Exploring what possibilities lay in Pacific Blue Paua under various different lights, we would sometimes go to sleep at night with our heads swimming with colour, and dream of an elusive luminosity.
Over time this glow became somewhat haunting - forever peeking out from around corners, but also always remaining just beyond reach. And yet, there it was again the next day, darting about inside the recesses of the next shell pulled out of the bag, or the next piece being worked on.
Strangely, and very frustratingly at the time, whenever we saw this luminosity in a piece of shell it was always lost again as soon as we cut that piece of shell out.
Were we just imagining it? We simply couldn't figure it out.
And if all of this sounds a little fanciful, in the end we were not actually just daydreaming this mysterious glow. It turns out that the 'phenomenon' we were fascinated by was merely a little understood property of the structure of Paua shell itself, as it refracts and filters light.
In particular - what we had been observing, as we fumbled about trying to capture it, was a 'bounce', a 'rebound', a 'secondary effect' that was - like a rainbow - only present under certain rare conditions.
Eventually it became clear what those conditions were, and also why we had failed to capture it before then.
It was about that time that we produced the first 'BELEAF' product (see the image above). But the very first was one of half a dozen or so 'ORBITAL MONARCH' rings, in this case called 'Double Happy'. As you see below, these items were more micro-sculpture than wearable jewellery - you could just about knock someone out with that!
With this piece a mystery finally began to unfold, because this was the first time we were able to observe the colour shift in a way that was simply unavoidable.
The shell in this ring was soft mauve, but somehow it emitted a throw that was often bright orangey-pink.
This soon led us to stop looking into the whole shells, and to simply pick up a couple of small pieces and examine this effect more closely. And finally we worked out - it was actually when the surface of the shell was placed exactly perpendicular to itself that this 'secondary colour' suddenly became apparent.
This immediately explained why it had always been there to some degree in many contexts, but had also been so difficult to capture. As we were working on these shells under bright lights, and usually with some kind of optical headgear on, this glow was often present merely due to the shape of the shell itself, and the way it allowed for this rebound - as light went into the recesses of the shell, bounced around, and eventually made its way back out again - changed.
So there it was - out in the studio we had stumbled upon something that apparently nobody else had ever noticed (at least consciously) about why these shells are sometimes so wonderfully luminous on the inside, but somehow never quite as much on the outside - even if you take the time to polish the outside up.
We have since come to call this effect the 'colour flash', and you can see examples of this 'flash' in the three items shown in the main page image above, which are all just ordinary Paua shell, and have not been colour corrected. The colours you see there are just the colour flash - the base shell in each was quite a different colour again.
Importantly, this is not merely a normal reflection of light, in that the base shell colour is invariably different to the flash.
Even more curiously, you really never knew what that 'flash colour' might be. It could be an apple green flash as thrown off pale pink Paua. Or it could be electric blue off sea green. Or even bright pink off purple. And this can certainly make the choosing of shell a bit tricky, because the 'flash colour' any particular piece of shell will emit does not become evident until you take it out and align it in just the right way.
It soon also became apparent to us that this 'flash' was only visible on one particular axis in most cases, and that it was also somewhat dependent on certain ambient light conditions in order to be fully alive (wonderful on a cloudy day for instance - or in a white room). And in one sense this made it still a little elusive, but this also gave it a kind of dancing fascination as it moved. It was almost like Alexandrite in the way it captivated your gaze, but with colours more akin to Fire Opal.
This surprising and enigmatic effect is what we have now
begun to capture in every PAUA PRISM item made, and this is why you will always see more than one picture of any item on offer in the online store. It is because we need to not only indicate the shell colour (which can often be relatively plain) but also show you the 'flash colour' that comes out of the central axis of the inlay feature.
*In any context where several images are not provided (as with some of the less expensive or less variable pieces), this will simply mean that the item in question likely displays the most common and vibrant colour set - which is the typical blue-green base shell colour you might normally expect to find in Paua, with an even more 'electric blue' flash.
This is by far the dominant colourway for these products.
Anyway, that pretty much brings us to the end of our story of PAUA PRISMs. Essentially, this form was the very best of the best of all that emerged from the original explorations we made in the very early days of CONTINUUM, before we got distracted by commercial reality and the promise of scale. Of all the things we have done and made on the way to where we have come to now, they are the one form that still truly captivates us. They are also the one that was never commercially produced.
For us, PAUA PRISMS are that brightly coloured fish that once got away, which we had only glimpsed all those years ago. And even now, it remains unclear just how many will ever be produced - if any. So if you see one, and if you like it, we certainly suggest you snap it up, because it may be gone tomorrow, and never return.
We are retired now, out to pasture I suppose, which makes these purely a passion project now. This is what these products mean to us in the context of everything we have done. Of course, we are reluctant to say that PAUA PRISMS will be the final chapter in this creative journey, but we do believe they will be the most fabulous and deserving.
They come from a good home, I guess that's what we have been trying to say here in offering our end of their story in full. Perhaps we have become the equivalent of that senile but happy old man, out in the garden of the retirement home, chasing butterflies, in his nightgown!
They are not only beautiful - they also come from a beautiful place. Each one is very special in its own way, even to us, and our only wish is that they will be just as truly loved by whoever receives them, or wherever they do end up.
We can only hope that they bring you as much joy as they do us, and that they come to mean very special things to all those who find them.
HOW THE PRISM WORKS
Normally, when light bounces off Pacific Blue Paua the returning light is blue-green, with other hues less common but many variations possible. So you might visualise that as follows, if you piece of shell is pink (quite rare but not uncommon) -
But what happens when you establish just the right geometry is that the light then bounces off one face of the shell, which 'cuts' the light, and then off another, which then 'cuts' it again. The result might be visualised like this -
The resulting 'flash' out of the central axis only is then of a colour that does not exists in either of the shells in isolation, and that colour can range from being subtle at times, to very bright indeed.
In many different fields of understanding this kind of effect is known as an 'emergent phenomenon', and is widely appreciated as one of the most interesting and amazing facts of nature as a whole.
Almost all the best things in life are emergent phenomena - like rainbows, or a murmuration of starlings. Life may itself be an emergent phenomena it seems, with many of the best and most precious elements being similarly both fragile and extremely beautiful.
A secret from the depths of the wild Pacific Ocean - this previously undiscovered emergent property is the elusive spirit we seek to embody in every PAUA PRISM.
The shell in this pendant above was actually pinkish-mauve, as shown again in the pendant below. This is only one of five or so main colour sets that typically emerge, with an electric blue flash off green being most common, and a pink flash off purple being rarest. This green flash off pink joins purple off blue (and several others) somewhere in the middle. These two pendants were chosen here merely because they match the diagram 'colour set' used below. As with Pacific Blue Paua in general, PAUA PRISM products are predominantly blue overall.
*colours not adjusted
If you look at the ranges that are emerging there already, you will see the recurrence of leaf and heart shaped forms in many different variations. This was not intentional on our part - it is merely serendipitous. These just happen to be forms that particularly suit the limitations of the medium, as one of many coincidences that all point in the same direction.
There seems to be a recurring theme emerging here - a theme of 'love and life'. In particular, we have noticed a kind of allegorical symmetry between how these pieces work to produce their beautiful effect, and the way people connect to each other in life. After all, the prism itself is merely the result of a convergence of elements - in just the right alignment - so as to allow for something greater to emerge, something more than the sum of its parts, something almost magical in a sense.
Curiously, this is exactly what happens in the highest forms of human connection - it is always about finding that easy alignment and as a result experiencing that mysterious 'something' that emerges almost magically. There is an automatic and effortless overflow that cannot be accounted for by merely examining the individuals associated. It is all an expression of something that is sometimes called an 'emergent phenomenon'.
Love, life, beauty... these are all emergent phenomenon, in that they cannot be discovered or captured anywhere in the constituent parts from which they are comprised. They are transcendent, ethereal in a sense, but also unbreakable for the same reason - in that they will always and only arise when the conditions are just right for them to do so.
Therefore, for us at least, PRISMs represent this same basic pattern or principle. This connection, and this emergence, is the key. For us they symbolise this convergence and the emergent beauty that can arise whenever you find the right two things and align them in just the right way.
LETTING GO OF PERFECTION
Beyond this convergent effect, there is also one other aspect to PRISMs that is very attractive to us - that neither of the parts of this particular alignment need to be in any way perfect in order to produce an effect that is far beyond what you might think possible. They only need to be united in this way. And, once again, this is also exactly what many people experience in connection to each other.
Paua itself is always somewhat imperfect, and this means that anything made from Paua will always reflect this to some degree. But this 'embracing imperfection' aspect is not a problem here, in that it also has the advantage of allowing us to step back from the idea of 'technical perfection' to some degree, to relax and to take an approach based much more on broad strokes rather than perfect detail.
So these items are often somewhat crooked, and a little bit freestyle you might say - and there was once a time when our artistic insecurities might have driven us to correct all of that. But actually, that's just fine - we like it like that. It represents two ordinary elements made luminous together, glorious in their imperfection, and that is all that matters to us now.
We are basically done perfection, because here's the thing about that: it's not perfect. There is too much mind in that, and not enough heart. This is where many novices will often get confused. They will imagine at first that the core skill lies in surmounting the technical difficulties rather than reaching for this most essential thread. They will imagine that the more time they take, or the more difficult the process, the more valuable the outcome will be - but this is often completely misguided. It is always about this most essential connection.
Which is to say - a fixation with technical perfection is often immature in this context. That aspect must be first of all mastered, certainly, it must be truly overcome - but then ultimately transcended, or even relaxed entirely, on the path to something much greater again.
Which is to say - it is all too easy to get lost in the small print and completely miss the bigger picture. And in this instance that bigger picture is this connection between people, and how to make pieces that can carry that meaning. And that is what shines through effortlessly in this case, regardless of how we approach it.
That's why we return here now. It is this meaning that seems to be built into the medium itself in this instance, almost as if unavoidably. It is almost as if this medium was intended for this purpose - to symbolise the power and beauty of unity, when two things come together in just the right alignment to produce something unexpected - something very special.
And for this reason we are not going to limit the amount of heart or leaf forms that emerge within this range - which is something we might normally be tempted to do if only for the purposes of artistic balance. We are happy that these forms are there in such a dominant way, if only because it naturally aligns with this deeper symmetry. We didn't make it so, we are merely allowing it to be expressed - on its own, so to speak. It is just one more interesting and fortunate aspect of what makes these products so unique.