Materials as “happy accidents” – SCIN’s new exhibition at CDW – Cellophane

by Eve Hollands on

Since prehistoric times, man has evolved and defined itself by the use of materials: the stone age, the bronze age, the iron age…Our attempts to transform and recreate materials found in the natural world have shaped civilisation and society. And many of these successful outcomes are due to Serendipity.

The SCIN exhibition at The Serendipity Studio will be a walk through history, presenting materials that have come to fruition as a “happy accident” and how they have evolved and transformed the world of Design.

This week we will be posting on some of these amazing materials and presenting some of the artists that will have their work in our exhibition. Be ready to be wowed!!

Here’s our third material:

Getting Clingy!

After a customer spilled a bottle of wine onto the tablecloth at a restaurant, Jacques Brandenberger, a textile engineer, went back to his laboratory determined to develop a way to apply a clear film to cloth, making it waterproof. After experimenting with various materials, he eventually applied liquid viscose to cloth. The experiment didn’t go as planned as the cloth became too stiff and brittle. However the coating peeled off in a transparent film and Brandenberger thought it might have other interesting applications. It took ten years to perfect his film, his chief improvement was to add glycerine to soften the material. By 1908 he developed a machine that could produce transparent viscose sheets, which he marketed as cellophane.

Unlike the man-made polymers in plastics, which are largely derived from petroleum, cellophane is a natural polymer made from cellulose, a component of plants and trees. Cellophane is not made from rainforest trees, but rather from trees farmed and harvested specifically for cellophane production.


The capacity to see value in a material so ordinary as cellophane or cling film is not unique to Jacques Brandenberger though. Julie Usel, a London based contemporary jeweller from Geneva, not only saw the value but was able to add to it by turning the cling film into beautiful pearls.


Just like “real” pearls, which are made by a slow accumulation of nacre, Julie makes her pearls by wrapping layer after layer of cling film in a slow and almost meditative process. The results are beautiful; pearls with a lustre and shine that together form an elegant necklace, and carry within the story of her material experimentation.


Serendipity is a key protagonist in Julie’s practice. She works with materials that she has no prior knowledge of, allowing her experimentation to take her down unpredicted paths. It’s the material’s properties that guide her. She usually challenges the concept of “valuable” materials, using some atypical ones such as meat, or potatoes to create her jewellery.


“The work is a physical and emotional journey, exploring and externalising emotions as objects and invoking the tension we all feel concerning change,” says Julie.


Julie is a graduate from the Royal College of Art, London, with an MA in Goldsmithing, Silversmithing, Metalwork & Jewellery. She completed her BA(Hons) in Jewellery at the University of Art & Design, Geneva and her work has been shown internationally, including Galerie Marzee (Nijmegen, 2012), Studio 2017 (Sydney, 2012), Museum Bellerive (Zürich, 2012), Museum of Art and History (Geneva, 2010), Gallery Deux Poissons, (Tokyo, 2010), SO Gallery (London, 2010), MUDAC (Lausanne, 2008), Talente (München, 2008).

Learn more about Julie Usel:


Serendpity Studio will be hosted at The Goldsmiths’ Centre during Clerkenwell Design Week

Date: 23rd to 25th of May

Opening hours: 10 am to 5 pm (free entry)