In 2018, I’ve really felt myself grow as a crafts-person. I’ve made many things that I feel indicate that I’ve leveled up from where I was a few years ago.
This being my 10th year since I graduated from jewellery school I guess It’s no surprise, I’ve definitely put the hours in, but it’s really nice to see the progress of skills as time goes on.
I was lucky enough to get to work on some incredible commissions this year. Projects that wouldn’t be possible without someone ordering them. These projects can be so challenging, but they also really give me a chance to stretch myself and expand my skills so they are usually incredibly rewarding as well.
A few of them probably deserve their own blog post, but since 2 blogs per year is generally the best I do, I’m just going to consolidate into one post. I’ve broken it down into Modern, Historical and Engagement so you can skip to the parts you’re interested in, as you see fit,
I had a strong aptitude for wax carving when I started playing with it, back in the day. It’s nice to start with an aptitude, it definitely helps motivate you to keep up with something, but you still have to put the hours in to really become expert.
Not that I would say I’m an expert, there’s still a lot of improvement I can do on my precision wax carving, but I feel like I’ve been making some excellent progress. Some of the pieces I am most proud of for this year are the lapis pendant ( which technically I started in 2016 but I only completed this year.) My acorn bracelet, which was crafted from medieval style acorns I originally carved ages ago for reenacting, and my leaf pendant and earring set.
The lapis necklace is inspired by the same Norse knotwork, found on a coin at Terslev that originally inspired my logo. I love the symmetry of this aesthetic, how centered it is, and the fact that it’s not what people classically think of as “Viking” style knotwork. I have a propensity to go out and find stuff that is weirdly obscure, which actually isn’t a great marketing tactic, because people don’t really understand what it is, so they can’t be like “ oh yes Vikings, I love Vikings”
Instead they have to be excited by the pure aesthetic, which is always a risky business, but this pendant has sold ok, so I feel like I’m not completely off base.
The acorn bracelet is just one of those ideas who’s time had come. Acorns are awesome, and so emotionally and spiritually resonant, and they just look great on a cuff style bracelet. What’s not to like?
With the Kyla leaf and earring set, I FINALLY found a home for the trilliant white sapphires I purchased in 2016. They are super difficult to bezel set, so that always partly held me back, but at the beginning of the year I got excited about upping my gem setting game, so that has been excellent practice. I am generally happy with the aesthetic of the earrings and the pendant. I feel like they express a genuine aesthetic of mine, without being too off the wall, which is always a tricky balance to hit, so it’s nice when I manage it.
All four of my favorite historical projects were commissions. It’s rare for me to be able to afford to really do something epic when it comes to historical projects without a commission.
I crafted, a reproduction of the so called “ Robin Hood ring”. A fascinating medieval brooch that was quite tricky set with a sapphire and a garnet. I made what I think is my most historically authentic, plaque style knights belt, and a repro of the seal ring purported to have belonged to the Black Prince, Edward the Third.
The Robin Hood ring was interesting, in that I needed to get the lapis, custom cut. I finally found a lapidary in Toronto who was able to cut gems to my specifications, which is quite exciting, since it opens up a realm of medieval designs that wouldn’t have been possible before, simply because one can’t get the stone shapes pre-cut. Carving the setting was a good challenge. I’ve done it before but only with rounded cabochons, so the octagonal lapis was a cool change. Doing the engravings on each side, of a very medieval looking Baby Jesus, and the Virgin Mary, in such a small space was pretty tricky. I definitely had a hard time with the proportions, but they turned out well enough. It was cast in 10k gold which was very satisfying, since, nothing else polishes up quite as nicely as gold.
The brooch was based on a really interesting original. It took me a little while, and some help from a friend to figure out what I was seeing in the photograph I was copying. The original actually has three dimensional lobes which raise proud of the back frame. This make it possible to have a very three dimensional aesthetic without making it super heavy in terms of metal weight and actual weight on your fabric. Once we figured out how it worked, we found a bunch more examples, and it really just filled me with inspiration about the cleverness of the crafts people of the past and the fantastic ways they solved problems. I also really enjoy the way Medievals used different coloured gems together. It’s playful and visually interesting and very different from the modern aesthetic. I completed this one in 10 k gold as well, and it looks pretty phenomenal when worn on the silk hat of its owner.
The plaque belt was really something. All told, it took me over 20 hours to complete. After I carved the wax for the plaques, and had them cast in brass, I had to solder attachment frames to every single plaque. I got a pretty good system going by the end but man, it was a lot of work. Then they all had to be laboriously polished, and then I had to create two sets of hinges so the belt could be worn with and without armour. The plaques are based on a small, silver original which I have. I made the plaques bigger, to match some larger existing belt depictions, and I made a small aesthetic change so the plaques were a bit closer to the heraldic motif of the client. We also weren’t able to make the belt in silver as that would have put it out of the range of affordability.
The plaques are mobile on the leather belt and they can slide on and off with a bit of fiddling. This is not only based on how the original was attached, but also matches some of the accounts we have of knights using their belt plaques as currency. The ability to slide them off means you could pay someone with one, and get another made easily. This can’t work with riveted plaques, which definitely also existed, but not in this shape and style.
The ring of the Black Prince was requested by a client who found me online. He wanted the writing to be changed to a motto which was personal to him, but to leave the rest of the aesthetic the same. I was also super fortunate to be contacted by a TV show called, History in the Making just before I was to craft this ring. The show does spots on historical artisans, and it turned out that this ring was a good fit for their show. This is a network show so I can’t provide you a link. But if you follow me on social media I will try to let you know when it’s going to be aired.
Carving this ring was just a super intense challenge. It has letters all around the face in intaglio, and then letters all down each side of the band in relief. Letters are always tricky to begin with and tiny letters are extra fun. I pulled it off with relative ease though, and that was one of those moments when you really know your skills have improved. I did a simpler repro of this ring for my partner a number of years ago, which he still wears, and, as much as that ring is fun, it’s amazing to see the progress of my skills since then.
I also had to carve the face of the sardonyx the client chose, with a tiny felled cyprus. I use diamond bits on a rotary tool for this, and it was super hair raising. One slip and you have to scrap the stone and start from scratch. I didn’t slip this time, but I can tell you my adrenaline was way up. I finished it in silver, as the client requested, and did a black patina to bring out the letters. It’s possible that the original might have had enamel in the spaces between the letters on the band, but if it did the glass has all since chipped out.
As I mentioned above I set myself the goal of getting more comfy with stone setting this year. I took a course on it back in school but there were certain types I was either scared of, or simply didn’t do enough of to get good at so I had to kick my own butt a bit to get over it.
This year I claw and bezel set a lot of faceted stones myself, rather than having a dedicated gem setter do them. It was surprisingly not as hard as I had convinced myself and I’m excited to do a lot more of it in the coming years.
I also just wanted to make more engagement designs for people to choose from, so they don’t have to start from scratch every time.
The top center ring at the beginning of this post is a custom ring I did for some friends who are getting married this very evening. It was nice to be able to facilitate the desires of my client on this one, using a diamond she already had and some aquamarines for the halo. She took the photo herself and I really love how it turned out.
The bottom right is a claw set, stacking wedding and engagement combo, which I think really turned out nicely. It’s simple and elegant and hopefully will appeal to clients who are looking for something special.
I haven’t really seen much feedback on my new engagement ring styles so I don’t know how successful I’ve been, but at the very least, I set a professional goal and completed it, and that feels good. I’ll probably end up rephotographing most of them, that’s one thing I definitely have a lot of work to do on improving.
I have some exciting plans for 2019. I want to do more work in gold, as finances allow, I also have a block of jade, which I’ve owned since 2007 which I plan to get cut up into stones, now that I know a reputable gem cutter. I’ve also ordered some really fun, big labradorite and moonstone so I want to see what I can do with some bigger designs.
I plan to set a lot more faceted gems, and I’ll try to improve my booth display so I can participate in larger scale craftshows in the future.
I have lots of projects lined up for the new year and I’m looking forward to being back at my bench once the holidays are over.
Here’s to a creative and fun 2019.