Alex Woo on Travel Inspirations, Embracing Color, and the ‘JCK Rock Star’ Competition

In episode 6 of the JCK Rock Star competition, viewers meet New York City–based jewelry designer Alex Woo. Accustomed to working mainly with metals and diamonds—tiny charms are her mainstay—Woo was a bit intimidated by the idea of working with colored stones, the Swarovski Passion Topaz Genuine Gemstones mandated by the terms of the competition.

“I haven’t worked with colored gemstones for years,” Woo tells JCK. “But it ended up working out perfectly. All their stones are equally calibrated in size and color, and are just beautiful!”

Even Fashion Institute of Technology instructor Leila Tai Shenkin, who consulted with all of the contestants, noted Woo’s comfort level with the colors. “Alex has a very good sense of color and in terms of how to put things together,” Shenkin says in the video.

“Her advice and guidance reassured me,” says Woo of Shenkin. “So I felt that I was moving in the right direction with my design.”

Inspired by the range of hues and stone sizes available to her, Woo went oversize—in proportion and ambition—using larger stones in a pendant design, a sharp contrast to the styles she’s known for. The inspiration for the design was a Moroccan lantern, one of many Woo spotted on a recent trip to the North African country.

“I’ve always had a fascination as a child with Morocco, and from watching movies like Aladdin, I have always wanted to visit,” she says. “So finally one day, I decided to cross that off my bucket list and go.… It was an unforgettable experience.  I visited souks, casbahs, and even [rode] a camel in the desert. I felt like I was travelling back in time. One time, I could hear hammering sounds coming from a mysterious alley in the souk—much like the sounds you hear in a jeweler’s workshop—and followed them. What I came upon was this amazing little shop filled with these beautifully colored lanterns dangling. It was like finding a hidden treasure.”

For her Rock Star entry, she created a pendant with detailed metalwork. Initially thinking to make a pair of earrings, she decided against it for reasons of practicality. “As a designer, I am also very conscious of making wearable jewelry that is comfortable,” she says. “I think as earrings, they would have weighed down a little too heavily on the ear.”

But with limited time to actually make a piece—“My biggest challenge,” she says of a deadline that hit right before JCK Las Vegas—and newfound inspiration midway through, giving the design a near overhaul, she’s pleased with the final outcome. 

“I was already happy with the original idea and concept, but I just thought that adding this new element to the piece just made it so much better,” she says. “I am really happy that I did it.” In fact, she may even build an entire collection around it.

“I think we all work under pressure, but this time around we not only had a very limited amount of time to design, but we also had to do it in front of the cameras,” she says. “I think being able to keep cool under pressure and still be able to laugh about things when they go wrong is something that I always strive to do. But with this being a reality show, it was even more important to achieve that.”

Alex Woo in a souk

Alex Woo on her trip to Morocco, seeing lanterns in a souk.