Precious Metal

This last weekend was Thanksgiving weekend here.  I don’t think it’s a big deal the way it seems to be in the States.  It’s just a long weekend with lots of food.  I love long weekends.  This year, rather than engage in the traditional gorging marathon, my mother and I went to Salt Spring Island for a silversmithing workshop.

I hadn’t been to Salt Spring since I was a teenager.  It’s one of those islands where people go when they become disenchanted with city life.  Or maybe that’s not fair.  Maybe some people are born to not be in the city.  Either way, Salt Spring has a distinctly crunchy feel.   People grow organic vegetables and coffee; they make their own artisan cheeses and breads, herbal remedies, lavender soaps, pottery, and hemp products.  (All this and more at the excellent Saturday market we attended.  I live for Saturday markets.)  They sail, beachcomb, hike, and put on yoga retreats.

It’s idyllic, really, and when you visit it for a weekend you can’t help but fantasize about living there.  (Fun fact:  They have their own currency!)  Then — if you’re me — you remember that even though it is nice to see the stars, you would go completely insane if you actually lived here, because you are a city girl through and through.

But for a weekend?  Brilliant!  You may remember my random whim a couple of months ago to look into silversmithing.  Since my idea-to-action-pendulum swings quite quickly, it wasn’t long before I had booked a weekend ring-making workshop at Martinus Studios, having convinced my mother that she should join me.

This particular class was attractive because it was a private class.  Just me, my mom and the jeweler.  This worked out really well, because both my mom and I were a little hopeless.  The jeweler, Martinus, was wonderful though, and incredibly patient, and we both ended up with rings that we love.

We were supposed to come with an idea of the kind of project we wanted to do.  Myself, I am quite particular about the kind of jewelery I wear, so I spent ages on the internet trying to get ideas.  In the end, I decided I wanted to do a rose petal setting with a small stone set in the centre.  I was between a garnet, which is my favourite stone, and a pearl, which I thought might be a little more classic.  It turned out that this idea was a little on the ambitious side.  But we did it anyway!

First we had to learn how to use the torches and how to find melting points for sterling silver and solder material. We practiced by making little silver balls and then soldering them together. These were my silver balls. Way harder to make than you can possibly imagine.

After we'd mastered that, we each discussed our design ideas with Martinus and he drew some sketches and came up with a plan. My first step was to use a sharpie to draw my petals onto a thin piece of silver and then to saw them out. I can't draw and it turns out I can't saw either, but that didn't stop me from trying. Looks more like teeth than rose petals, you say? Well, you might be right, but my teacher seemed unconcerned, so I decided also to be unconcerned.

Maybe you are impressed at my sawing skills and think they are not bad for a beginner. In that, you would be wrong. I broke all of these little saws cutting out those petals. It was pretty embarrassing.

Then, because I like the hammered silver look, I decided I needed to give the petals texture so you could see the veins of the petals. So I hammered away at them and was very pleased with the result.

Then I needed to curve the petals so they could wrap around the setting to make the rose shape. Unfortunately, I lost a lot of my hammering detail when I did this.

The next step was soldering the inside petals together into a rose shape. This was extremely difficult, but I got there in the end, with the help of a patient teacher and my handy tweezers. At this point, I decided to forget about the outside petals and just stick with the three inside ones. Part of this was me being lazy and part of it was the fact that if I'd kept going it would have started to get pretty big, and I'm not really a big jewelry kind of girl.

Then I had to make the ring part. (Or "shank" in jeweler's lingo.) First I rolled out a long rectangle until it was as thin as I wanted my ring to be, and then I had to curl it into a ring shape using pliers. It took me ages to get to this stage. I was starting to despair that I would never make a circle. Luckily, Martinus had a press thing that forced my sad little oval into a ring shape.

Once I had made my ring shape, I had to cut a chunk out of it to fit my setting in. Then Martinus wired it all together so I could solder the connections.

After soldering the setting to the shank, I had to saw off the bottom of the rose part. Then I soldered in the stone setting, with much difficulty and creative problem solving necessitated by the awkward shape. See how the ring looks pink here? That's because I missed taking off some of the steel wire before I put the ring in the acid bath. It had a weird chemical reaction that turned everything pink. I didn't mention the acid baths before, did I? There were acid baths. Lots and lots of acid baths.

File file file. Polish polish polish. Oops! It's too big! Want to weep. Saw out a chunk. Reround it. File file file. Polish polish polish.

And done! Fourteen hours later. I love it!

And from the side, just because I want to show it off.

I tell you I have a new respect for handmade jewelry and the people who make it.  Hope you all had a great Thanksgiving weekend!

6 thoughts on “Precious Metal

  1. I went to a waldorf school for 10 years, and in tenth grade we made silver jewelry like that, only without stones. I managed to make to silver rings, on big and chunky and one small and petit, as well as a heart necklace for bye niece, and I wear the two rings almost every day 🙂 Its really something to be proud of, cause it really is hard :S
    But wow, the ring looks beautiful, really impressing!!!

    • Thank you. I am really proud of it and it was really hard. That sounds like a great thing to do in school. I’ve never heard of Waldorf schools before and just looked them up. Interesting concept. Was that something you felt was worthwhile? (I’m hoping you come back to answer this.)

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