Saturday, February 19, 2011


February 19th 2011....... I have 5 weeks left in the Graduate Jeweler Program. Let me begin by saying, as I have before in some shape or form, that nothing has ever frustrated me more than making jewelry, but still continues to hold my interest and fuel my passion and imagination. I turned to my friend Akshay yesterday sitting at the bench beside me, and said, "Akshay, can you believe we do this every day?!"

My instructor, Jerry, checks my work in front of me. I can see his trained eye behind his glasses, scanning and focusing through his jewelers loupe. For the most part I already know what's wrong. I know what he's checking, and I know when he'll find it. Knit-pickers! Prong needs to be pushed down more. 30-40% Contact. 75% free-standing metal...etc etc. Oooh! the dreaded flashing, ooooh! abraded stone, Ooooo! Stone tables not level. all gets fixed. A slight internal grumble for the struggle, but perfection is necessary - back to the bench.

I wonder if perfection is strived for as much in any other industry, as it is in fine jewelry. Even the back of a piece, must be as beautiful and free of imperfections as the front. However, I am still learning. It is expected that I will not achieve total perfection on my class assignments. There is always something, whether it be in matters of prong alignment or waviness in the metal caused by polishing or over-filing after a ring sizing. Some things they let slide, other things may lead to starting the piece of jewelry over. I heard a story once from one of my instructors who studied in the hardcore land of Switzerland. A Swiss Jeweler's Education makes mine look like kindergarten. I often wish I was in Switzerland. Anyway, the story goes that a jeweler in my instructor's shop, was working on a gold locket of exquisite beauty and detail. The piece was hand engraved, had several working, tiny parts, and the jeweler had been working on it for 3 months. And then it happened. Perhaps a loss of focus, perhaps an act of God; the jeweler's solder had become contaminated, the locket was over heated, and those perfect movable parts were destroyed. The jeweler had to begin again. ~ The above pearl enhancer with the pear shaped stone (synthetic spinel)... I started 4 times since my torch was too hot and I melted the gold prongs. Once I had the gold all together, it was time to set the stones. After an intense fabrication, such as that was, the idea of setting stones; having to ever-so-carefully push the prongs over the stones, after cutting away 40-50% of the prong metal....let's just say the margin for error makes one feel like they're defusing a bomb. One slip, and slips do happen, could ruin my week. Luckily, I'm just that good, and set those stones without fail. But damn, how I've failed in the past. ~ Wish I'd taken a picture of the Tiffany-head ring I screwed up the other night. I had filed a gold half-round band, to fit a white gold Tiffany-style head. The Tiffany Head, as you may know, holds the diamond high above the band to "present" the stone to all viewers. It's like a freakin lighthouse! If you ever buy a ring with this type of head, please make sure you splurge on the Platinum. The ease with which those prongs collapsed under the pressure of me setting the stone was ridiculous. I also destroyed a pair of simple earrings I had been working on. They were from a simple lesson on dapping metal - making small domes, soldering them on posts, and then setting small round malachite beads. Anyway, long story short, my Quick Work of these simple earrings had been my mistake, for I could not in good conscious put my name to them. From there, my chasing hammer finished the earrings for me. This was a lesson - that even the simplest of designs need care, an eye-for-detail, a little bit of patience, and a desire for perfection. I wonder what a reader would think of all my notes on perfection. Nothing is truly perfect, or is it? People are not perfect. Gold was, is, and will be....what will it be? We Know What We Are, But Not What We May Be. Ahhh rambling philosophy.

The stress has really begun to affect us... We do this every day. 8am to 3pm, though it feels non-stop. We torture ourselves at the bench with the pressure to finish, with the pressure for perfection, with the heart-wrenching wonderings of self-worth, when it just doesn't go right! When the solder just wont flow. When we burn ourselves with hot metal. When we stab ourselves with files and gravers. Even my instructor, Don, has sawed off his thumb before. Nausea hits weekly, sometimes daily...Remember to BREATHE!!!! Men like me (and it's not just me) have left the room in near tears, blood boiling, stomach rolling, from the shear cliff of frustration we hang from or fall from each and every day.

{I have a long weekend now to enjoy.... President's Day. Not good actually....we miss an entire day of work because of it. I doubt the dead presidents would want us to stop working - this is America. Even though we were given extra time after class this past week to make up for the missed upcoming Monday... I still wish I could go in on Monday. There is work to be done. More lessons to be learned. And only 5 weeks left. Maybe, I'll go take a walk. My weekends are often spent relaxing: sleeping in, eating, reading about Professional Goldsmithing, reading about jewelry, designing jewelry, or playing Gran Tourismo 5 on Geoff's Playstation (the way I figure it, it can only help my hand-eye coordination.) }

Monday, January 10, 2011

Hell Week

Well, it wasn't exactly Hell Week since I have another 3 months before the Graduate Jeweler program ends, but damn was this past week tough, and my week coming will undoubtedly be even more difficult.
I had a great Christmas break, though I could have used an extra week. At the same time, part of me wishes I hadn't had a break. To break is to stop working. To stop working is to Stop learning. And then to forget... And so the first few days back at school were incredibly frustrating. My hands were shaking, my eyes seemed blurry. It felt as though it were day one. Just as I had expected and hoped, the instructors have begun to crack the whip.
The new week has begun... I am trying to take deep breaths while I work, and not "over work" myself. I have to remember to focus and not to lose patience. I lost my patience last week (first week back from break) when my friends Geoff and John were making too much noise for me to focus. Some of my most difficult challenges come in the form of other people. I dream of a day when I can work in near solitude. Picture me on 64 Acres in the Hudson River Valley; in a rustic barn converted into a jewelery workshop, with naught but the sounds of nature and my hands forming the beauties of gold and precious stones. This is where I take myself each day, floating through my imagination, as I try to calm my emotions, my tremors, my eyes.
We began a new project today...a pin!! I like pins/brooches....I feel they are truly a platform for the imagination. Of course, we aren't doing anything with our imaginations. Ours is a circle pin, which we have to set about 34 tiny round brilliants in. Circle pins were popular in the 40's and 50's, but so far are proving less popular in class. The synthetic spinels we're using are not uniform in size, so we have to "high grade" each stone, sorting them as we go depending on the sizes of crowns, pavillions, and girdle thicknesses. It's all kind of a lengthy process, culminating in a rather boring pin.
Before leaving for my winter break, I ordered some stuff from Rio Grande - a jeweler's supply catalog. Now I have begun to create a "jewelry studio" in my apartment. Hopefully it will get my creative juices flowing in preparation for my upcoming design program.