10 Things I Hate About...Being a Jewellery Maker

After a particularly challenging afternoon - having lost a tiny 3mm opal somewhere in my studio, which had pinged off on an adventure of its own - and after searching for the best part of an hour and having friends and family also searching (everyone wanted to be the successful finder of this tiny wandering gemstone) - my husband asked me to name my top ten jewellery maker pet hates. I think he was intrigued as to how many I could name, doing something I love, whilst often being very frustrated about something or other! I admit it is something of a love/hate relationship, now that I have had time to think about it.... 

10. Laughing gemstones

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Losing tiny gemstones obviously features in my top ten; it having been the prompt to making such a list! Those little gems (anything less than 5mm really) do seem to have a mind of their own. On this occasion, it was a beautiful faceted Ethiopian opal. The funny thing was, after searching for ages on the floor, on the bench, in my apron, in the wicker of the chair - just about everywhere it could have snuck - it turned up underneath my stone tumbler which sits on my work bench! It is raised just a few millimetres off the desk and is the only place I didn't check... If gemstones could laugh, I am sure that little opal would have gaffawed.

9. If you can't take the heat, get out of the studio!

I have a small jeweller's torch (I like the control it gives me and I am not so fond of the bigger torches) but this can prove a tricky obstacle when it comes to heating larger pieces. I often find myself in "two-torch territory" to get that darn piece of metal hot enough to melt the solder between the two joins. The solder joins that just zip are the best ones. They really make my day.

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8. Cracking up

It happens to the best of us. You will be on the last part of the piece - the setting of a stone - it looks amazing and is zing-zing-zinging and you are revelling in your own skills when - pow! - you hear that tiny sound. A little crack - in that beautiful gemstone where you pressed a little too hard with your bezel pusher trying overzealously to get that stone as tight as possible. Those pesky non-durable stones are to blame. If only all those different colour gems weren't so pretty, we would just use the hardest substance on earth - diamonds!* 

*Having Googled this, apparently diamonds have lost their title of the hardest substance on earth to wurtzite boron nitride and mineral lonsdaleite! Who knew! For all you geeks out there, here's a link to the New Scientist's 2009 article about it.

7. Splitting hairs

I make a lot of spinner rings and those things get through a lot of hammering. If you don't soften the metal enough during this process (called annealing for you non-jewellers), the silver can split under the pressure when you curve it. It has only happened a couple of times - but that is enough. I really hate to re-solder a join. It must be the perfectionist in me....

6. Excitable

I can get quite excitable about various pieces and I tend to have lots on the go at once! This can be a good thing (there are so many processes in jewellery making so having a few pieces in the making means you always have something to do whilst something is either being pickled or cooling), but it can also be quite frustrating having lots of unfinished pieces lying around. I often have a blitz and finish many pieces at the same time! 

5. Running out of gas

The blowtorch really is the jeweller's best friend. But it seems to love timing running out of gas whilst you are mid-piece, and usually a challenging piece! The metal starts to glow and the torch starts to give a different hiss as it slows down. Will it make it, will it make it, will it....nope it didn't. Fill that torch up and start the process again.

4. People asking for the one stone you don't have

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I sell at craft fairs and although this is one of my favourite non-jewellery elements of jewellery making, it has its frustrations.  Every fair brings different people and it is always tough to judge what gemstones those people may be after. People can be particular about gemstones (me included - I love iolites!), not least because they can have special meanings or sentimentality but also people have colour preferences or colours which work well on their skin tones. And so it follows - I will have every gemstone or colour I could have thought possible, except perhaps that one colour I had sold out of - but that is all that they want! That's why you need to stock up and have lots of pieces in all different gemstones and colours. I have quite a few stones I am desperate to work with which I have had in my gemstone box for a while (see pic!).

3. Ring sizes at fairs

This is a bit like number 4 above - not all rings suit an adjustable band or else a design just doesn't look quite as effective with one. So it is inevitable that having made lots of rings in lots of different sizes when you go to market, on that particular day, no rings fit anyone who comes a-trying. They really want that ring, but you just don't have it available. The beauty of one-offs I guess....

2. Looking for things in the tumbler

I think the tumbler is my favourite piece of equipment (if I think too hard about it, I start to consider other super tools and equipment) and I often leave it to run for a good few hours to get pieces looking beautifully buff and burnished on their final polish. Of course, this means I can forget about it and always seem to remember just before I go to bed. It is at these times that the pieces seem to do their best to hide among the ball bearings. Especially those little pesky handmade ear wires or studs. I had made a silver name bracelet for my son the other day which had stuck to the top of the lid. I didn't find this until I had emptied out the whole tumbler trying to find it!

1. Marketing, marketing, marketing

This is the necessary evil.... I love connecting with customers and other makers on the likes of Instagram and Twitter. The part I dislike the most is all of the taking of the photos and all the putting of each piece into my online shops. It is a very long process, to get all of the detail right and it takes me away from doing what I love - the making and crafting! I have to really focus during this process and not daydream about my studio where my next piece is waiting to be made!

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I hope you have enjoyed reading this, whether you are a fellow jeweller, crafter or just happened across my blog! Tell me what you think - tell me what your own pet hates are! Tell me what you love about making. The best part of being a maker has to be sharing things with other people, and talking about what we love to do. I really never get bored of that.

You can find me at my next craft fair - the Local Makers Market in Wanstead on 8 September (see my Events page).

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Jewellery Making Techniques: Water Casting

My foray into experimental jewellery making techniques took a wonderful turn this February at a water casting class with Deba McDonald at the Redbridge Institute.

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Armed with lots of scrap silver I had acquired over the years whilst silversmithing, a steel mixing bowl and my apron, I entered the classroom very excited... and with a little trepidation. Read on.

You'd think nothing would faze a bunch of experienced jewellery makers when it came to heating stuff up and certainly melting metal (we had done it enough unintentionally). But when we saw the heating of the silver into molten liquid using a crucible and the way it needed to be thrown into a bowl of water, with all its fizzing and drama, we were a little scared. Like anything, though, once we got going, many 'oooh's' and 'aaah's' followed and soon we were in experimental mode throwing the molten silver into old food tins filled with a plethora of bizarre dried objects to create different shapes; chick peas, mung beans, spaghetti. All brought amazingly different outcomes, swirls, waves, loops and coral-like shapes (or just became blobs or fragmented silver like my first attempts).

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See the photographs of my efforts - there are some fairly ugly and twisted lumps of silver, which require polishing and turning into beautiful wearable pieces. Do you think I have a  bit of a task ahead of me? Mine were nothing compared to some of the other makers' work which were amazing organic silver structures brought to life by this process. Please look up water casting and you will see some of the fantastic surprises people have made into lovely jewellery. If anyone ever asks you how mung beans and jewellery go together, you now know!

Check out the very interesting and rewarding jewellery making classes available with Deba McDonald at Redbridge Institute by clicking here

Jewellery Making Techniques: Adventures in Keum-Boo

As you may have seen from one of my recent blogs, I spent the summer and autumn last year learning some new skills.

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As a jewellery maker, I am always intrigued by other jewellery making techniques  (there are so many!) and even other crafts which can be incorporated into jewellery. 

In November last year, I found myself on a lovely day out at Gearies in Gants Hill doing a keum-boo class run by my inspiring and ever-patient jewellery tutor, Deba Mcdonald.  If you are not familiar with keum-boo (and why would you be?), I shall tell you what it is!

This process is fusing gold foil (often 24 ct) onto silver (usually fine silver or reticulated sterling silver) and is a very old, traditional Korean gilding technique.  The foil is shaped and adhered to the piece of silver and then, using heat and pressure, is fused onto it. Much fun was had with hotplates and protective gloves... (safety first!) 

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See the photos of a couple of pieces I played around with, texturing the fine silver, layering up the gold foil and then oxidizing the silver to make the gold just pop.

I have used some of these hunks of silver to make into simple textured stud earrings..but I have some more up my sleeve... watch this space!  

Click here for a browse of amazing courses run by the Redbridge Institute and, in particular, the jewellery classes taught by Deba McDonald. 

Jewellery Making Techniques: Dabbling with Electroforming

I have been rather quiet since the end of summer 2017 by way of blogging but I have been a little busy! I thought I would use the seeing in of the New Year to write a little bit about what I have been up to in the world of handmade jewellery and craft.  

I have been attending a few different jewellery making classes (always a student!), temporarily side stepping the traditional silversmithing techniques I usually use. As I discussed with a(nother creative) friend recently, when you have a creative streak, sometimes it is hard to stick to just one craft or technique! I think you get bitten by the "making and doing" bug.

Electroforming with Penny Akester

So my first stop (and what this blog is about) is electroforming, which is a bit of an erratic (exciting?!) process essentially connecting an object to metal and then transferring that metal onto the object using electrical current. We were using copper as our base metal.

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I was excited to take along lots of natural objects I had picked up over the years. I also had a few I had picked up over the summer on my holidays last year to Parga in Greece and Suffolk and some I had gathered with the onset of autumn.  This included an array of shells, seaglass and a poppy seed pod. I thought my bounty was good until I saw what Penny had! Sea urchins, huge acorns, starfish. It was hard to select just a few items!

See the outcome of the weekend in the photograph collage. It was an interesting experience and one I am still wondering about. Some of the copper didn't quite transfer to the items, especially those which were heavily porous, despite many coats of sealant and conductive paint, and the long timings involved meant my patience was tested. But still, what a wonder to discover the results when the objects were removed from their wires and out of the chemical baths they were sloshed in! Transformed, even if a little rough around the edges! Some were then given a silver plating using more chemical processes and some were only coated partially in copper (see the shell) so that the natural beauty of the object remained visible.

It was a thought-provoking weekend and one I would highly recommend.  See more details by visiting Penny's website.

COMING SOON: see how I got on with the inspiring ancient Korean gilding technique of keum-boo and a nature-inspired silver clay class!