept and gave it "aka jewellery" modular upgrade.
Solstice: How do you see your brand/designs evolving?
Ausra: I think my brand will continue to be based on modularity and versatile ways to use it. The collections are growing in a way that they can still be connected with my designs that are from 5 years ago, so that is the path it will stay on, just with more parts to play with. The next step will be to introduce a fine line, so gold and diamond lovers can have something to their taste. Same concept, and new materials to play around with.
Solstice: All blue-yellow ear cuff (pictured right) sale profits are donated to Spilka NYC, a fundraising collective for the people of war-torn Ukraine. Why did you decide to do this specifically for one related piece of jewellery? Was the cuff created specifically for cause?
Ausra: I come from Lithuania, a country that has a very recent memory of being occupied by Russia and we support Ukraine in every way possible. When Russia invaded Ukraine almost a year ago it was a big shock to realise that this is happening today and we tried to think of ways to raise money and awareness of it. I am fortunate to know people that don't just sit around but try to change things, some of them are behind Spilka NYC - a non-profit fundraising collective of creative Ukrainians in NYC. I have attended some of their fundraisers and was thinking about what I as a jewellery designer can do to help. I wanted to create something that people would want to wear and show support while doing so. This is how Blue - Yellow cuffs were created, so everyone can wear a flag of Ukraine and with this little gesture and donation show their support. I encourage you to donate and raise awareness in any possible way since the war is still happening and people are fighting for their freedom.
Solstice: Do you have any plans about going into different areas of design?
Ausra: As I mentioned before, the new collection will be a fine one ( gold and diamonds), and you can see a little sneak peek of it.
As for different areas in design, I would love to extend my love for construction to bigger objects, like light or furniture design, but that's in the future.
Solstice: What do you hope you'll be doing/where do you hope you'll be working in ten years time?
Ausra: I hope I will be able to get attention from more people who love design and are curious to experiment. This would enable me to grow my brand and give me the resources I need to advance the concept of modular jewellery. Presently, I am single handedly running the company, from generating ideas to delivery. I am looking forward to finding individuals with similar outlooks with whom I can collaborate and take my projects and efforts to a next level.