By Chasidy Rae Sisk
Most people only see scrap metal when a fender is removed from a vehicle, but Christi Schimpke, Founder of CRASH Jewelry, sees something beautiful and worthy of rebirth. After moving her studio into her husband’s auto body shop in Los Angeles, her admiration of the aesthetic appeal of discarded automotive parts led her to imagine a way to re-purpose those materials. Goal in mind, she set out to create unique cuffs, earrings and other accessories from the metal of luxury vehicles.
What is CRASH Jewelry?
CRASH Jewelry specializes in creating sustainable uni-sex jewelry from the metal of luxury automobiles. My husband’s shop, Beverly Coachcraft, specializes in repairs for Mercedes-Benz and other high-end vehicles, and while I was in my studio, making more traditional jewelry from silver and gold, I noticed these beautiful cars every day. The paint reminded me of enamel, and I wondered if I could create something with those fenders and doors that were being thrown into a landfill to decompose for decades.
When I came up with the initial concept for CRASH Jewelry, I was confident that it could be done, but I just didn’t know how. At first, there was a lot of trial and error as I developed techniques for taking vehicle metal and creating polished jewelry from it, but over the past few years, I’ve refined my process to the point that many people can’t initially believe that those earrings or that cuff actually started as part of a car.
How is CRASH Jewelry made?
A car comes into the shop, and I identify which discarded, undamaged parts I’d like to use. We only use metal from vehicles that have been in minor fender benders. My husband, Dan, cuts the original part into 24”-by-24” pieces, and I use bench shears to cut out the sections I’d like to work with, avoiding scratches and dents.
After I sand it and polish it to smooth the edges, it’s time to bend the metal. Normally, I would solder jewelry using an open flame to connect the seams and attach pieces, but with car metal, an open flame would burn up the factory paint.
Coming up with ways to heat the metal without burning the paint was one of the hardest parts. We slowly heat the metal in stages and gradually shape it into jewelry, but every piece of metal and each paint is different, so we coax it along gently to prevent the paint from cracking or flaking.
Since I can’t use a torch to attach metal to metal, I had to learn to rivet cold connections along the stressor points on the curved shape. Riveting the flat metal may cause the paint to crack.
The more I do it, the better I get. Over the past seven years, the quality has continually improved, but nothing is mass produced – each cuff is one-of-a-kind, though they’re based on the same design.
We’ve started working with laser engravers to imprint designs on the cuffs. So far, we’ve produced animal print, tire tread, and checkered designs, and I’d like to continue pursuing unique engraved designs.
There’s also a raw collection where we use damaged fenders for a completely original piece.
What do people think about your creations?
Customers love their CRASH Jewelry. It can be difficult to explain what we do, but once they get it, they’re usually blown away by the quality, craftsmanship and design. Each bespoke piece is completely personalized and unique since they are made by hand.
Our most popular cuff is the Mercedes SLS Snakeskin with a matte finish, but the jewelry made from Ferrari's and Porsche's are in high demand as well. My personal favorite is the Lamborghini Lion Cuff.
What’s the most interesting special request you’ve received?
We’ve had so many interesting requests; people really enjoy getting involved in the design process.
The most touching request came from an automotive writer earlier this year. After his father died of cancer, this gentleman wanted to use the pristine fender from his father’s prized Miata to create a necklace and a cuff for his mother, which she wears to feel closer to her husband.
Why are you passionate about CRASH Jewelry?
For years, I utilized my background in Art History to work in museums and educational institutions. After Dan and I married, I became envious of his excitement to go to work each day – I’d never had that passion before, and he encouraged me to find it. I took one metal smithing class… and then another and another. I wanted to learn everything I could about making jewelry; I love my job and am so glad that I’ve found that passion!
This jewelry is part of me. I take an idea and see it through to fruition, then that creation goes out into the world and hopefully brings joy to someone. I never could have imagined how much happiness I’d find in creating CRASH Jewelry.
Each Crash Jewelry accessory is custom-made and includes a Certificate of Authenticity, describing the type of car it came from and the date it was made. Get your own at crashjewelry.com.