Friday, May 10, 2013

Repairing a Different Kind of Jewllery

Okay, perhaps I shouldn't refer to glasses frames as a kind of jewellery. But they are very important accessories to many people. Either for the simple reason of clear sight, or perhaps as a fashion statement. Whatever the reason, they do tend to get damaged and broken. Often.

In today's consumerist society, most people tend to discard and replace broken items. Drive around on any given weekend and you will find older TVs and equipment that works very well, but have been replaced by a newer model.

Glass are sometimes very expensive to replace. My son is turning 11 and has been wearing glasses since he was 3 and a bit. If I was to calculate how many pairs of glasses he has lost or broken or outgrown, I would be shocked. This is probably an exercise I will avoid :)

So having hands on experience in the realm of spectacle repair born out of frugality as well as my desire to fix things, I am now one of the go-to people in this city where you can have your glasses repaired to a very decent standard of esthetic cleanliness and durability. I use a laser welder which has had it's own learning curve to master. Each and every set of broken frames is a new breed of repair. Many glassed are made from different alloys of metal, and even different sub-categories or alloys and blends of titanium and steel being the most common. It therefore a new challenge each time to find the right temperature range and choice or blend of metals to use for building up the fracture. I use silver, gold, platinum and titanium and sometimes a blend of various of these.

Here is a set of pictures showing the steps to a simpler repair. This is the reduced pictorial.

Thursday, May 9, 2013

Diary of a Ring Repair: 1

I used this client's ring to show you the process of refurbishing all of the claws holding the stones into this very old and sentimental ring. In some cases it would be better to remake the ring. In this case, the client had a lot of sentimental attachment to the ring, and therefore preferred that I keep the original ring and rebuild the top section. The shank is worn thing, and needs to be replaced. the claws are also very worn on the sides from rubbing up against a band for many years. 

This is how the ring looks after I have removed the stones which were still in the setting. One had fallen out already.

Step 1: cut the existing prongs (what's left of them) down to prepare them for the new ones which I am about to make. 

Now the claws (or prongs) are cut down to where they are a little thicker, giving me some metal to adhere the new claws to.

Step 2: After pulling down platinum wire to the desired gauge  I cut new claws for the ring. The original claws were made of white gold, but in this case I am going the extra mile and making new ones out of platinum. Platinum is more expensive material, but it is very durable.

Step 3: Solder the new claws and rectangular plates onto the existing "stubs".

Starting to look a little chaotic.

Step 4: I have now set the center stone, in this case a blue sapphire. 

Step 5:  Set the side diamonds.

Step 6: Clean up the claws and prepare the ring for polishing.

 the ring is still worn and thin, the stones are now safe re-set. next will be the process of rebuilding the shank to give the ring some more substance while maintaining it's dainty feel. 

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

The Difference Between a Goldsmith and a Jeweller.

I would like to define the differences between jewellers or as they say in the US, jewelers, and us goldsmiths.  I say "us" goldsmiths because if you are one and you are reading this, you will agree with me. Please not: if you want to get the basic point of this post, then simply scroll down to the ***** to avoid all of the rambling and history associated with my tale.

Firstly, I shall clarify why I am able to refer to myself legitimately as a goldsmith. Firstly, I did an apprenticeship under a master goldsmith from Vienna Austria. I learned the type of handed-down knowledge that you can't pay for in any technical college. I'm talking about knowledge that was passed down over hundreds of years. In the same fashion that Bushman tribal fellows would pass down legends dating back to times most people never even stop to consider. I spent years working under a journeyman (journeyperson if we are to adhere to modern day political correctness standards) named Monica Tucek who taught me more than a few simple fundamentals. Her husband Fritz was a real stickler for quality, so I could not get away with even a single microscopic blemish from day one. Which was a good thing. It was more of a "cruel to be kind" motivation. And he didn't want to be selling second rate goods. And that is what made Vienna Jewellers in Pretoria, South Africa very successful.  I was taught about quality. Expert craftsmanship. I was often told to remake something or re-do something because I had made a slight miscalculation or something to that effect. these days if you tell a youngster to do something over, they will start to cry and leave because you are a "asshole boss". That is why after almost 20 years in this business I have resided myself to the fact that I will work alone. I do collaborate with other designers on projects, but when it comes down to the hands on work, I tend to have the inability to delegate. Oh well. However, I do have my eye on some accomplished goldsmiths internationally that want to come and work for me. I know they will be up for the challenge. But I will first have to slowly grow to the point that I can actually afford to pay them. Or pay my own bills quite frankly. Gone are the days where goldsmiths were second in the salary line only to stone masons, followed by knights.

I digress. Often.

So after working as an apprentice for a prescribed number of years under the controlling arm of the Department of Manpower and Training (no longer in existence) of South Africa, I qualified as a "Precious Metal Worker and Diamond Mounter" as is reads on my certification. I cried that day. But that is not big news because anyone that knows me will already be aware that I cry an awful lot. I once thought of having my tear ducts cauterized. A couple of years after this qualification, I decided that I wanted to go and experience life abroad. I had never flown on any form of aircraft before. I had never left South Africa. Unlike in North America where catching a flight to the Bahamas is like catching a bus. No big deal. Africa (particularly the southern most tip of it) is far away and expensive to escape for an international vacation.

It took me about two years to summon up the courage to leave Vienna Jewellers. And because I felt so guilty about leaving, I used a tactic I was unaware that I do until recently. I used a minor altercation the the workshop as an "excuse" to blow up at my former friend and colleague, who I still secretly really like. I left. I went to the hospital where my Dad was recovering from back surgery and announced in a very manic fashion (I was revved UP) that I had quit and I was leaving.

I got on the Virgin Atlantic flight in Johannesburg a few months later after organizing my work permit for the UK and said goodbye to a large group of friends and my family who came with to the airport to see me off. Later (many years later) I would discover that my Mom had bets on with my friends, saying that I would be back home in 6 months. Well, it's been 15 years now. And I didn't plan on leaving for good. I remember standing in my Ma's bedroom talking to her and I made a joke. I said "what happens if I meet a Peruvian princess on my travels and end up marrying her and settling in Peru?" She burst into tears and said "Ag no man! Don't talk shit!" And being me I actually felt bad. because I had no intention of leaving my parents. But as it happened I met a Canadian princess when I was living in London. And there remains another long and wonderful story to be told at a later date. If you're interested.

So living in London was absolutely shit. I mean I think back fondly. I made many friends. Drank many a good pint. Watched a few really good court side tennis matches at Wimbledon. Watched the Cricket World Cup 1999 through the stadium fences with my drunk antipodean mates (and my Cambridge University Phd student brother who was also blitzed) because we couldn't afford tickets. We were those guys you see sitting in the trees outside the stadium looking in. But seriously, apart from the really great times, it was hard. I worked in a pub and lived above it when I got my position at John Donald, Designer Silversmith and Goldsmith. I will elaborate on London times more if anyone wants me to at a later stage. I am really trying to keep to the point here. John Donald had opened shop on Cheapside in the London Business district near Goldsmiths Hall on Gutter Lane, closest tube station St. Pauls. Right near the London Stock Exchange. Hence lots of black suits and brollies. He had served the likes of Twiggie and members of the Royal Family for years. I was hired as..... you guessed it.... a goldsmith. I worked in the basement of his store from 8am until 5pm every day for about two years. At that stage I had moved to West Acton near Ealing Broadway and would travel on the tube to work in the dark. It would be dark when I left work. I worked in the basement of a highrise Lndon building, without windows. I would go for a week at a time, from Sunday afternoon after the sun set in the winter at 3:30pm, until I saw the daylight again the following Saturday. To work in the dark. Work in basement. Back to West Acton where I worked in a Thresher Wine Shop until 12pm and then went home to drink beer etc. with my delinquent and most loved housemates. And then wake up and do it all again.

Whilst I was at John Donald, a lot of stuff happened. I could totally go off on a tangent here, but I try not to. I had the opportunity of holding Paul McCartney's grandson Arthur. John's son was married to Mary McCartney, Stella's sister. I also worked on jewellery for the late Princess Margaret. And various other high profile names and organizations. I felt privileged even if I was earning 15 000 Pounds a year and having to work at a wine shop to feed myself, pay for transport and pay my rent.

I remember breaking down in tears because John Donald (about 75 years old at that stage, owner of a Chateau in France and a huge country estate in East Sussex ) called me in to his office and gave me a righteous bollocking. I was so upset. Tears were running down my face.  He told me that I should go out and work for myself because he is tired of me infusing his designs with my own flavour and flare. "I realize that you are very talented, but I have been creating these hallmark designs for 40 years and you come along and can't stick to the program and directions.) Then he sent me to Harley Street to visit with a Psychologist on one side of the road and a psychiatrist on the other side of the road to try and help me because he figured I was troubled. And he really did care about me. He was a super nice man. Truthfully I couldn't stand his "Hallmarked" aged and ancient designs so I always tweaked them. Which I admit was stupid and wrong because I have a world of respect for the man. I was just young and full of shit.

I then (part of another story) came to Ottawa. I got hired at Bob Thompson Jewellers. i worked my ass off there for a couple of years before I joined Goldform. I really liked Derek and Greg, Jeff, Jagath, Maria... But when I moved to Goldform, I really found myself and my friends. The guys at Goldform are family to me to this day. Yes, this is another story that I can tell. And will.

Long story short ***** Goldmiths are skilled craftsmen that take precious metal in it's purest form, then perform alchemy (really it's just a mathematical metallurgical calculations) to allow the metal down with a mixture of other metals to get to the desired karat, then we roll it down, draw it out, anneal it, beat it, bend it, solder it, file it, sand it, set the stones,  polish it and then viola! A piece of jewellery.

A jeweller is a person that will puchase premade components and stick them together any way possible. Perhaps using solder sometimes. They will then sell this as a piece of handmade jewellery. Now I don't want to come across as a snob, because there are people that are a lot better off financially than me and they perform this practice. But there is a huge difference in what I do, as compared to most people that call themselves goldsmiths. It is a title that is earned. I fortunately I am only now after about 20 years being bold enough to refer to myself as a Master Goldsmith.

Epilogue: This is the Wikipedia definition of a goldsmith:

goldsmith is a metalworker who specializes in working with gold and other precious metals. Historically goldsmiths have also made silverwareplattersgoblets, decorative and serviceable utensils, and ceremonial or religious items, but the rising prices of precious metals have curtailed the making of such items to a large degree.
Goldsmiths must be skilled in forming metal through filingsolderingsawingforgingcasting, and polishing metal. Traditionally, these skills had been passed along through apprenticeships, however, more recently Jewelry Arts Schools specializing solely in teaching goldsmithing and a multitude of skills falling under the jewelry arts umbrella are available. Many universities and junior colleges also offer goldsmithing, silversmithing and metal arts fabrication as a part of their fine arts curriculum. But unfortunately they fall short of traditional hands on schooling, and basically suck.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

To Be Featured in The Kitchissippi Times

I will be sharing my story and telling the readers of Kitchissippi Times more about myself and my business in the "Favourite Businesses " section of the upcoming May edition. 

This will be a great opportunity to enlighten the public in my area as to what it is I do here in my small yet fully equipped studio in Westboro. 

The publisher called me today and informed me that the photographer will be here at 11am on Wednesday and his name is Mark Holleron. I was pleasantly surprised to hear this name, seeing as I made his wedding bands about 7 years ago!

Saturday, April 13, 2013

Good news

This is a graph which shows basic website visits in blue (current year) as compared to the same period during 2012. This traffic graph is positive news as it directly translates into how many people are viewing the site and of that a certain percentage will call or message me. 

Friday, April 12, 2013

Signs of increased interest in my website.

Google Analytics alert on Visit Increase was triggered on 13-04-11

Sunday, April 7, 2013

This is a very expensive, hand made bracelet which I was called upon to repair. It is made of 18K fold, featuring natural rubies and very nice quality diamonds. Each row of beads is seated upon a central hand made, coiled spring which is made of gold, and has a white gold back-bone which holds it all together and gives it flexibility. 

 Step one is to remove the clasp end of the bracelet so as to allow me to feed the individual parts off. This is done by carefully heating up the box-end of the clasp so as to melt the gold solder and pull the component off. As seen in the picture below.

Below we see the bracelet with the end remove. The blackened pieces of the bracelet are oxidized as a result of the heat required to remove the clasp.

The following pictures show the extent of the damage as I reveal the broken spring (spine) of the bracelet. At this point I am starting to wonder what my best course of action will be to repair this mess. 

Here I am starting to re-coil the spring. I will have to try my best to coil it up and maintain the original shape.

Below is where I have managed to successfully coil the spring, and tack the piece together. Now it is time to laser weld what I can, and solder what I can so as to join the two halves whilst maintaining spring and keeping durability for wear.

Here is the result of the process of joining the two pieces. Now it's time to clean up and polish the various parts.

After putting all of the various parts back together in the right order it is time to fit the clasp end and make sure that the the clasp locates properly and securely as before. 

After several hours of meticulous tinkering  the bracelet finally comes together and is ready to be polished, and finally worn again. 

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

My Sentiments on Titanium Jewellery

As a qualified and experienced goldsmith, I get to see and deal with all kinds of jewellery on a daily basis. I was trained in the forging or precious metals, particularly 18K gold. As a goldsmith I am also able to forge other metals such as silver, platinum, palladium and various alloys of each of these metals. It is a skilled profession which takes years to master, for those who are able to do so. 

Every so often I get a request for a an estimate to make a titanium wedding band. Or perhaps a tungsten band. These rings started becoming popular and widely available in the 1990's. There are many different grades and alloys of titanium, depending on the industrial use of the metal. There are many "benefits" of titanium rings, one of the most important being cost. They are very cheap in comparison to traditional metals used in creating wedding bands. Personally, I am quite intrigued by the metal seeing as it is used in so many every day applications that our world would be a lot less convenient if it didn't exist. 

Unfortunately though, titanium is not a practical metal for use in hand forging and thus jewellers creation. Usually, these rings are cut from stock tube or blocks or sheet, by sophisticated computer driven milling machines. Certain grades of titanium are able to be filed with traditional files, but sizing is impossible. This is not a metal that we can solder on. In taking into account that a wedding ring is supposed to be worn for life, the inability to size these rings is a major drawback. Most people with need to have their wedding bands sized at least once during the course of marriage. This means getting a replacement ring. I have personally experienced this happening. 

Alternative metal jewellery certainly does have it's place in the market. It can be transformed in vibrant colours and many designs are possible. However, as a goldsmith, I am not able to create the type of sophisticated designs in titanium, as I am able to create using traditional precious metals. Furthermore, to hand create a ring using metal as cheap as titanium if it was possible(or silver for matter) would take the same amount of time and effort to create and clients would not want to pay for such a service. Most designs available out there are mass produced to make it economically viable. And these rings all made by machines. There are probably a handful of craftsmen that produce titanium rings, but their scope for design diversity is very limited. 

I have associates in the industry who allow me to supply titanium rings, but these rings always come with a higher price tag, as I have to design the ring on my CAD software, then submit it, have the ring machined, have it returned to me where I will adorn the ring with any precious metals or accents that are required. They also come with a warning that they can't be sized. 

Examples of a ring created using CAD

These are sample renderings of the CAD design I have created for a client of mine. It is a Portuguese cross which is very symbolic in their culture. In preparing a CAD design, the client is able to get a look at the design and decide if there are any modifications or changes that he may want. It is a lot easier to modify a design at this stage, than it is to remake a piece. In this way I am able to be more flexible with clients. The process also allows a mutual reassurance that the end product will be created correctly. 

Monday, March 18, 2013

The Completed Skull Ring

Here is the skull ring which is now complete. You may remember the previous post where I showed you a few of the steps involved in the creation of the ring.

With the helmet on, the ring weighs over 40 grams. In the first pictures you can see the ring as it looks without the "helmet". Excuse my chubby fingers, but I wanted you to see the scale of this monster. It is indeed a large solid ring. Some would call it a weapon. I see it more as a piece of art. Hand sculpted and manufactured. I admit, this is not my usual style of work. I had a lot of fun making it though.