Staring Into Space

A certain amount of my work time is spent staring into space. It may look like I’m doing nothing, and indeed it is hard for me to ignore the voice inside my head yelling “you’re wasting time!!!!!”,  but this is an essential part of how I come up with new ideas. And, in fact, how I write this blog (what should I write about? how much should I say? is anybody interested? have I got my facts right? what pictures should I use?).

Sometimes I have an idea, and I sketch it out, and the piece comes together exactly as I planned, and no staring into space is required.

But sometimes, I start with only a concept, and the piece comes together in stages. I don’t know what the next stage will be until I finish the one I am working on. I admit that this is not ideal. Long periods of staring into space are required.

I recently created a custom pendant using a tahitian pearl belonging to one of my customers. A rather large tahitian pearl – 15 mm in diameter.

I started with some rough sketches, but because the pearl was so large I felt I needed something 3-dimensional to help visualize how the designs would look. I used wax and polymer clay to crudely mock-up the design I liked best:

Fortunately, my customer had the imagination to see where I was going with this idea, and she liked it best, too. So it was off to the jewelry bench for me.

I knew there would be several challenges in fabricating this piece. The first was that I would be using substantial pieces of silver to form the waves, which would make it difficult to get the curves exactly right. After annealing (a process that makes precious metals like silver & gold more pliable) I managed to get the curves close to what I wanted.


However, it then took quite a bit of time to get the curves exactly how I wanted them, because they had to join up perfectly at either end while at the same time leaving the correct space for the pearl and a visually pleasing relationship between the two waves. Invariably, changing one curve just a little affected the other curves in undesirable ways. Once the two waves were correct and soldered together, I soldered another piece of silver between them to create a platform for the pearl.

Now came more staring into space. I had to decide how the pendant would hang. I originally thought that I would attach a loop at either endpoint to connect the chain, but after considering various combinations of loops and means of connecting them (solder on? drill and cold-connect? full circle loop? half circle loop? wavy loop?) I didn’t like how any of them fit with the overall design.

Eventually I decided to solder small circles to the top wave, positioned a few millimeters in from the end points. The pendant itself was already quite wide and I knew it would hang better if the attachment points were brought in a bit. Because the pendant is asymmetrical, I had to determine what size loops (one is larger than the other) to use and where on the top wave to position them in order for the pendant to hang level.


The next fabrication challenge involved the remaining soldering steps. When soldering, you need to bring the pieces of metal being joined (and the solder that joins them) up to the same temperature at the same time. So when soldering two pieces which are significantly different in weight and thickness, it is difficult to get the larger piece hot enough for the solder to flow without getting the smaller piece so hot that it melts or deforms.

The design incorporated five small tube-set white topazes, so I not only had to get the loops soldered on to hang the chain, I had to solder the settings for the other gems (yes, there was at least one do-over along the way). The final soldering step was to attach a post on the platform for the pearl.

The fabrication work is finished, and the piece is embedded in a thermoplastic (when softened I can mold it around the piece, and it hardens as it cools) so that it is supported and protected during  stone-setting.

The pearl was not drilled, so I also had to decide on the best place to drill it, and do the actual drilling. I created a small mold to hold it while I oh-so-carefully drilled. That done, all that was left was the final polishing and using a 2-part epoxy to secure the pearl on its post and platform.

I love how the piece turned out, and most importantly, so does my customer!


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