Hi-tech facelift for old favourite

DIGITAL MAKEOVER: Ashleigh Woodmass used hands-on skill and 3D printing to create her contemporary jewellery.
DIGITAL MAKEOVER: Ashleigh Woodmass used hands-on skill and 3D printing to create her contemporary jewellery.

In the digital age a photo locket might seem an anachronism destined to languish in the velvet folds of old jewellery boxes. Not if Ashleigh Woodmass has anything to do with it.

Faced with a digital fabrication challenge to give new life to a piece of electronic gadgetry, the 20-year-old Victoria University industrial design student conceived a way to use this generation's ubiquitous storage device to give the humble locket a hi-tech makeover.

"I saw this opportunity for a USB to be incorporated into a piece of jewellery. Mainly because I always used to forget my USB, and I feel like jewellery is something so personal you can really feel when you're not wearing it. So if you could combine the two, it could make a really nice solution to the problem."

The project took Woodmass, who is one furniture paper shy of completing her design degree, about four months from idea to final production. The end result is a range of chunky but stylish necklaces and rings with integrated, functioning storage USBs that rotate on a pivot hinge, enabling them to be inserted into a computer and loaded with images, videos or documents of sentimental value. That locker of precious memories can then be unlocked at any computer port around the world, hence the jewellery's brand name: Memoirs.

The USB could also be used as a digital journal, Woodmass says, with the added advantage that if it's hanging around your neck or slid on to a finger no- one can fish it out of your drawers while you're out.

"A lot of people are on computers all day and write their own little diary. It could be great to be passed down."

The idea won Woodmass the Viclink award for the project with the greatest commercial potential, and her work has featured on influential international design websites.

While the concept is simple, its execution was more problematic. The jewellery was designed using a 3-D modelling programme and 3-D printed in resin, before being electroplated - a chemical process coating the designs in metallic finishes such as silver or antique bronze.

But that still left the USBs themselves.

"The thing about it is it can be quite a chunky piece. The goal was to find a USB that was small enough to be worn and still look fashionable and desirable."

In pursuit of a pared-back version of the ubiquitous flash drive, Woodmass trawled the internet and electronics shops. The best she could find was a Dick Smith version cased in plastic. She took to it with a hacksaw, carefully removing the casing without damaging the USB, before drilling it to attach the pivot hinge.

Schooled in Thorndon, Woodmass didn't come from a design family - dad Barry works for BP Oil and mum Sharyn is a teacher aide. And she wasn't one of those kids who was always taking things apart and remodelling them, or dismantling toys to see how they worked.

"As a kid I didn't know I had a passion for design until I decided I didn't want to write essays, I guess. I always liked working with my hands. My grandfather [Donald Kennedy] is a carpenter and furniture maker and has a workshop downstairs at his house. They always say they're very happy that it finally gets used - I'm always down there mucking around."

During her degree Woodmass has also designed hanging planters using a soil-less aeroponic growing system requiring only infrequent watering.

Once she graduates, Woodmass is keen to try to make a business out of Memoirs. But she's under no illusions about the ease of launching a startup.

"I'm hoping to get them into production, but from a business point of view I'm not really sure how to start. I will still be looking for a day job - I can't be doing just that."

The Dominion Post