Thursday, September 30, 2010

Oh Graver

This here, Ladies and Gentleman, is my 16/8 Graver. Gravers are for engraving - big surprise,
huh? Well, there are several kinds of gravers that I will be using, but this one is very much unlike the rest. On the bottom side or "belly" of the tool, there are 8 sharp, straight edges. When placed against the metal at a slight angle and carefully pushed, the graver scoops up the metal and creates 8 hopefully straight lines, fractions of a millimeter apart. If anyone has ever seen a Florentine Finish on a piece of jewelry, this is the tool that is often used to create said finish. It truly is easier said than done! In my practice with this tool, I have realized a few things. You should not push too hard or too deep - the idea is to create the finish, but to lose as little silver as possible. Be careful, but not afraid. You have to follow 3 degrees of Respect. Respect for the metal, Respect for the tool, and Respect for yourself. I find myself almost willing the graver to move - using "the Force" - but not to force the tool. It is exciting to watch the tiny curls of silver rise from the front of the graver, and to see the shining lines the tool creates. It is frustrating when I lose focus for but a fraction of a second, when my graver changes its angle but a fraction of a degree, and the lines skid off in a failing direction. This my friends, is something that requires great amounts of practice to perfect. One of my instructors, Robert, who studied in Switzerland, studied gravers for 4 years. I have only "scratched" the surface. I can tell that even though engraving is a frustrating art to learn, I love learning it, and will one day truly love knowing it.

It is now Thursday afternoon. I finished the Florentine Finish just after lunch, and began a new project - Terri's Tapered Ring. All of our projects have funny names...the names of our "customers." So far there has been Mr. Newmann, Mr. Richards, Bert, and now Terri. Terri's Tapered Ring begins with a simple unfinished brass band, or rather I should say "yellow metal band." The first step involves measurement - using our vernier calipers to find the width of the ring (7.2mm) and then dividing that by 2, we get (3.6mm), and then further separating the ring into fourths of each measuring (1.8mm). Using scribes, I carved fine lines around the ring, and chose a point to call the bottom of the ring. From there, I filed the bottom portion of the ring, nearing a required measurement of 3mm (though we are allowed a tolerance of +/- 2mm). The top of the ring has to be 7mm with the same allowance. My goal of course is to be precise! So far I am excelling in this project because of my eye for detail - using the fine lines carved around the ring as my guide, and following the silent mantra File, File, Measure, Measure, File, File, Measure, Measure... Other students have had to start over 2-3 times. I fear it as a possibility, but am still confident I can complete the project with just one band.
My day is over now... It's raining today, drizzling really, and the locals of Carlsbad/San Diego are freaking out. The radio this morning was describing how thunderstorms happen as if no one knows...apparently it doesn't happen much around here, and rain is unheard of this time of year. Still, it is feels slightly like home!

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

First Picture

So, this is the 3rd project that I have completed...a "gypsy" ring. Its a poor picture, I know, but give my outdated cell phone a break. In my hand is the ring in a polishing cloth. Behind the ring you can see my bench pin, which I've modified slightly to make holding my work easier. On the bench surface behind the pin there are my files and a sanding stick, as well as a bottle of Vitamin Water.
Today I will be learning how to add textures to metal using my flex shaft, hammers, and possibly some burnishers. The key to adding any texture is deciding how long a finish will last. You can make a finish with sandpaper too, but it will probably be gone in a month. So, anything i do, I will have to think, "will this last 100 years?"
Tonight I will be going to Lab class, which is extra time in the shop from 4 to 7. It will be held every Tuesday night, and I plan to go every Tuesday regardless if I am behind or not. Any time spent with the Masters is time well spent.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Slow and Steady Does Not Win the Race

This isn't a race, but it feels like it some times. And it's not a competition, but it feels like it some times. I'd say I'm about a half to 3/4's of a day behind the top tier of the class...I'll be caught up by tomorrow I'm sure. I'm stuck between a rock and hard place however, in the sense of my peers to the left and right of me. To my left is the girl who drops her ring every five minutes and wonders why she has to continuously re-file her ring. To my right, a guy who seems to think making jewelry involves staring at his bench pin and biting his nails. It's negative energy is what it is. I'm writing it right now, but it bounces back and forth all day long - at least I have Mozart to put me in the dream zone for most of the time. I feel bad comparing myself and my work to those sloer than I am, but it's better than feeling envy of those already on to the next project. My only consolation is knowing that in the future, rushing through a project will not be the key to success. Unfortunately for this class, developing speed for the final bench test is the key. I do feel as though I am getting faster, and I can tell by my instructor's reaction to my work that I am quickly improving towards his standards.
This past Friday, I took a few books out from the GIA library. One was called the Jeweler's Bench Book...about the organizing of benches. Another was The Theory and Practice of 500 page old comprehensive German text translated into English. So, I have been doing a little extra reading, and I think already that it is paying off. I spent the first 5 minutes of today organizing my bench, which impressed my instructor, but mostly made my work more fluid throughout the day. During the weekend I visited an Antique Mall filled with crap, and found a few things to help with my organizing. Ended up gluing an antique tin measuring pitcher to a 99cent wooden base... this contraption now holds my pliers, tweezers and sandpaper, as well as, on the wooded base, the flex shaft attachements in use. Everything is done very systematically at the bench, and if you don't know where everything is the moment you need it than you are seconds or even minutes behind. After today, I realized I may have to order a few things from the supply catalogs....extra split mandrels and various other flex shaft attachments. This way, the moment I think of needing a change in polishing buffs, I can change it 3 seconds later instead of a minute.... I could do this (making jewelry) for 10 hours, but they only give us 7 in a day. To me, an hour lunch break is a waste of time.
I need a beer now...and 9 hours sleep.

Friday, September 24, 2010


9,972 hours to go, and again I am getting progressively better, quicker, and more compfortable with what I'm doing. Yesterday, though a new project was given out, I was able to finish the first two rings. Today I will try to get as far on the 3rd ring as I can. This one, called a gypsy ring, will be a little more difficult to file & sand than the first two. By difficult, I mean it will require twice as much focus, as the ring is round throughout and I will have to closely follow the contours with the files. I am finally utilizing my ipod in class, which helps to put me in my own zone. It's been difficult with the girl to the left of me who drops her ring every 5 minutes, and the guy to my right who wants to discuss life stories while we work. Ummm, no thank you... Headphones on, work begins! Though I have made a couple of friends here, the truth of the matter is that I am here to learn, to work, to learn, to work, and to learn some more. My friends Matt & Jeff understand this and follow the same rule. I have seen them while they work, and I am sure they have seen me. We are focused on our minds, our hands, and our paths. My instructors are masters of their craft. I listen to their words and watch the movements of their hands with utmost intensity. Conversation is for the bar. Concentration is for the bench. I've managed to keep my New York side in my back pocket, but soon I may need to set some boundries. That's enough drama for this post.
Today is Friday and it doesn't much please me. If I could be at the bench Saturday I would be that much more content. Fortunately, Tuesday nights there is extra time to be had in the shop from 4pm to 7pm. If I havent finished my 3rd ring by Monday I will finish it then, or I will continue to do tool modifications. This is something I am loving about the trade - each tool that a jeweler possesses can be modified to suit his own needs. Currently we are learning how to modify our files by grinding down their tips, making it easier to file in tight/difficult areas. We will also be making our own burnishers on the grinding wheels. Yesterday I found some pitting in the silver I was working on (very small holes in the silver) and used a burnisher to essentially push the silver over the holes. Before the advent of polishing machines, hand tools were often used to polish the surface of metals. Though it was more time consuming, I found it to be more "thrilling" given the history of the technique. I also was able to learn how to use the polishing machines yesterday. They certainly can get the metal quite hot, and to my left and right I see students having to put their rings down to let them cool. I, on the other hand, haven't put mine down yet. I am too overjoyed by the mirror finish of my silver to care much for my burnt fingertips. No pain, no gain.

Thursday, September 23, 2010


Yesterday, the 3rd day of class, I found myself getting a wee bit stressed. Though my technique is coming along, and my work is all well & good; I am not as speedy as the speediest of my class. We spent the first two days working on one ring, and yesterday, only one day on another ring. As of yet, I have come close to, but have not finished the rings. By finishing I mean getting the silver to the point where no file marks can be seen, and then taking it to the polishing machines to create that mirror finish I oh so much desire to see. At the same time, I can compliment myself in that each day my work and speed is certainly progressing. Yesterday, I dove right into that ring, got hold of my focus, sawed off the sprue, and was most likely the first to have the sprue filed down to the shank. But then came the filing, which for some reason I don't feel I have fully grasped the art of. One thing I hope will help is that my instructors are going to raise my bench on 2x4s. Because of my 6'5" height, I am not at the most comfortable position at my bench, and therefore am not able to see my work at it's most optimum level.
My instructor, Doug is his name, can see that I am frustrated. He sees that I am passionate, ambitious, and have the desire. He assures me that on the 3rd day, I am not expected to be perfect at this craft. Even those who have hit the polish machines - their rings are still not complete. Perhaps, my slowness as of now (these are my thoughts) is due to desiring perfection before I polish. Whereas everyone else has gone to the polish wheels, only to discover they have more filing to do.
At the beginning of lunch, I spoke to my instructor Doug, who told me of a book he's reading called Outliars by Malcom Gladwell. Doug explained that the book discusses how those who are successful, became so for many reasons, but mostly for the time they spent working on their "craft." 10,000 Hours!! Doug continues to assure me that he has been working as a jeweler for over 30 years, and I should not expect much from myself after 3 days. So, I'd say I have about 21 hours under my belt. That leaves 9,979 hours to go. 9,979 hours before I can say I'm good. I do have to pick up my speed though. Back in the days of beading, if it took a whole 60 seconds to put a 2mm bead on a thread, I was at least happy I got it on (that's a little extreme) but now I have to pick up the pace. In the future I will have to take a timed bench test....must keep that in mind.
The past two evenings, I have gone out for a couple beers with whom appear to be my friends for this stage of the journey, Matt and Jeff. Together, we push each other to success, and our conversations of gems and jewelry excite our dreams for tomorrow and the future. Each of us has come a long way through life. We recognize that this is our time to truly grow.
In 15 minutes I will grow some to class.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Day One

Words cannot describe just how incredible this all is. Our day, 8am to 3pm, was spent learning how to saw and file metal. I am sure, to some, this would sound boring, but seeing silver dust on your fingers and bench pin, and the silvery sheen develop on a pale cast ring is truly a sight to be seen.
Our first project, named Mr. Newmann's Ring, is a previously cast silver ring that we have been "hired" to file and polish into a wearable piece. Many rings can be made at once using the lost wax casting method - that is how those mass market, "k-mart" type rings are made. Imagine a branch, though instead of flowers protruding, there are silver rings. These rings are not yet finished; they are covered with a casting skin, and many flaws that need to be filed and polished away.
My project began with weighing the piece in penny weights to determine the amount of metal I am beginning with. Later, when finished, I will weigh the piece again to see how much metal I have lost. Thus I am actually graded on how much metal I lose from the ring. Loss of metal = Loss of profit. However, nothing is truly lost. The interesting thing we were learning yesterday is that jewelers and goldsmiths, for thousands of years, have been the original recyclers of materials. Every dust particle of metal is saved, and eventually sent to a refinery. Our instructor explained that every few years the carpeting and chairs (anything that can collect gold or silver dust) is sent out to a refinery. There, all the carbon is burned away to reveal only metal. Then, by using different acids, they are able to separate the metals, and either send it back to the jeweler or a check for the value of metals. Nothing is wasted!
So, Mr. Newmann's ring is half way completed. Today I will continue to file the sides of the ring, then use the flex shaft tool to sand the interior of the ring, as well as using a burr to create a textured finish in the hard to reach areas inside the ring. The goal is to make even the parts unseeen, as beautiful as those seen. Later in the day, I will use the polishing wheels.
Off to Class!!!!!

Friday, September 17, 2010


After a long night of difficult sleep, I awoke at 6 am to prepare for my first day at the GIA. I was nervous, exhausted, and excited. I showered, shaved, combed my hair, and donned myself in my best duds: lime green chinos, argyle socks, blue shirt, and my green & pink bow tie. I was 5 minutes late to the Orientation (blame it on the bow tie) but luckily they weren't going to start the speakers until 8:30. Lateness will not happen again.

Directed upstairs to a large conference room; I was greeted and given a packet of information and a name card - Paul Anthony Vermylen III. Along two long tables sat my fellow students. Some were already speaking in intense introductory conversations, and others sat quietly drinking their coffee and eating muffins. I joined the latter, feeling at the moment too dazed to be the social butterfly I usually never am.

The first part of the day was reserved for introductions and speakers - deans, alumni relations, student services, security etc. At 11am, we were given a short break to mingle with other students. Still unsure of whom to speak to, I went outside for a cigarette and met one of my fellow students, Jeff from Chicago. Back inside, and with one friend made; I met a guy named Matt who was telling a guy named Akshay about his National Outdoor Leadership School (NOLS) course. "I've done that!" I exclaimed, and so another connection was born. Akshay was from New York - enough said.

The four of us had lunch together in the cafeteria. Our conversations ranged from gems to beer to the unbelievably of what we were setting out to do. It is thrilling to meet others with the same passion for gemology and jewelry.

At 1 o'clock we headed for room 204, our classroom for the next six months, and sat down at our individual workbenches. There in front of me was a stack of books and jewelry supply catalogs, as well as a large gray toolbox. Three instructors stood in front, who had been in the industry for some 20-30 years.

For the rest of the day we did an inventory of our toolboxes. It was like Christmas morning, but unfortunately, though we could unwrap our gifts - we couldn't play with them. I was giddy through the entire inventory. For the past few years I have stared at the pages of jewelry supply catalogs, longing to own these tools, and more, to know how to use them. Now I own them!! And beginning Monday... I will LEARN!!!!

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Greetings From Carlsbad, California

Well, after driving 3,092.79 miles, I am finally here!! From New York to Cumberland, MD, to Bowling Green, KY, to Hazen, AR, to Amarillo, TX, to Lordsburg, NM, and the final push to Carlsbad, CA. Though exhausting, the trip went without a hitch, and as always, it was good to be On The Road Again....
So, here I am in Carlsbad, the land of my dreams, the present place of future possibilities. Upon arriving, I did as Lewis & Clark had done, and stared out in awe at the Pacific Ocean's setting sun, relishing the end of a day as the beginning of a new one.
Currently, I am staying at a Motel 6, but if all goes well with the application process, I will be moving into a studio apartment this coming saturday. With an actual kitchen, actual windows, and no holes in the walls, Waterstone Apartments will most certainly be a step up from my last dwelling.
Tomorrow morning is Orientation at the GIA, beginning at 8 am. Class will officially begin on Monday at the same time. At the moment I am so "anxited" to begin, I can barely think straight, and worry if I will be able to sleep with such anticipation for the day/year ahead.