I could probably earn more money just making jewelry," says Mary Lee Hu, a professor of metals at the University of Washington. "But I want to save this program, which has been a strong one since 1916. So I produce my pieces when I can, after the fifty to sixty hours a week I put in at school—mostly in the summer." Hu, who hails from a family of engineers and scientists, started braiding wire after taking a weaving course in graduate school; this led to her signature double-twining technique. She refined her aesthetic, which involves a love of ethnic art, in Taiwan during the early 1970s and by traveling extensively in Asia and southern Europe. Although her work is in such prestigious collections as London's Goldsmith's Hall and the V&A, Smithsonian's Renwick Gallery, The Art Institute of Chicago, and Boston's Museum of Fine Arts, it isn't available in retail stores or even at high-end American crafts fairs. Since Hu can complete only a dozen or so items a year, distribution is limited to art galleries.
All pieces are one-of-a-kind and in 18- and 22-karat gold: choker ($36,000), bracelet ($12,000), brooch ($3,200), earrings ($3,200). Information: 206-938-2794.