Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Like My Own Antiques Roadshow

My ongoing search for unique materials that might be used in my jewelry has me making occasional visits to local thrift stores.
Sometimes, I'm delightfully surprised when I find a bit of a treasure,
like this etching.
After bringing this signed, 1882 etching home, I realized it was by Frederick DeBourg Richards, an American artist, especially known for his landscape paintings of New York and Delaware.
Online valuations of his work are for his oil paintings, so I don't know how this etching might be valued, 
but I'm pretty sure it would be more than the $2.50 that I paid.

A few weeks ago, I was at a nearby thrift store getting ready to pay for a small collection of religious and school medals when I noticed a large medallion.
The logical part of my brain said, "That's just too big and too heavy to use in any of your jewelry."
But the magpie in me said, "Ooooohh, pretty."
For 50¢, the medallion joined my other purchases even though I didn't know what I would do with it.

It wasn't until yesterday, when I was organizing the new purchases at my workbench, that I really studied the medallion and realized it was from 1851.
I was definitely intrigued.
The Maryland Institute for the Promotion of Mechanic Arts awarded this sterling medallion to Abbot & Lawrence of Philadelphia for the 'Best Hall Stove'.
A similar, but slightly damaged, medallion from 1856 is online with a suggested value of $750.
I still don't know what to do with it.

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

November's Workbench

As is typical, November's workbench is a busy place.
Inventory has been dropped off for the 
and preparation for 
is well underway.

My stash of textured metals inspired some new pieces,like...
mixed, etched metals bracelet
with sterling bezel set labradorite caochon....

etched and roll-printed brass (and a smidge of silver nickel) bracelet
with sterling bezel set carnelian cabochon...

and etched copper ring
with sterling bezel set labradorite cabochon.

For several weeks, I've been working on another mission.
I found some great crystal briolettes at a bead show back in September.
Not sure how I would use them, I only bought ten.
I ended up wire wrapping the beads, making them the pendants of long necklaces featuring Herkimer diamonds, labradorite, citrine and amethyst.
The necklaces were well received at the Fine Art & Craft Festival in Swarthmore.
I regretted not having more and contacted the company that had sold them at the bead show only to find out that they had one left....
and they are not typically part of their inventory.
Of course.

Maybe I should have let it go at that point, but it was too late;
I was already a bit obsessed with having more of these crystals.
I also had the naive belief that 
'if I can easily Google it, I can easily find it.'
Well, not really.
These briolettes were not easy to find, even with the aid of the Google search engine.
But after emails, texts, shared photos, calls, false hopes...
I found some!
USPS dropped off my order yesterday,
and I got to work.
Wire wrapped crystals are now ready to become necklaces.

The wire wrapping sometimes had leftover pieces. 
I can't stand letting usable pieces of anything go to waste, 
so those scraps were turned into mini dangles.
How will I use the mini dangles?
I have no idea.
They'll probably still be on my workbench when next November comes around.

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

Taking That Extra Step

Preparing to make some necklaces with some more of my bezel pendants, I made complementary copper links.
As is typical for my mode of operation, I may or may not immediately use the links,
but I appreciate being able to surround myself with a variety of materials as I'm working so that I can make choices as I follow my intuition
Segments were cut from my stash of recycled copper wire.
I needed to physically expand the ends of those wires that I wanted to drill, and began by using my favorite hardware store hammer to smash and flatten.
While I accomplished my goal of creating enough surface for drilling,
I wasn't completely satisfied with the result.
(small grouping of 5, 2nd from left)
The hammering left the resulting tabs a bit too thin for my liking,
and I wasn't thrilled with the paddle shape.
I decided I should do a better job.
Using my acetylene tank, I balled each end of the next group of wire segments.
When I then hammered the ends, there was enough material to maintain a more acceptable critical thickness while having the surface necessary for drilling.
A happy benefit is a more controlled and consistent circular shape instead of that less desirable paddle.

The next grouping of links was formed with one of my bail-shaping pliers before soldering.
I thought these links turned out nicely, but maybe not nice enough.
A cleaner transition between the circle and the 'tail' was the image that kept nagging at me,
so I went back to my workbench.
Wire was coiled around a mandrel and then cut with my jeweler's saw to make consistent jump rings.
Some sources will advise using a flush cutter....
don't do it 
if you're making smallish jump rings and the goal is to solder them.
Even a good flush cutter will yield one flush surface and one pinched surface
while a jeweler's saw yields two flush surfaces.
Each ring was filed to create a bit of flat surface for a good solder joint to the 'tail'.
Definitely more work
and definitely a more refined result.

Some of the new links were used in the necklace completed yesterday.
 A practice bezel featuring one of my stones of mysterious origins is the focal point.
The bezel layer is riveted to the bail layer...
 made with roll printed copper and etched silver nickel.
Agate and brass beads are wire wrapped with copper links to make the chain which features a hand made clasp.

I recently gave advice to my sister's friend who is hoping to create and market a line of jewelry.
One recommendation was to resist the temptation to make pieces as cheaply as possible since there is a mind-numbing abundance of inexpensive jewelry.
It's very easy to get lost in a sea of low-cost items.
I made the personal decision to not compete with that portion of the market and instead
hold myself accountable to producing work I can be proud of.

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

A Pain in My Bezel

Recent work with bezel pendants inspired me to pull out my stash of stones that have been sitting (and accumulating)
at my workbench.
Stones are my weakness when I get the chance to attend a bead show.
I like knowing that however I eventually use a stone or cabochon, the end result will almost certainly be unique.
Unfortunately, I've become convinced that my bezel pieces are unique because they have absorbed my angst and my solder-soul-crushing disappointments.

Although I did take some classes at one of the nearby art centers, most of my jewelry skills are self-taught with...
reading lots of books and trade magazines,
watching lots of YouTube tutorials,
obsessively perusing the Rio Grande catalog to try to figure out what tools do what tasks
lots and lots of trial and error.
While I like to think that my skills continue to evolve in a positive direction,
soldering has been, and remains, my Achilles' heel as evidenced by a recent project.

Like most of my soldering projects, I began this one with cautious optimism because I was creating a bezel for a largeish stone,
around 5.75cm squareish.
For the base, I selected metal that I had etched with a pattern created by the talented local clay master/jewelry designer,
Barbara Hanselman.
My original plan was to have a collar around the bezel, highlighting a selected view of the etched texture.
Then the soldering started,
and then my problems started.

I wasn't surprised when I didn't achieve a continuous flow of solder in my first attempt.
After a pickle bath and brass brush cleaning, I tried again.
I realized that I had lost full contact between the bezel and the etched base in a few spots and gentle nudging with my solder pick was not correcting all the trouble spots.
There were repeated visits to the soldering bench, and after each clean-up, I set my stone in  place to make sure that I was maintaining the proper bezel shape.
A piece of dental floss was used to make sure I would be able to get the stone back out.

Too many attempts had me admitting defeat, and I decided to creatively cover up my solder misses.
Using my acetylene torch, I balled scraps of sterling and soldered them in place, turning my points of failure into points of interest.
The collar of etched metal no longer seemed to make sense, so I used my jeweler's saw to cut most of it away.
I will have to make better use of Barbara's lovely pattern on my next bezel project.

According to some rough calculations of time and materials,
I think I'll have to sell this pendant for $986.75.

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Bezel Pendants Part Two

After completing two bezel pendants this weekend, I returned to my workbench , planning to make two necklaces....
and then I sat there, stymied.
Often, the obvious direction is already in my head and I can put all focus on the making of whatever I'm envisioning.
This was not one of those times.
Since I wasn't sure how to construct the necklace, I decided to use some of the sterling links that I had just soldered.
I shaped a section of heavy gauge wire to fit through the formed bail and drilled both ends for wire wrapped connections.

As I began to construct a chain of links, I became increasingly dissatisfied.
Nothing felt right about my approach.
The pendant, with its large stone cabochon and riveted layers, did not need competition from a busy chain of over-sized links.
I needed to simplify, letting the pendant be the unchallenged "it" of the necklace.
Sterling chain replaced my chain-of-links, although I kept two links for added interest and texture, appreciating how they mimic the shape of the bezel.
A liver of sulfur treatment and sanding block cleaning were the finishing touches.

Much better.

Monday, October 19, 2015

Bezel Pendants

While I was on a soldering-skills improvement campaign a while ago, 
I amassed a collection of bezel set stones that have been begging to become finished projects.
I successfully ignored these stones while they sat in a container on my workbench 
until last week when I decided my holiday line-up would need a few more signature/statement necklaces.
While I was working on my soldering skills, I unfortunately put no focus on how these bezeled beauties would eventually be featured as finished pieces of jewelry.
A smarter version of me might have incorporated a bail before I took the time to carefully and tenderly set the stones into their bezels, thereby eliminating the option of applying additional soldering-related heat.

I decided to revisit a previous design, soldering a bail on to a back layer that would then be riveted to the bezel layer.  
One bail-to-be was cut from a piece of etched metal.
After filing and sanding the edges, the piece was shaped with one of my bail forming pliers.
The second bail needed to be simpler, so a closed ring was joined with a previously soldered link that I cut open.
The cut link and the formed bail were soldered on to pieces of etched silver nickel that were cut to slightly larger dimensions that the bezel set pieces.
The matching layers were riveted together with segments of heavy gauge wire....
and I now have bezel set stones that can actually become pieces of jewelry.

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

L'Enfant Cheesecloth

This week's studio efforts have included etching and texturing different pieces of metal.
The metal will soon become earrings, necklaces and bracelets as I prepare for the holiday season.
I know, I know....it's not even Halloween yet; how dare I speak of the holiday season?
I have an appointment next week to drop off my inventory for the seasonal display at one of the galleries where I sell, 
so I am well into my sort-of-end-of-year busy schedule.

Assuming that nobody wants to see the same thing that they saw last year, I've been testing out some new textures.
A new favorite is this cheesecloth pattern that I etched into pieces of silver nickel.
I liked how the larger pieces looked after cleaning them with a brass brush post-etching, 
but I liked the pattern even more once I cut a selection of smaller pieces.
Seeing isolated bits of the cheesecloth texture made me think that they resembled plan views of an urban network of roads....

like Pierre L'Enfant's 1791 plan for Washington, DC. 
it's the landscape architect in me coming out.

Those little sections of roadways are due to become earrings late tonight.