Holy moley, it’s been an intense few weeks, and mostly because of one piece.
The embossed Big Gold Ring. When I took on this project I had no idea of how challenging it would be. It has taken many weeks, and so many tries that I am now such an embossing expert that I could emboss anything on anything. I could emboss your name on your butt, if you’d like.
Embossing is fairly simple: you are shaping a softer material by pressing it against another, harder, material. Piece of cake, right? Well, not if you are trying to keep your softer material thick. Thin metal will take a print by handrubbing it, but the thicker a material is, the harder it is to get it to emboss. Additionally, my softer material, 18k, is quite expensive, and so I didn’t have a large quantity to work with. Best case scenario would be embossing on a large sheet of gold, and then cutting back. In this way the embossed area could be crooked at first; you wouldn’t need a perfectly centered good print, but just a good print. And great googly mooglies, a good print was hard to get.
By the end, I had attempted this ring with about 20 plates. Each time the plate was run it would stretch, and so if the print was not perfect a new plate needed to be created. At one point I gave up, cut out tiny little letters, brazed them onto the ring, and called it a day. But I felt like that was cheating, and when my client said she’d wait while I worked, I started with the embossing again.
Prepare a plate (sand and texture, apply resist, scratch through, acid bath for several hours, refine the etching), melt and mill the gold, run the plate and the gold through the mill. Good print? No. Repeat. Good print? Yes, but crooked. Repeat. Good print? Yes, but the pressure of the mill made the gold too thin. Repeat. Each repetition took the better part of a day.
I forged my own new tools, I mixed new acid recipes, I cried on the new tools and in the new acid.
How did I finally get it? Ok, I won’t put you to sleep with the technical details, but just know that I’m a FREAKING GENIUS.
It was a mix of precise placement of pressure, depth of the etching, refining and incredible bull headedness.
But beyond the technical aspects of embossing, it was a challenge to find the right balance of relief and delineation for the letters. The purpose of the embossing was not to announce the letters to the world, but to be a private presence to the wearer, perhaps unnoticeable to others at first glance. I also wanted them high enough to be pleasing to the touch, to beg to have a finger make a habit of tracing them.
Nice sharp, low embossing was very pretty, but the client wants to wear this ring everyday. Low and clear was subtle, but low embossing would wear down in time.
High, clear embossing was too prominent and quite masculine-looking. It sat on the ring, not in the ring, and needed to be softened to look feminine, fluid, and most of all, incorporated.
Four weeks, 20 odd plates, and 80+ hours, and it’s done. It glows and it looks like something ancient someone dug out of the ground, and you know I like that. It’s a bit more organic than I had envisioned it looking, but it’s pleasing, and asks to be touched.