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Here’s the breakdown for a recent project I really enjoyed making…
Starting out with nothing but a short list of a woman’s characteristics, a general sense of preferred size range, and this peridot (her birthstone) – my challenge was to design a brooch for Brad’s wife, Dana.
HOW TO BEGIN
Beginning a new design is like staring at a blank canvas and wondering where to put the first mark. Fortunately I find this challenge interesting – I just need a bit of background info and a little time to research.
The amount of info and images I start with ranges from person to person. The more context I have the better, but it doesn’t have to be a novel.
I did some probing to find out more about the woman behind the gemstone. Armed with a few photos of her and a short list of things that make her tick, I began the process of research, thinking, and design. Two things that stuck out to me were her love of quilting and French castles. I was pleasantly surprised to find similarities in pattern between traditional quilts and the manicured gardens of French castles.
FINAL DESIGN SKETCHES
Influenced by the bright green of the gemstone, it made sense to draw inspiration from the garden and leaf shapes within. I chose the shape I’d focus on based on one I found in both quilts and topiary and knowing it was also one I could work around the stone. After many sketches I settled on two approaches, both incorporating a balanced asymmetry. One focused more on the irregularities in nature and leaves, the other focused more on repeating pattern as represented in the quilt.
FORMING THE FRONT
After some discussion, Brad settled on his preferred jewelry design. With deposit in hand, I got to work. I began by forming the silver using a technique called chasing and repousse. The silver is held in place with pitch (similar to tree sap) so the metal only moves where I hammer it with the chasing tools and the rest keeps it’s shape.
After forming the metal, removing from pitch, cleaning off residue, annealing (heating to soften metal), putting back in pitch on opposite side and hammering more, then repeating these steps many many times, I had the primary silver shaped to completion.
Next step is to trim the edges by cutting, filing, and sanding the silver into it it’s final shape, including an opening for a bezel where the stone will go.
CREATING THE BACK
Once the front was sorted out I moved onto the back. I wanted to ensure the brooch as a whole would be solid but lightweight, have structural integrity, and be visually interesting front and back. I cut smaller versions of the almond leaf shapes out of a flat piece of silver that would become the back.
SOLDERING IT ALL TOGETHER
Once everything is fit snugly together - bezel, front, and back – it’s all soldered together. Edges are cleaned up with a file and sandpaper.
The two parts of the pin back are soldered into place. This is the last step involving fire so after this I make sure all the edges are cleaned up and smooth and there is nothing sharp or out of place. i like to add subtle details when appropriate - in this case I filed the back so it’d resemble linen, as a nod to Dana’s interest in fabric and quilting.
Brad thought Dana would like the pin to have a darkened patina. For this design I totally agreed. The peridot is super sparkly so darkening helped tone it down a touch so it related better to the earthy design. But mostly, as the pin is worn, the edges and high points will polish up slightly, giving it a lovely aged look reminiscent of history and the French castles Dana enjoys.
SET THE STONE
Now that the brooch is nearly finished, I just need to set the stone. I secured the brooch in a type of plastic that softens in warm water. This allows me to hold the brooch securely in a vice (without damage) so I’m able to set the stone properly.
Now finished, Dana is the only person in the world to have this design. In a society full of mass produced stuff, that’s pretty darn special.
Here’s a little time lapse video I made of the project. I don’t always have the time (or remember) to take pics at every step so it was fun to capture this one in it’s entirety.
Brad had this sweet thing to say about the project…
“Catherine is wonderfully inventive and easy to work with, even on something so particular as creating the perfect brooch for my wife starting with only her birthstone. Catherine also commemorated the project with time-lapse photos of the entire process to provide wonderful context for her final creation. My wife and I could not be more pleased and look forward to the next piece.”
— Bradley Scarp
Comment below with your favorite gemstone you dream of one day having made into one of a kind jewelry!
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