Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Commitment comes together in a bracelet

It's been a while, I know. Things have slowed down considerably in the jewelry studio over the last two or three years - clutter, dust and mouse scat had become the norm down there. As the annual Arts Fest I help coordinate, and family issues, began taking up more and time, I just gradually slowed down on the small business stuff .. jewelry making, shows, contributions, etc. It's OK. When I do get down there now, it's less about "I need to" and more about fun, inspiration, a special request, or just mucking about among the tools and components. Kinda like the early days again. More about fun, less about work.

Fortunately, I've had a couple cleaning jags down there because I had a request from a cousin a couple months ago for an "engagement bracelet". Feeling a tad rusty, I was initially hesitant but suggested a chat and the possibility of moving forward if his thoughts on a piece were within the scope of my abilities. Turns out they were, so we chatted .. and I took notes on important variables. He wanted a tree, the initials of their first names (A & G), a symbol of their faith, and some color. OK then ..

I began with the tree. I actually have a metal tree stamp, but it's only about a half inch across. My thought was to put their initials beneath the branches; but even with the relatively large collection of metal alpha stamps I have available, none of them were small enough to fit beneath the branches of the tree in the metal stamp. So .. my next idea was to look for a bigger stamp and create a charm in metal clay. I was grateful to discover a lot of them out there, though I purchased and returned three before I finally hit on one that was the right size and depth for clay. Originally, the initials requested included those of the recipient's two sons. I played around with it a bit in polymer clay. This was the best impression that came out of it. After sending the image off for comments, it was agreed that perhaps just the initials of the two getting engaged would be best.

Because the resulting metal clay piece was going to be on a bracelet - which usually get pretty hard wear - I had at first thought of doing the charm in PMC+ or PMC3, both of which are stronger out of the kiln than PMC Original. However PMC+ and PMC3 only shrink about 12% to 15% in the kiln. In order to find a stamp large enough to allow for the inclusion of letters beneath the branches, when I finally found a cutter large enough to encompass the entire impressed image, the resulting piece was just shy of a quarter in size. I could make a thinner charm, but the resulting piece would be quite a bit larger than I wanted it to be. Though Mitsubishi no longer makes PMC Original (much to my dismay), I had some available in the drawers beneath my kiln. PMC Original shrinks around 25% in the kiln .. I knew this was what I wanted and was glad I had some left!

This is the piece in PMC Original clay setting beside a quarter. When set on top of the quarter, the edge of the coin is all that can be seen. I ended up cutting the charm about 4mm thick. I cut and re-cut the thing repeatedly because one aspect or another was off. I kept thinking the tree was out of balance, but when I finally got the letters the way I liked them, I realized that the base of the tree was the defining factor for the tree. And I knew the upper right would shrink back toward the center a bit in the kiln.

From upper left to lower right is the progression through sanding from fresh cut clay to ready for the kiln (the green is 400 grit, gray 600, pink 4000 (front and back), blue 6000, and there were a couple others in between and at the end, but these revealed the most dramatic changes from one grit to the next).  I was pleased when the piece came out of the kiln. Such a tidy, substantial little charm!! Now about the size of a dime, I popped it into the tumbler with some steel shot and soap for a couple hours to clean off the silver "sparkle" and harden it a bit.

Once out of the tumbler I dropped the charm into a small dish of liver of sulfer and blackened it all over. Once cleaned up, the impressed areas remain black and help the design to pop. With coins on either side you can see how much the piece shrank in the kiln. The nice thing about PMC Original is that no matter how big you begin, the entire design is maintained.

This is what it looks like finished and patinated (or antiqued) next to the bright silver Byzantine chain to which I will attach it. I did go in later and darken up some of the center of the tree before finishing up. I had already made a length of chain while I was waiting for a wrist measurement. I had a couple ideas about working the next variable, color, into the mix, but couldn't continue without a measurement. As I was given birthdays in that original call about the bracelet, I thought birthstones would be appropriate.

As it happens, the birthstones were for September and July. Birthstones are different depending on who you ask - you can find contemporary, traditional, and several other more obscure choices in between. But if you Google the birthstones for either month, the top of the page shows ruby for July and sapphire for September. The more traditional choices. And I just happened to have both in my arsenal. From the beginning my thought was to put the stones on either end, one attached to the clasp and the charm, the other attached to the clasp "catch" ring. Before I could even mess around with some ideas, I had to enlarge the holes in both stones. I'm not sure why, but all my precious stone beads have very tiny little holes. I've only ever strung them up with 14 and 18 karat gold; I've never considered mixing them into a bracelet like this. Most are pretty small, too. But I wound and cut 18 ga wire into 3.5mm rings for the Byzantine weave, and the two faceted stones I chose (about the same size donut shaped beads) were just the right size for this elegant but sturdy small chain weave.

I'm sorry I don't have photos for this part, but as ruby and sapphire are both in the corundum family of gems - just one step down from diamond in hardness - the only thing I could use to open the holes was a diamond drill bit. Thought I had some, but could only find carbide drill bits. I did, however, have an electric diamond tipped bead reamer. I've only ever used it for pearls, but what the heck. My first attempts, just holding onto the stone and giving it go, left me with a hot bead pretty darned quick! So I set the stone into my pearl drilling jig, dipped it into a dish of cool water and tried again, under water. Bingo!! Not quite like a knife through butter, but a whole lot easier and quicker than I thought! I had both stones drilled through to accept a piece of 18 ga wire in about five minutes. Yay!

Once I had better information for bracelet length, I played around a bit with the stones. I didn't like them at the ends at all. Too much going on with both stones, the clasp, the charm .. it was way too busy and would have skewed the weight and design. So I removed a short length of chain from either end and inserted the stones between them. I wasted a little wire even at this stage trying just a wrapped loop with the loops the same size as the woven rings .. wasn't quite right. So I tried again and double wrapped the loop. Perfect! I opened all four of the wrapped ends (one on each side of both stones) then flattened and filed them smooth before tucking them back into their wraps so they wouldn't catch on anything. I don't normally need to do this, but 18 ga wire is kinda hefty .. a straight, clean cut on the end of the wire would have left a noticeable tubular end. And it would have caught on sweaters and fine knits. Annoying, to say the least.

This is what the wrap looked like on the sapphire (you can see the forged and filed end on the left). And it's obvious from the photo why I needed to be able to use 18 gauge wire on the stones - it blends in so much better with the rest of the bracelet. I also wanted the entire bracelet to be secure. If I had left the bead holes as they were, I could only have used 26 or 28 gauge wire, which is akin to thread (and is often used that way by folks who do intricate wire weaving with it). Bending wire repeatedly will naturally work harden it, but too much bending and the wire will become brittle and break. Excuse me while I pat myself on the back  :-)  I'm just so pleased with the end result!!

The last variable was "faith". Another coincidence was that I happened to have two or three small, delicate crosses in my component drawers. Another wonderful coincidence is that when attached to the Tree of Life charm, it sets nicely on top but still allows the initials and tree to be seen. I love it when things work out!!

I will mention that at some point after I attached the stones but before I added the clasp and charms, the length of chain, now adorned with two lovely stones, spoke to me. It said patinate. I've made and sold a lot of Byzantine bracelets. They're very impressive, hefty, and sturdy .. they're purchased by men and women and can be dressed up or dressed down depending on the clasp and - like this one - add ons. I have one I love. But most of those I've sold I've left silver. I don't know why, but this one just cried for some additional definition. So I dropped the chain, stones and all, into a dish of liver of sulfer. Not for as long as the charm, or I would have spend days cleaning the thing. As it was, it took a while. The end result was worth it.

What I really loved about this piece was the symbolism throughout .. the tight weave of the rings is so very appropriate for an engagement bracelet! And both stones are rich with symbolism for romance, marriage, integrity, devotion, passion, positive energy, peace and serenity.

There's always so much involved along the way when designing a piece like this, and I often wish I could be there when the piece I've created is given.

Ah well, I can at least hope the bracelet is well received and that both it and they hold up over time.

Joy and Peace Anthony & Grace