Uncut Gems: An Interview With Piezas Únicas

It happened in the Cal Poly craft center during the last session of in-person classes, shortly before the end of the world.

Sophia Rivera and Julianna Quihuiz had been friends since their freshmen year when they had met working at the campus market. Julie trained Soph on the job, perhaps predicting a trend for the two of learning and working with each other. That said, one could imagine that more glamorous, interesting things were still to come. Certainly more than a campus dining gig.

Fast forward to New Years 2020. In their time at school, Soph and Julie had spent time studying for their degrees (Animal Science & Communications respectively) and bonding over their shared passions for fashion and sustainability, co-founding the sustainable fashion club on campus. As 2019 drew to a close, the two had resolved to be more artistic and decided to take a metalworking class together. Unbeknownst to either of them at the time, they were both standing at the precipice of discovering a previously unexplored creative passion. One that would become a craft, a skill, an art, and a business for the two friends: jewelry making.

(left to right) Soph Rivera and Julianna Quihuiz wearing Piezas Únicas pieces. Photo by Jo Anna Edmison

During these retrospectively halcyon days of the Winter of 2020, the two of them quickly fell in love with the crafting process. Soph fondly recalls spending their free time, day after day in the craft center, constantly working on new pieces. It was exciting, an extension of everything the two of them loved about fashion, compounded with the added thrill of learning a new craft⁠—an artistic, practical one. They were both planning on taking more classes to pursue this passion.

And then the world ended. This, however, wasn’t enough to stop either of them. 

“COVID hit, and we were living together,” Soph explains. “So we were just kind of sitting around and we were like ‘How do we keep at this jewelry thing without going to the craft center anymore?’” They go on, “I basically went to Home Depot and I found all the supplies that the craft center had, but about a fourth of the price. I just set up all my stuff in the garage.”

Julie had also taken an interest in the newfound possibilities of DIY jewelry making. “I was like, ‘You know what? New hobby, let’s try this out.’ … That’s when we really kind of launched our decision to collaborate on a [web]page together.”

Though their beginnings were humble, they’ve steadily managed to gain a following online. Their Instagram, @artbysophxjulz is currently sitting at just under 1000 followers. This pursuit of jewelry making has launched them into a larger community of online homemade jewelry makers. In the wake of COVID, many people shopping around for jewelry want their wares delivered directly to their door, or contactless pickup; both services Piezas Únicas happily provides. Surprisingly, their business has been able to thrive, even during a pandemic. 

That said, neither Soph nor Julie can wait for the pandemic to end. Soph posits that this can make a huge difference. “Despite our world being so interconnected during COVID, there are no in-person interactions … If we’re able to have in-person classes again and, say 100 people are walking around campus with our jewelry, how many people are going to complement each other and pass on the information for our page?” 

Beyond the business end, Piezas Únicas is the collaboration of two artists who have a message. Perhaps more than any other form of art, fashion is a medium in which the expression of the creator and the consumer are intimately intertwined. After talking with Soph & Julie, I walked away with the impression that these are people who not only care about the craftsmanship of the jewelry, but people who understand the value art can hold to those who cherish it. Julie explains, “I think for me, it’s the love I’m putting into the product when I’m doing it, and the fun I get to have. It’s also a lot of hard work!” 

“When somebody is wearing my piece, I really hope that when they look at it and wear it, it’s not just something they picked up at Target. A slave to the system of capitalism. I hope you can trace it back and see that I pieced this together! With all my hard work and love!”

Soph nods, “Yeah, exactly. I personally find so much confidence in myself- in my clothing. I define myself by what I wear and what I put on and stuff like that… What I want people to get out of our stuff when they’re wearing it, it’s that same feeling .”

Julie chimes in here, smiling, “I think, Sophia, whenever you make something, you’re putting out a piece of you.”

Photo by Jo Anna Edmison

Jake Davis is .WAV’s Editor-in-Chief, he wrote the article. Malorie Morello, is a .WAV art contributor, she created the graphic.