Blogosphere, the Jewelry Axis of Evil has a new member. Today, opals join silver, my camera, and white gold on the list of Stuff I Really Hate. White gold moves up a spot on the list, because I was using it in combination with the opal. My camera jumps two spots, because it’s very frustrating to be unable to show you a quality image of that which deeply offends me.
I’m pretty sure that the opal would have behaved nicely if not for the bad influence of the white gold. Similar to my stance on teenagers, I expect white gold to behave like white gold; it is what it is, and it can’t help its nature. Foolishly, I expected better of the opal. If only I had listened to the rumors about opals and their sluttish ethics, I never would have left the two alone together.
This morning, as I sat polishing up this pretty opal ring, I mentally wrote a very different post; a post extolling the virtues of opals and expounding upon my new, improved relationship with white gold. Then, I noticed the bezel was a speck loose, on the left. Back in the vice it went, one gentle press on the bezel’s edge, and CLICK: the unmistakable sound of an expensive stone fracturing. A unique stone, a match for which will be difficult to find. CLICK: the sound of yesterday’s work, wasted.
Now I have nothing nice to say about opals and white gold. Not. One. Thing.
After I had a glass of wine the other night I decided that I REALLY need a faux fur rug. But like a muppet faux fur rug. As if the local menfolk hunted down a scary yet wildly beautiful large muppet monster who was terrorizing the local villagers, and then made a trophy rug out of it. Feet sticking out the sides, claws still on. Head attached, you know the drill. Big enough that I can lay it in front of my fireplace and maybe seduce the sweet man upon it, but that is none of your business, blogosphere.
And then, because my brain goes willy-nilly in twelve directions at all times, thoughts shot out from the original thought like spokes from the hub of a wheel.
I haven’t done a contest in a while, and contests are like parties. I like parties.
Maybe I could do a contest where I swap a ring for a rug…..
No, too complicated. Forget the rug.
Maybe I should ask readers to create new monsters, and then I’ll have tons of monster pictures and I can collage them all together to make one giant wall-sized monster picture to hang in my studio. I would LOVE that!
I’ll give the ring to the creator of the best monster!
When I call Karen the next day to tell her of my idea, she is very supportive. “Now, what kind of wine were you drinking?”
And so my ducklings, I think we’re going to do this, but I’d love your input.
My idea: A pretty sapphire ring goes to the creator of the best, most creative monster. Entrants email me images of the monsters they’ve created: drawn, photoshopped, photos of modeling clay monsters, stuffed monsters…..
So, what do you think? Guide me, my little Obi Wans.
I feel I owe you. Yesterday you were such patient little ducks as I waxed poetic about…..sweat, and I’m sure sweating isn’t as interesting to all as it is to me. I’m easily fascinated. I’m sluttish in my ease of fascination, I really am.
So today, let’s talk about something cool (cooler than sweating, which is nature’s way of cooling down the body, you know.) We’re going to take a look at “house rings.”
House rings, the melding of architecture and jewelry, fascinate me almost as much as sweating. We can’t discuss house rings, however, without beginning with Jewish marriage rings. Are Jewish marriage rings the basis for modern house rings? Who knows! But it’s my blog, and so we’re starting there because I really want you to see these. They’re magnificent.
Historically, all Jewish marriage rings were not “house rings,” but the type which featured a bezel built to look like a building was extraordinarily beautiful and in use for about four hundred years. Unfortunately, not many of these examples exist, as they were used during a period of history plagued with plagues, for which the Jews were often blamed as the cause.
As town after town succumbed to various plagues and the populace panicked, pogroms took place. Assuming the Jews had cursed the Christians or poisoned town wells, a city’s Jews were killed or driven from their homes. Aware of their position of scapegoat and the possibility of pogrom, many Jews buried their valuables in hopes they could return at some point to reclaim their possessions. Digging up the yards of recently vacated Jewish homes was a normal occurrence, and much history of the Jewish culture has been lost because of this practice. However, finds do still turn up as ancient cities continue to thrive, and modern owners renovate and repair their homes and properties.
These highly ornate rings were ceremonial, used only at the couple’s wedding, and thought to be owned by the community or passed down in families. The building on top is perhaps meant to represent the Temple of Jerusalem, but more likely represents the couple’s future home. In some versions the roof was hinged, and opened to reveal a tiny golden Torah scroll. Often enameled, never bejeweled, the metal standing in for the traditional coin the groom proffered his bride.
Now that we’ve seen the granddaddy of house rings (the Sabba of house rings?), let’s look at the modern take on this idea.
Today’s house rings range from wildly overblown and impractical, to rusticly simple.
In her series “Las Casitecturas,” Spanish artist Silvia Walz takes the idea of architecture and plays with it as metaphor. Walz writes, ” The ‘Casitecturas’ become receptacles of feelings and impressions. Small labyrinths of the memory, which invite to imaginary interior walks.” Her “house rings” are poetic, narrative floorplans.
And my favorite of the contemporary house rings: British artist Vicki Ambery-Smith. While Tournaire’s structures are all business, Ambery-Smith’s are a bit more whimsical. Her feminine version of his masculine. A bit of out-of-proportion detail, a bit of curve where an architect wouldn’t allow it, these structures are interpretations, and encourage the wearer to imagine. Much of Ambery-Smith’s collection is influenced by architecture, and I really urge you to go take a look!
And to end where we began: Jewish marriage rings. While architectural rings are no longer the norm, I found one artist who is creating simple versions of house rings to be used during wedding ceremonies.
Mila Tanya Griebel is a British silversmith, highly respected for her silver Judaica. A contemporary version of an ancient tradition.
When Sarah contacted me regarding having a custom ring made, one of her biggest concerns was the sourcing of the materials. Recycled gold is readily available and I use it in pieces which can support its higher cost, but her gem concerns were a murkier subject.
Like many, she knew of the unethical and eco-unfriendly practices of gem-mining, and wanted to avoid purchasing a stone which funded those practices.
While purchasing free trade stones or stones marked as eco-friendly seems like the obvious choice, it isn’t that simple. The world of diamonds and gems is complicated and of dubious transparency, and most of the worlds’ beautiful gems come from areas which are in turmoil, or where work and environmental practices are not what someone else might consider enlightened. Additionally, there is no single international industry authority governing eco and free trade certification.
When I first started goldsmithing I wanted to offer stones of kinder origins, but after researching I came to the conclusion that there simply might not be such a thing. Are there companies which do follow stones from the mine to the cutter? I’m sure there are. But there are also many, many companies who know they can offer stones with such certification for much higher prices, and they create the certification themselves. How does one know the difference? I haven’t figured that out yet. Much like buying free-range or organic products, there are not any industry standards and these terms can mean anything.
Many large gem companies selling stones guaranteed to be ethical, conflict free, and eco-friendly work the same way. They offer stones with these certifications, but when you go digging they also own the companies which provide the certification. For instance, while free trade is a common term, “Free-Trade” is a term trademarked by the company which markets these gems, and they promise the stones have been overseen from the mining through the cutting to ensure ethical practices. The gems are sold through only one dealer, and that dealer is….ready for it? Free-Trade’s parent company, Columbia Gem House. While I wouldn’t accuse them of misleading the buyer, they don’t seem to be answering to any governing body and I don’t know how to gauge the validity of their certification.
So, what can you do? Find a reputable dealer who provides the country of origin for a gem, and then decide if you can live with that country’s mining standards. You could buy a lab-made gem. You could buy a gem with some sort of certification, and hope it means something.
Sarah decided that she wanted a garnet, and the option she felt most comfortable with was using one of the sangria-colored garnets my mother’s oldest friend, Cynthia, brought back from India years ago. Sarah felt a stone which was several decades old was at least not harming anyone or anything now, and she could live with that. I admired that in her purchase she was trying to do right by the earth and others, and I wish doing so was easier and more straight forward.
My mother is thrilled to know one of her stones is being given such a special use.
Sarah wanted a ring similar to the Simple Diamond Ring, but with the garnet set sideways. While she felt she would not be wearing the engagement ring much after she was married, I urged her to let me change the bezel a bit, just in case she might want to wear it more than she anticipated. We went with an angled bezel, which will provide her with a more comfortable fit when worn with a wedding band.
When Sarah saw the ring? She said, “I don’t think I’ll want to take it off!”
I couldn’t have hoped for a better reaction!
National Geographic has explored this subject for years, and as an impartial observer their articles are a wonderful resource for those who are concerned about gem-trade practices. One article, in particular, illustrates the circuitous path gems take from mine to market: an article on the diamond trade here.
I’ve just received an order to make this ring in 22k gold. You didn’t know I could do that, did you? I can! In fact, if I received an order to make this ring out of petrified llama snot, I could probably figure out a way to do that, too. Because I am that hard-headed.
I wasn’t a big fan of jade until Valerie urged me to work some into my collection; Val loves jade, and after working with it, I do too. Jade has a feel and a mood, and most stones don’t have that. Jade is cool and relaxed and feminine without being fussy. A lot like Valerie!
This ring will be gorgeous in 22k, and its design is sturdy enough to be a good fit for the softer, high karat gold.
The opportunity to work with a high karat is a huge treat for me, as I mostly work in the 14k Americans prefer. Wonderful, but a bit lighter in color than the rest of the work prefers, a bit less malleable.
The term 14k means the metal is 14 parts gold, and ten parts something else (usually a blend of silver and copper), for a total of 24 karats. This makes 14k gold 58 percent pure gold.
24 karat, pure unalloyed gold, is too soft to be practical for jewelry, and alloying it with silver and copper adds strength and durability. An 18k blend, at 75 percent pure gold, is widely considered to be perfect for jewelry; it strikes the balance of retaining gold’s best characteristics (color, workability), while minimizing its one key fault: softness.
The 22k I’ll be working with is 92 percent gold, and it’s the preference in many eastern cultures despite being a bit soft. In addition to 22k’s gorgeous, buttery texture, I’m looking forward to working with it because of its appeal to other cultures.
I think there is a place for higher karat, contemporary artisan jewelry in America. We’re a melting pot, and home to so many first-generation American women of foreign descent; thoroughly American, and yet with strong ties to their parent cultures. Their Mom’s jewelry? Probably higher than 14 karat, but also stuffy and old-fashioned in their eyes, as any mother’s jewelry seems. These women are blending the old and new, and I’m excited to create designs which might appeal to them. The quality of gold they’ve learned to look for, with the modern sensibilities they want.
I’m excited to incorporate higher karat into my designs and show the process on the blog. As with creating custom pieces, I want people to know this is do-able, and jewelry which is personal and unique is an option.
I’m absolutely terrible about keeping secrets. The good kind of secrets, not the bad. Gifts I’m giving, surprises I’ve planned (which rarely end up being surprises); those kinds of secrets. It’s as if the lovely secrets are effervescent and bubbling up, trying to escape from inside me. I just want to let them out because I know they would make everyone smile, and then we could giggle and smile together, and the secret would be even better. When I do manage to hold on to secrets, everyone around me knows I have one because I’ve told them I have one, and I can’t stop giggling. They think it’s a lot of fun to take bets on how long I can stand the bubbling effervescence before I burst. Every once in a while I surprise them.
Since Thursday I’VE HAD THE BEST SECRET, blogosphere, and I’ve been wanting to tell you! Thursday! I’ve held it in since THURSDAY!
Last Thursday afternoon I received a frantic email from a man who was heading to Europe early this week with his girlfriend, and he had decided to propose while they were there. Could I make a diamond ring, fast, and ship it overnight?
One of the best parts of this job is knowing the joy people take in wearing my jewelry. I love it, and I can’t even explain how much. Something that came from my hands is making someone smile. Someday a little girl will dig through her mother’s jewelry box and find a ring I’ve made, put it on, feel like a princess, and wait eagerly to be given the ring when she’s older; someday parents will explain to their kids why Mom’s engagement ring is so special, and I feel so very lucky to be part of those moments. Jewelry is so personal, so symbolic of our ties to events and other people, and through my jewelry I’m going places and becoming a part of things I never would have, otherwise.
In the case of the rush-engagement ring, my little ring flew to Europe yesterday and sometime soon a lovely young woman will be surprised with it. She won’t be able to take her eyes off of it for weeks to come, because it symbolizes that someone holds her above all others and wants the honor of tying his life to hers. As I polished it I hoped the best hopes for that couple, and I’m so happy that my little ring has such a special purpose.
I’m bubbling inside because something huge is about to happen in a young woman’s life, she doesn’t even know it, but I DO! And that is very, very cool.
I’ve had more than a few emails gently asking when I will show some new designs, and the answer, frustratingly, has been…..I haven’t created any.
While it’s wonderful to be receiving so many orders for existing designs, it hasn’t left me time to create new, cool stuff. As those around me know, that’s been driving me nuts! The business woman in me (the one who likes the utilities to stay on) is happy with all the orders, but the artist? She’s been chomping at the bit. Running my own business has been such a learning experience, and balancing the creative and the practical aspects of being a working studio artist is a challenge. Each facet needs the other for success, though, doesn’t it?
This weekend I forced myself to turn my head off to the practical demands for just a few hours, and here you are: a new, cool thing! Ta da!
I found these buttons at a local shop, Knit One, Stitch Too, when I stopped by to pick up silk cording for pendants I’m working on.
Betsy Weber is the owner of Knit One, Stitch Too, and she and her son were very patient and helpful as I sifted through every single shell button they stocked to find the just the right ones. Thank you, Betsy! Betsy ships worldwide, and for those of you looking to support independently owned shops, this is a great one.
The first button ring (below): An abalone button in a sterling, satin-finished setting with an irregular bezel. I dig it, and it screams “summertime” to me. I’ll have this listed for sale later in the day.
Next up is the glazed red shell button:
The forged “thread” is soldered on one side, and then bent through the button holes. It’s the bezel which actually secures the button. The thin, wide shell button isn’t as sturdy as a gem, and so I designed the setting to work as a bumper; to take the force of any blows the ring will receive, and so the “thread” rising up from the face of the button is as useful as it is decorative. I’ll finish this one with a satin finish, as I did with the abalone.
The great big square button? I’m going to set that one in gold, and with a slightly more complicated setting. It’ll be big and gorgeous and “full of win” as Jake’s friend Erika would say. The challenge with a piece like this is keeping the cost of the setting down so the ring will be affordable: in the mid $200’s. Because of the size of the button, the setting will need to be sturdy, but sturdy in gold is expensive! To avoid that, I’ll play with the base of the bezel being reinforced in silver. The visible, beautiful parts will be gold, the working parts, silver, and if all goes well it will work and add up to a stunning piece.
Also in studio news: the extra silver solder I ordered is in, and so I’ll be attempting this design again. Cross your fingers!
New stones! This will be my weekend’s work. Well, some of these.
A 1.7 ct sapphire, 2 citrines, and a gorgeous big jade, which is over a centimeter wide. The purple is a piece of seaglass I plan to put in a ring.
I’m most excited about the jade, because I know where I am going with it; I can see the piece finished in my head. A simple gold bezel and a thin band, the whole setting abraded to a satin finish. It will be an airy, contemporary piece, and the jade be the star of the show.