Someone more experienced than I in the field of jewelry making once told me that in response to a customer asking how long it took to make a particular piece offered for sale she will tell them "about 30 years and a couple hours" .. because, of course, so many casual shoppers fail to think about the total amount of experience involved in making any piece when they ask a question like that. There is a flip side, of course .. the customer who oooohs and ahhhs over even the silliest little piece of frivolity (we love those customers .. especially when they're loud and vocal). But, it's the "how long" question I get more often than not; though in fairness, it's often in awe of a particular piece that the question comes about. But still, I think I may incorporate my jewelry acquaintance's response into my own response repertoire when dealing with that inquiry in the future.
And with regard to the fine silver necklace which this post entails, the added time above and beyond experience was a year. If I had sat down and done the thing from beginning to end, it might've been more like a couple days (the precious metal clay portions require drying, connecting and kiln time) - but it began with a book, then a class .. then just recently some fine silver wire and deciding how to complete what I'd begun.
It was actually a little over a year from start to finish, since what got me started was a book on metal clay that I received in the mail in the spring of 2008. The thought of making chain with metal clay really intrigued me, and I purchased some PMC3 specifically to give it a go. As often happens with these things, my show season began in earnest and there was little to no time to experiment or play in the studio. So .. I fired the few rings I'd made and tossed them into a round metal tin until a time when I could carry on with the project.
It wasn't until early December 2008 that I thought of those rings again .. when I saw a week's worth of precious metal clay classes offered in Toronto .. by the author of the book I'd purchased! And, one of the classes was chain making! Major body vibrations. A trip to Toronto from Ogdensburg was about a four to five hour trip .. definitely doable. So I did it. Couldn't afford it .. did it anyway. Wasn't sure if the opportunity would come along again. A class scheduled the day before chain making was PMC Findings, so I signed up for both and was off to Toronto in mid-May.
Much of the findings class was familiar to me, as I'd been making my own ear wires for some time; but there were some very cool tips, tricks and style innovations in a couple other areas .. like how to make a nifty little bail device out of 12 gauge fine silver wire (that I've yet to try, but I haven't forgotten!), or adding funky little PMC ends to a piece of fine silver wire to create your own headpins (sterling doesn't hold up well in a PMC kiln). I kept notes, not to mention scribbled all over the poor woman's book (well, my copy of it) because at $250 a pop for the class ($100 material fee was separate), you don't want to forget anything when after paying for the class you can finally dig up the funds to buy the materials necessary to make more of all this stuff!!
I made the two large "ring" segments for a toggle clasp that first day in the findings class (she had some awesome pastry cutters that are on my list for PMC use and purchase). I haven't yet fired the item that looks like a finger ring .. I have plans for it involving resin, and am still experimenting with clear, two-part resin. The smaller rings result when cutting the holes out of the toggle ring, and are saved for .. whatever .. miscellaneous projects later. I've got a collection of little rings and other various fired PMC pieces that'll find a place on a design when the mood strikes.
Thinking ahead for the chain making class, I brought the PMC3 rings I'd made in the spring of 2008 - good thing because it takes a LOT of PMC to make all those rings and a couple toggles! The rings I made previously (at home) set slightly above the larger clay rings in the picture of my work station that day. You'd think from this photo that the resulting chain would be pretty long once all the links were connected .. and you'd be wrong. As I was. The resulting length after firing was about 10.5". Too long for a bracelet, not long enough for any necks I know. Since I have a kiln of my own, and wasn't staying for day three, I very delicately wrapped all of my dried clay pieces up after day two and drove them home to fire them. I was absolutely thrilled with the results! But, of course I wasn't finished. I had only part of a chain!
The process of making and linking PMC rings was pretty time intensive (and relatively costly) so I decided to finish the necklace with fine silver wire. Easier and faster, by far. After one of my best shows in July, I bought 12 ounces of fine silver wire in 12 and 14 gauge (not sterling, which is .925 silver vs. the .999 of fine silver). The PMC segment of chain varied between small and large links, and it seemed the most desirable thing to do would be to continue with this pattern.
I wound and cut all my own rings in 12 gauge, 14 gauge and 16 gauge wire then fused all of the 12 gauge rings together before connecting them to the 14 gauge and PMC rings. I added the smaller 16 gauge rings at the ends last .. I needed them to be smaller to fit through the hole on the toggle. Because the bar portion of the toggle is so long, several rings needed to be able to fit through in order to allow the bar to get all the way to the other side of the hole.
Several folks asked about the sturdiness of the piece - being made totally of fine silver, which is notably softer than sterling - but I can guarantee that every single ring is seriously work hardened; and it would require a lot of force to bend one.
This is one of those pieces I'm feeling just a little ambivalent about selling .. I've been wearing it, dripping it slowly from one hand to another, listening to the soft clinking sound it makes from hand to hand - it's just a little hypnotic, like a slinky. I'm even amazed at how fabulous it looks all crumbled up into a pile of little links on the table! I was going to patinate it, but I just can't bear to do it .. I mean what's the point of making a piece entirely out of fine silver, which is quite tarnish-resistent, only to blacken it all up with a bunch of Liver of Sulphur?
This is an example of what all those high-end juried art shows mean when they say "handcrafted" .. totally made by me, all of it. It's just under three ounces and has a wonderful heft, and yet has been very comfortable to wear. I think I'm in love.
Addendum: Should I have been surprised that the questions I received on this post were mostly "how long did it take to do the wire link portion of the necklace?" Not so much ; )
The necklace is about 22" to 23" long, so about 5.5" on one side and 6" on the other is made up of fine silver wire links .. it took me the good part of an afternoon to wind and cut all the rings and then fuse them all together (the 14 12 gauge rings I cut with a super flush cutter, the 14 and 16 gauge rings with my jump ringer blade). I just purchased a new (and better) butane torch, as the one I have isn't as hot and is a bit slow. I'm not sure how much of a difference in time it will make in fusing and assembling future chain in this fashion, but I had a chance to use one like the one I purchased, and it WAS a whole lot hotter and better for the task. Time will tell.
The necklace is priced at $680 .. and in response to the customer who wrote and asked why a piece" just under three ounces" isn't closer to the $14/ounce that silver costs, lemme 'splain.
Today (August 31, 2009) the 24-hour spot silver price posted at Kitco is approx. 14.88/ounce. This price represents the cost for a 1000 oz bar of .999 silver. This isn't the way those of us who make jewelry purchase silver. We buy raw materials - either wire, sheet, granules .. or precious metal clay. All of these versions of fine silver require fabrication in one way or another. It does not cost me $14.88 an ounce when I buy fine silver wire .. more like (recently) over $20/ounce. And a 25 gram package of PMC3 (28 grams = an ounce) cost me $34.50 in July 2008 .. the package of clay is actually 27.8 grams but yields 25 grams worth of silver after the binder burns off in the kiln. And then there's the time (and experience) it took for me to create the piece. A great analogy would be the cost of the wood it would take to build a house .. quite a bit less than what you would expect to pay for the completed house, no?