THE BOOK THAT IS ALWAYS WITH YOU: BY JEREMY MAY
A classic is a book that has never finished saying what it has to say.Italo Calvino, The Uses of Literature
Jeremy May created these elegant earrings from the pages of 'Winnie-the-Pooh' (1926), which was an important milestone in the development of many generations of creative young minds, hungry for stories, fairy tales, fun and cute characters.
I don’t want to copy a design. I don’t want to copy my same design. I want each piece I make to be unique and one-off. It bores me, in a way, to repeat myself. I can’t do it. If someone says to me, “Oh, I like that ring. Can you make one the same?” No, I can’t.Jeremy May. In an interview to Jewelry Journey Podcast
Jeremy May is a jewelry artist who takes the "reduce, reuse, recycle" mantra to a whole new level. He forgoes traditional metals and diamonds, creating instead unique jewelry pieces using paper.
May's process starts with a hunt for books to inspire him. He scours thrift stores and second-hand shops, looking for the perfect books that will spark his creativity. Once he's found the right one, he carefully selects hundreds of pages and laminates them together. Then, May shapes the paper into wearable pieces of art.
She was like a portrait, too exquisite and too delicate to be painted except by the most skilled of artists.Oscar Wilde, The Picture of Dorian Gray
Surprisingly – or not – there is a romantic beginning to this story.
The idea to make paper jewelry came to May in 2007 when he created a ring from a newspaper for his wife and his muse, Eva, on their first wedding anniversary. That one, simple act ignited a passion for jewelry design that still burns brightly today. Even his website, Little Fly, is named after the nickname Eva's eldest brother gave her when she was a child.
May sought advice from friends – jewelers, watchmakers, and product designers – but traditional techniques didn't interest him. Instead, he wanted to create something completely new and unique.
The breakthrough came when he began stacking and compressing paper under high pressure. The result was a material similar to plywood but made entirely from paper. This technique allowed him to create pieces that were both beautiful and durable.
May's commitment to originality and creativity is evident in every piece he produces. He refuses to recreate designs, even if someone asks him to. This dedication to individuality and innovation is something he learned during his days studying landscape architecture, when his teachers encouraged him to think outside the box and to create something that was truly his own.
I have always imagined that Paradise will be a kind of library.Jorge Luis Borges
Jeremy May's jewelry-making process is nothing short of magical. Through his unique high-pressure method, and without using strong chemicals or adhesives, May presses the paper together and folds it into the desired shape, coating it in Japanese lacquer for strength. The result is not only beautiful but durable, with that first creation he made for his wife looking as good as new sixteen years later.
However, it's essential to treat paper jewelry with care. May has exhibited his work in galleries, where visitors sometimes drop the rings because they don't expect them to be so lightweight. Luckily, in most cases Jeremy is able to fix them.
May's jewelry reflects his artistic vision, and he sees it as wearable sculptures. As such, he's started experimenting with larger pieces, despite the limitations imposed by the size of the books he uses. With a few larger sculptures already under his belt, it's clear that May's craft is still evolving.
I always think of jewelry as precious materials and gold and stuff like that, so I see my work more as sculpture, jewelry sculpture. I always find it weird to call myself an artist or a jeweler.Jeremy May. In an interview to Jewelry Journey Podcast
When he’s traveling, Jeremy May loves hunting for old books in street markets and second-hand shops. What catches his eye first is the book's cover. He enjoys discovering how people read a book, where they stopped, where they folded the pages; he is drawn to the paper they're printed on and the unique smells that come with each book.
Once a book is in his possession, he reads it from cover to cover. May's process is all about letting the book speak to him, and sometimes a particular quote will spark an idea that leads to the final design. He may start out with an idea for a ring, but by the end of the book, he knows it's meant to be a pin or a necklace.
Something just kind of clicks. I’ve had people crying when I’ve made jewels.Jeremy May. In an interview to Jewelry Journey Podcast
His work touches people on an emotional level. Books are super personal for a lot of clients, making the jewelry extra special.
Most of May's clients are men who buy his creations as gifts for their partners. When they come to him for a custom piece, some know the exact book they want to use, while others ask for the designer’s help. They chat about things like the book's thickness, whether it has a hardcover or softcover, its age, and where it was published, which can all affect the final piece.
May's shelves are brimming with all sorts of books, but he prefers to work with vintage volumes that have a story to tell. He believes that the history and character of these books make his jewelry even more special.
I’m proud of all my jewels. I’m super happy with all of them, but what gets me out of bed in the morning is the piece I’m making right now. As soon as that one’s finished, I don’t think about it; I’m thinking about the next one.Jeremy May. In an interview to Jewelry Journey Podcast
Jeremy May is not just a jewelry artist, but a master storyteller who weaves tales through the pages of old books. His themed collections for exhibitions and galleries are like something straight out of a storybook. With a pinch of inspiration and a whole lot of creativity, his unique jewelry pieces showcase the beauty of paper. Whether it's a series of Harlem novels or a fantasy world full of magical creatures, Jeremy's imagination runs wild as he delves into the pages of each book, letting the story guide him towards the perfect piece of jewelry.
The excitement never fades, and the possibilities are endless.
You don't have to burn books to destroy a culture. Just get people to stop reading them.Ray Bradbury
Each piece is more than just a trinket or an accessory – it's a work of art and testament to the power of literature.
So when you get your eyes, or hands, on one of Jeremy May's pieces, take a moment to appreciate the story behind it.
Painting by Mason-Hamilton Smith: an anti-socialite and an amazing Brisbane-based artist.