Frequently Asked Questions About Our Bespoke, Hand Made Jewellery
What is my background?
Having always been interested in a variety of crafts from a very early age I still enjoy all craft based activities.
I completed my Teachers’ Training in the Craft and Design department. I went on to teach Design and Technology in a large comprehensive school in West Sussex, where I remained for some 23 years, completing an MA in 1996.
Areas of expertise
I taught mainly Resistant Materials (wood, metal and plastic) representing only half a percent of women nationally, who were teaching in this area. I was fortunate enough to become Head of Faculty when we were granted Engineering status enabling me to develop my skills in Computer Aided Design.
When did I start Silversmithing?
When the time came to take a break from teaching, I was lucky enough to stumble across a fine metal smith who was offering lessons, and I remained taking weekly lessons for the subsequent 8 years.
Starting my own business
Having found a new craft, the temptation to have my own space to work in was too great to resist. Both being very practical, my husband and I built a beautiful studio entirely on our own. It is my pride and joy and is situated just beyond our back door, where I can work looking out onto our much loved garden. What could be more ideal?
How long have I been silversmithing?
I have been working with both silver and sometimes gold for about 14 plus years now, but my background in teaching resistant materials has served as an excellent foundation and allowed me to move quickly onto gaining other skills such as ‘stone-setting’.
How does a piece of jewellery start?
Another question I am often asked is: Are the designs my own and where do I get them? The answer to the first question is “yes”, but like any other artist or designer, I am inspired by many different influences. These could come from other artists or jewellers, but more frequently I am inspired by natural form and the things around me.
I particularly like asymmetry, and texture. I also love colour, so gems play an important part in my designs. I will often just work in my studio and experiment and explore different ideas or techniques. Some work, others I am not happy with and abandon.
What shape does the silver or gold start as?
When making any item in silver or gold, whether it is a ring, pendant, bangle or broach, the most suitable materials will be bought from a supplier. The metals come in many forms such as round wire, square wire, D-wire or sheet. Wires can be purchased in a range of lengths and diameters, ranging from 0.5 mm up to 6mm in diameter, while sheet is supplied in a range of thickness, starting as thin as 0.3 and up to 3 mm thick. The required width and length is then ordered and cut by the supplier before being dispatched to the purchaser. Also, the metals can be bought in various purities; silver, for example, can be Sterling Silver which is an alloy, or fine silver which is pure. Gold is sold according to different carat values, from 9ct to 22ct., with 24ct being pure. Gold can also be purchased in white or yellow. Different purities of metals have different properties and so require different handling or treatments.
How is the silver or gold shaped?
Many people are very surprised that the rings or pendants they buy, start out as a length of wire or piece of metal sheet. But bought in this way, the designer/maker can fashion the metal according to shape they want.
This of course, involves a variety of processes and tools to produce the required design. Specialist silver and gold smithing tools are used to perform the different tasks, for cutting, drilling shaping etc.
How are metals joined or formed?
Depending on the design, metals will often have to be joined. Joining can be ‘cold-joined’ using mechanical joining techniques, or joined using heat. Special torches are used that provide the flames for the heat, while the amount of heat required, varies greatly according to the metal used and the size of the item. Joining is a process that requires huge amounts of practice to develop the necessary skills and techniques that are essential in the making of jewellery. Sometimes metal can be ‘fused’ together, but mostly a solder is used, which is appropriate to the metals being joined. Once heat is applied the metal has to be ‘pickled’. (See below ‘How long does it take’)
Forming involves shaping or distorting the metal by bending or doming for example, using hammers and special forming tools where metal is hammered around a shape. This causes the metal to become ‘work hardened’ so then has to be annealed (softened) by re-heating, before shaping and forming can continue.
Texturing can be achieved by using punches or texturing hammers which make impressions on the metal. Texture can also be gained by a process called reticulation, which involves heating a metal alloy (sterling silver for example) very slowly several times. On cooling, the different metals cool at varying rates, causing a shrinking and a texturing effect on the surface.
Customers are often very surprised to learn that the ‘chainmail’ items in this range start out as a long length of round wire. This is then wound round a metal rod, depending on the size required, and then cut, to make many dozens or hundreds of jump-rings. These will then be joined individually in a variety of methods, depending on the design wanted for the finished product.
How are gems incorporated?
Stone-setting describes a method of holding a gem in place, so as to secure it and enhance its beauty while being permanently held in position. There are a variety of methods for setting stones and the one chosen is done according to the stone, and the design of the item it is for.
Stone setting is one of the more difficult skills to acquire and takes a great deal of practice before a prefect ‘set’ can be achieved. There are jewellers who specialise in this skill alone, and some jewellers choose to have the stones on their designs set by such specialists.
Where do the gems come from?
There are a huge variety of gems that come from all over the world. They come in many shapes and sizes. A cabochon is where the surface of the gem is smooth and shaped rather like a dome. A faceted stone however, is cut to make several faces which will then reflect light to give the gem brightness and sparkle.
I am often asked where I purchase my gems. There are a number of suppliers, and I am lucky enough to deal with one who not only supplies beautiful quality gems, but also enables me to view and select the gems before making my purchase. This can only be done via an ‘introduction’ which is made by a trusted third party that the company already knows and deals with. These are ethically sourced gems from all over the world. Gems are also sold at shows and exhibitions where suppliers go to advertise their products and encourage new customers.
Sizes and shape of gems
Most important is the accuracy of the gem size.These have to be accurate to within a fraction of a millimetre, otherwise setting the stone becomes difficult and problematic. So when I order a 3.5 mm diameter round stone, I know it will be 3.5 mm and not 3.6 mm or 3.4 mm. Gems of course can also be purchased in a variety of shapes, the choice of which is made according to the design.
How long does is take to make an item?
This will all depend on the nature of the item and the complexity of the design. It is also necessary to make more than one item simultaneously, since during the making process, when joining is needed, heat is required. When heat is applied to gold or silver, oxidisation occurs, causing the metal to discolour and blacken. To remove the oxidisation, the metal has to be submerged in a bath of dilute sulphuric acid or similar ‘pickling’ chemical. This make take several minutes before more joining or shaping can take place. So while one item is in the pickle, work can continue on another.
The finishing of a product is vitally important, as this will give the final piece its lustre and shine. Finishing involves a series of important processes. Once a piece is cut to shape and joined where required, filing back rough edges has to take place. Other processes follow such as sanding with progressively fine abrasive papers, until finally the item is ready to be polished.
Polishing is achieved using a variety of polishing machines or tumblers and polishing compounds, and the method is chosen according to it’s suitability for the item being made. Finishing can be a long process, but is vital in achieving a quality end result.
What is Hallmarking?
All items shown here are ‘Hallmarked’. This means the purity of the metal is validated by the Assay Office and stamped with a mark that denotes the type and purity of the metal, as well as the year it was made. Silver Bliss Design carries my own hallmark which means the Assay Office holds a stamp with my initials that is stamped on the item alongside the other statutory markings. There are only four Assay Offices around the UK, each with their own identity mark, but the markings for the metals are standard, and can only be done by them. My stamp is held by the London Assay Office at Goldsmiths Hall. Delicate work is marked by using a laser, to prevent damage or distortion.
When an item is priced, it is based on the intrinsic value of the silver or gold, and the value of the gems, as well as the time involved in making it. Some items, like the silver grape-vine on the wine glasses, involve many processes and techniques, including hand engraving. Like-wise, the number of stones in the grape-vine ‘cluster ring’, not only requires a number of precious or semi-precious stones, but also an equivalent number of ‘settings’ to be undertaken.
Where do I sell my work?
I sell my work at Art shows and on-line, but also much of my work is sold through word-of-mouth and recommendation. I also take commissions and am often asked to produce a bespoke item of the customers design or choice.