The lamp shades on display at the Somerville studio of Nervous System look to be made of bone or even coral but are actually durable nylon. And the earrings in intricate beehive patterns were etched on paper-thin stainless steel.
They are the work of Jessica Rosenkrantz and Jesse Louis-Rosenberg, a couple who met at MIT a decade ago and create surprising jewelry and housewares using state-of-the art 3-D printers and old-school tools bought on Craigslist.
The result is beautiful and unexpected, like a white cocktail dress made out of thousands of nylon shapes intricately hinged together in geometric patterns that hug the body. It costs $7,000; there’s one on display at the Museum of Modern Art in New York City.
“We’re doing what mass-market retailers can’t — creating jewelry with uniqueness and customization,” said Rosenkrantz. “And we’re combining all these different technologies to make stuff.”
Rosenkrantz, 32, was a student at the Harvard Graduate School of Design when someone suggested her elaborate laser-cut scraps from a class project would make a pretty bracelet. With a knack for computer programming, she learned to turn her designs into jewelry that she sold on the retail website Etsy.
Eventually, Rosenkrantz quit graduate school to focus solely on the business, moving to Los Angeles with her partner Louis-Rosenberg, who had been hired by the architectural firm Gehry Technologies. In 2011, they returned to Massachusetts and rented a 1,700-square-foot studio, developing objects inspired by nature.
One set of earrings is based on the vein anatomy of a leaf, while a swirling ammonoidea fossil, a long-extinct ocean invertebrate, became the mathematical inspiration for a complicated jigsaw puzzle.
Sales rose to $600,000 last year, and the couple are now in demand as business consultants: Nike, Converse, New Balance, and others have hired them to learn more about their creative process.
“We’re not really business people, per se,” Rosenkrantz said. “We’re artists. We’re researchers.”