Wednesday, March 6, 2013

What's the catch?

Okay, some call it a catch, others call it a clasp. But all of us bench jewellers or goldsmiths as I am known, refer to these essential components as "findings". Findings is a collective noun referring to (when used in the context of jewellery) all of the components that are used in the creation of a piece of jewellery. This includes but is not limited to clasps, settings, pins, hooks, posts and a myriad of other little inventions which include many different shapes and forms of each item. 

Back when I did my apprenticeship in South Africa about 20 years ago, becoming a goldsmith meant that you had to learn how to manufacture all findings by hand. We would melt the metal down, roll it out, draw wire from it, bend it, shape it, forge it, file it, anneal it, solder it, pierce it, sandpaper it, polish it and clean it. This meant hours upon hours of mastering the ability to create and invent small object for use in jewellery manufacturing. This is what a goldsmith is and what he does. Similar to a blacksmith who does the same thing on a larger scale using a different medium. It is an acquired and learned skill. Some have great abilities which they hone, and some don't. Fortunately for the ones that don't have the background of creating components or findings from scratch, along came companies which cater to these non-goldsmiths. Everybody has there place in society and in business, so lucky for these jewellers, they now have a world of choice of components to choose from. 

I was first introduced to the concept of findings companies when I worked for John Donald in London, UK between 1998 and 2001. I would walk to Hatton Garden to run errands as part of my blue-collar, bench-monkey, goldsmith duties. Eurofindings was a place where we could purchase all of the little things that used to take me hours to produce by hand. It was amazing. The choice was really quite something spectacular.  I couldn't help but thinking to myself that it was l a bit like cheating. Like buying some of the crucial "bits and pieces" and soldering them together to create a "hand made" piece of jewellery. But this was the reality and this was a tool that all of us as goldsmith have resorted to from time to time to save time on creating small components that can be easily acquired and do not really detract from one's design or the quality. The quality is ultimately dependent on who is building the piece. A goldsmith with a solid understanding of how things are made and how they should be used goes a long way. I have seen some horrific offerings over the years from people who somehow manage to not only stay in business, but thrive. I guess that their customers didn't know better. Some did know better because I have had people come to me to have pieces repaired, modified, or remade completely when there is no choice. 

There is no turning our back on the companies that sell findings. I too use them for when I need to find a specific clasp or finding that is cheaper for the client to afford (or a price they are willing to pay). I give people a choice. That is because I can. Some jewellers can't. So the first thing they do is reach for their trusty catalogue and browse for a suitable part.

A case in point is a job I just finished this morning. A client of mine came to me with her husbands silver bracelet. He hated the lobster style clasp on it and wanted to have a clasp that is similar or the same as the clasp on her own silver bracelet. Now seeing as it is silver, I figured I would take a look in the catalogue for something similar to hers. Unfortunately it was    not to be found. Remember, people place different values on different things for a variety of different reasons. To her and her husband, these silver bracelets mean something. So I offered to hand make the clasp. The price would be twice that of a conventional commercially available clasp. It would take a couple or few hours to make. But she wanted it. So I made the clasp. Bigger than hers, seeing as it is for use by a man. 

This is what the difference is between a jeweller in a jewellery store chain, and a myself as goldsmith. We do all of the regular jewellery business, but we come with a backing of more options. We offer the more affordable options that most jewellers offer, but we also have the ability to solve a problem by creating something specific from metal in it's raw and shapeless state.

Below are pictures of the example I used referring to the clasp made for the bracelet. Not a particularly astounding project, but an example nevertheless. 

silver clasp
silver clasp
silver clasp
silver clasp
silver clasp