A Bespoke story - Rachels rings
The creation of a stack of one of a kind rings
In May 2016 I was taking part in Dorset Art Weeks, two weeks of open studios in the rolling English countryside with good friend and amazing furniture designer Alice Blogg. Alice’s studio is in farm buildings in Nettlecombe , a tiny village near Bridport.
I had my work displayed amongst Alice’s furniture….
Alice’s studio is so remote, we didn’t expect many visitors, but how wrong we were. We had an opening party, on a lovely sunny evening . Absolutely mobbed, we had to open the local cricket ground to create extra parking for our guests. The word spread that there was some interesting work at Browns Farm and for the next two weeks we had a constant stream of inquisitive visitors .
Both Alice and I create bespoke or custom creations as well as finished pieces. We are also both driven by ethical practice, Alice’s tag is ‘From tree to piece’ meaning when she can, she will fell a tree, cure the wood , then use every last piece of it either in her work creating furniture from the big planks to bowls and small objects from the small bits, the chips and leftovers fuel her heating in the winter. In my jewellery practice I use recycled gold and recycled stones and up cycle old pieces of jewellery into new. I love the challenge of taking a pile of old jewels, and creating a set of new jewels using all the pieces. Its a design jigsaw puzzle and very satisfying.
Rachel came to visit us and like my jewellery. We got chatting and I spoke about my favourite ways of working. When we talked about recycling jewels she said she’d be back with some family heirlooms .
Rachel brought along jewels she had inherited, but didn’t like very much so didn’t wear then and didn’t really know what to do with them. She also brought along a couple of broken bits and a pair of earrings she didn’t wear. There were five engagement rings from different family members. One of them with some very fancy diamonds and handwork, vintage in a rather fashionable way I suggested she keep. The rest of the pieces , seen above, we decided to use to make new rings. Rachel decided she’d like a stack of rings. She liked the textures and shapes of ‘Sands of Time’ and ‘Archaeology’ collections. This gave use a starting point , we talked about some possible ways we could use the stones in different rings. Some used in a stack, some, actually, all the sapphires bar one, to be used to create one standout piece. I measured each of Rachels fingers and carefully logged the sizes. The look of a ring can be quite different on different sized hands and fingers and must be considered in the design process.
Next, after measuring and assessing the jewels, I created a drawing of the stones, their sizes and proposed designs for Rachel to consider.
We chatted about the possibilities and decided on which versions to go ahead with. I then created a traditional jewellery gouache ‘paint up’ of the final designs, a bit like the one below.
Once Rachel had OKed the final designs, I could finalise the costs, but of course we had talked about budgets during the process of designing. Next, with a deposit from Rachel in the bank I could start the process of taking apart her jewels and making the new pieces .
Firstly, each of the stones is cut out of the settings. Then years of dirt and grime cleaned away to reveal the true sparkle of the stones
Now the gold and stone are separated from each other I start the process of alloying the gold. We had decided to use different coloured golds in the stack of rings, so I had some complicated calculations to make.
After alloying the gold, I start to form it. Some of it will be used to cuttle fish cast a couple of the rings. The rest will be made into sheet and wire to make shanks and settings. The shank of a ring is the bit without stones.
There is a lot of measuring and adjusting involved in making a ring with multiple settings, especially tricky when each of the stones is different in height and size. Balance and proportion.
This image of the back of the Sapphire ring was taken as it was being assembled and soldered together . Its two smallest settings can just be seen either side in the background. Its really beginning to take shape now and the inspiration for it , medieval gem set rings is gratifyingly present. I uses the same techniques as a medieval jeweller to make all the parts.
Now the settings are soldered in place the ring can be prepped for setting the stones. Here it is held in place by a hard preparatory setters wax.
Each sapphire is different, so is each setting is made to fit perfectly around the stone and at the right height to suite the ring. There is a lot of time spent measuring, ‘measure twice cut once’ sort of thing. After spending so much time making the gold wire and sheet, you don’t want to make a mistake.
Next on the list of things to do was to make the brass ‘masters’ to use in the cuttlefish casting of two of Rachels rings.
Cuttlefish casting is an ancient Lo-Fi casting method. A master ring, usually made of metal, is pushed into the cuttlebone which takes a pretty good impression of the master. Then molten gold is poured into the void the master leaves behind
This image was taken just after the gold was poured into the cuttlefish mould. The mould was very hot.
Once the mould is taken apart, the rough Lo-Fi casting is removed and assessed to see if it is good enough to be taken to the next stage. I’m looking for interesting textures. Cuttlefish casting is particularly good at creating textures, but its unpredictable. Sometimes I have to cast several times before I get something I’m satisfied with. Each cuttlebone mould can only be used once, its a labour of love to get it just right.
At the same time as working on the cast rings I’ve been working on some of the other rings for Rachels stacking set. Using the old skills of hammering and forging to make these ones.
Before the stones are set into the rings, they are sent to the London Assay Office to be hallmarked. The hallmark is the guarantee that the gold is of the right purity. In this case all the rings for Rachel are 18ct or 750 parts per 1000 gold. The other 25% is usually a mixture of silver and copper. If you see 750 stamped onto a jewel its 18ct gold. The mark also shows the year the jewel was made and who made it. I have my makers mark ( SCE ) lodged at The London Assay Office, part The Goldsmiths Company. They have been hallmarking precious metals since 1300AD , which I think is pretty impressive.
Once the jewels are returned to me, I finish setting them and spend another few hours tinkering with the finishing and textures before I’m happy with them.
Rachel had the original boxes for the rings she had recycled, I thought they were lovely and used them as the packaging for the new jewels.
I visited Rachel at her home to deliver the rings on a sunny afternoon back in Dorset. There was great excitement as the boxes were opened. All the pieces fitted ! And looked absolutely gorgeous. Its a shame, but I don’t have a picture of this moment as its one that I’m particularly proud of.
If you would like to start a story and have your old or broken jewels re-worked please let me know at email@example.com .