Inspiration can strike an artist at anytime, anywhere, and sometimes this spark of creativity can come from the most unexpected of places. For Kathleen Plate, Ashia and Julie Burke, and Kimberly Norkooli, their inspiration comes in the form of Coca-Cola bottles, cans and bottle caps which they, respectively, repurpose into beautiful jewelry. Each unique piece carries some of Coca-Cola’s timeless allure and serve to trigger memories, show an appreciation for the iconic brand or be worn as tribute to the wearer’s favourite beverage.
20 years ago, long before “going green” was a trend, Plate began working with upcycled glass in her art. In preparation for the opening of the World of Coca-Cola in 2007 in Atlanta, Coca-Cola was looking for upcycled products to offer in its gift shop. Representatives reached out to Plate soon after seeing her work, and a collaboration began with the artist using Coca-Cola glass for a line of jewelry with the tagline, “Drink it, Wear it.” The initial pieces were an enormous success, so much so that both parties entered into a licensing agreement.
Plate has a patent on making glass circles from the bottles. The circles came directly from her work with Coca-Cola. “Working with Coca-Cola bottles is difficult because of the size and shape," she explains. "So I bought a band saw to cut them and one thing led to another.” Since that initial contact in 2006, Plate has become a big fan of Coca-Cola glass. “It's so clear and has such a beautiful luster to it!" she says. "It's literally magic glass because it looks good with everything and everyone. It works with every skin tone, and every colour of clothing. You can't go wrong with it.”
Her luminous pieces with wavy swirls, circles, or gem-like cubes with the Coca-Cola logo are set in sterling silver and continue to be a hit. “People tell me stories all the time about their memories of the brand," Plate says. "It is part of Americana and has a nostalgic connection for people.” In addition to being available at the World of Coca-Cola gift shop, her jewelry is sold at small art stores and galleries and even at the Guggenheim Museum gift shop. It's also available online at online at Smart Glass Jewelry.
Ashia and Julie Burke are a mother-daughter design team. Ashia is one of Julie's four daughters, and she recalls how all her girls were always being creative. Ashia got into making jewelry first, and eventually the two joined forces. Julie is retired from law enforcement and used to work graveyard shifts where she got into the habit of drinking caffeinated beverages. “We realized rather than throwing the cans away, we could be creative with them. It was a win-win, we had the supply and it's good for the environment,” Julie says. Through a process of trial and error, they developed a technique to form pieces of aluminum cans into delicate shapes and designs such as rose petals and butterfly wings. Diet Coke is a particularly popular brand with her customers, who are mostly women, although they sometimes hand-dye the pieces, further transforming the materials. “We don't want to do just simple things that everyone else can do, we want to do more unique things and take it to a higher level,” Julie says. Their jewelry also incorporates chains, pearls, rhinestones and vintage elements giving the pieces a modern yet vintage feel. Their jewelry is available in some local Reno and Truckee art galleries as well as on Etsy and their website, Absolute Jewelry.
Norkooli got into making jewelry through a circuitous path. Her mother and stepfather had a stained glass shop and after learning that skill she also learned glass etching and fell in love with it. The glass etching led to her making jewelry and she sold some glass etched jewelry in her parents’ store.
Inspiration struck one night when she was watching the movie Confessions of a Teenage Drama Queen. At one point in the movie, the main character is wearing a choker style necklace made with silver Coke bottle caps. Immediately she fell in love with the look. While finding unused bottle caps initially proved difficult, she eventually tracked down sources including buying six-packs of glass bottles. After experimenting she was able to figure out how to place the holes and how to smooth the crimped edges, and gradually she was able to create a final product that was close to the one in the movie.
Says Norkooli, “Most of my family including myself have always been Coke drinkers. My brother is a devoted Diet Coke lover. I adore Cherry Coke, and most of the family on my father's side enjoy (classic) Coke. She adds, “I have many reasons for using Coke bottle caps and can tabs. Not only are they fun and attractive accents to jewelry, the caps hold up well, it is a vintage brand, and I am keeping things out of the landfill.” Norkooli’s pieces are available through her Etsy shop, Etching N Jewelry.