Breaking Rocks for Beautiful Gems
Recently, I received a call about how to care for one of the jewelry pieces purchased. How wonderful that the art enthusiast was concerned over how to pamper the one-of-a-kind item they'd collected. I realized that I am remiss to have not included care instructions for the different techniques applied and gemstones included with the pieces.
Above are some of the 'simple' designs; One metal, one stone. Actually, that's Fine Silver and Sterling Silver but the care would be the same. From the simple to complex mixed metal pieces: Every piece of my work goes through a buff-polishing with Simichrome or Flitz polishing compounds. After that somewhat abrasive process, the piece is washed with a toothbrush and soap. The finishing is exacted with a jewelry polishing cloth.
If your piece has this velvety finish, you will want to steer clear of directly applying any abrasion to the finish. You don’t want to scuff off the patina even though it’s deep enough through the metal to hold. Continued abrasion will eventually wear through it or even just one application of a chemical polish.
To begin the cleaning process, it makes sense to wash your piece off with gentle soap. A polishing cloth or polish on a cloth is the next step. If you've got a pearl or any other porous stone in your piece, avoid any contact with the stone. If you have a piece with 'patina' (such as darkness caused by potassium sulfate on the silver, copper, or Keum Boo, or colors on your copper you like) do not use polish or abrasive on that area.
Careful With That Stone!
There are stones I love to work with that are definitely difficult to polish in the Lapidary stage and should be handled with care. Petrified wood is porous and typically made of materials with several different levels of hardness. The Green Petrified Wood in this piece has Common Opal amid Quartz and Agate permineralization so a vibratory polisher would be risky. Applying polish with a cloth (like Flitz) or using a polishing cloth should be sufficient.
If a high polish is what you loved about the piece when you got it (I love polishing to the point of a piece looking like it's wet or liquid), applying a polishing compound on a rag or buffing wheel at low speed will bring that back. Keep in mind, if you have a scratch-able stone like opal or pearl, be careful with an abrasive polisher. I DO NOT use any kind of vibratory or immersible/chemical polishing method. The reason for this is the fact that there are so many different ratings of hardness and porousness through the body of stone and jewelry work on each individual piece that it becomes a gamble.
The Happy Hardness of Agate
If your piece has Agate, most of the work I’m doing presently does, you have a very tenacious stone. A buffing wheel, low speed (to keep the heat down) and polish (like Flitz or Simichrome) can be applied to the entire piece without worrying too much about the stone. Of course a polishing cloth could be enough as well. If you have a ‘Druzy Cave’ or transition to Rhyolite or another mineral, you might want to check with me about polishing with polish. I can’t tell you how hard it is to remove dirty polish compound from a white druzy cave.
Stay tuned, this article will be continued with more information about polishing, use, and storage of the jewelry art! Contact Me if you have questions you’d like addressed.
It took a long time, after decades of jewelry making, to become interested in the Lapidary. My Grandfather did it. My mom did it. As for me, I just figured I'd buy the pretties at the gem shows and cut to the chase with the fun of the jewelry making. Stone finding was always fun but the polishing really seemed like the dirty work.
So yeah, this was the guy who first taught me to solder. I made my first ring in the upstairs loft of his machine shop. Lapidary is rough, this guy didn't seem to mind at all. I really really learned to love rough (insert rock hound pun there).
Some people see a rock here. Other people wonder how many different, incredible worlds reside inside this piece of 'rough'. Blue agate co-mingles with red striations of mineral. Plumes of white, black, yellows, reds, and even green with Marcasite dance through changing hues and rippling of the agate. Top it all off with some Druzy Quartz pockets of fun and I just went weak in the knees.
Lapidary artists typically use tools and machines to polish the stones by hand (instead of tumbling or other method where one loses control of the stone). I like to literally hold on to the stone while shaping and polishing it. This leads to not having finger nails and sometimes finger prints as well. A method of holding the stone, especially when it's too small for fingers, is called 'dopping'. These are a bouquet of dopped stones just finishing polish. Those of you who have been in the gallery when I said I would never dop, well, that day has come.
Come see what jewelry happens with these little guys and what happens to the big piece of rough in my hand that has become much smaller and pretty amazing.
Working with new material is like going on a first date. Getting to know the stone, seeing its beauty, revealing new qualities by the minute...ah, falling in love. It gets serious, you're thinking you need to put a ring on that stone.
Waiting on a shipment of jewelry supplies can be frustrating when all you want to do is create more jewelry! What to do? Make more stones. Second only to the excitement of setting some of the stones from the last batch was the anticipation of getting into more of the rough stuff we got recently. Most of the dark swirls in the pieces above are the sparkling swirls of marcasite through the plumey goodness of the agate. Things that sparkle naturally, like druzy, make me weak in the knees. Marcasite is metallic so the plumes look like metal in the stone and the tiny bits look like glitter suspended in the agate. Yes, the love affair continues.
It's an extreme pleasure to be able to actually create the 'painter's palette' that I use when designing jewelry. From a week's hard work, I have a new spectrum of different colors and shapes to choose from. Each new stone has been hand polished on the lapidary machines by me, and by the time that we're done with that journey, I've had enough time with them to imagine how I'd like to set them.
Usually, I can barely wait to set the stones I've just polished from raw rocks. These were some ugly ducklings in the field that turned out to be quite exciting in the studio. New colors, minerals, shapes, and dendritic forms emerged in front of my very eyes when polishing these stones. Not to mention the fact that they had some very nice saturated colors.
Echoes in the Stone
Set to work I did on this setting this piece of honey colored agate with white, blue and marcasite dendrites blooming through it like a skipped stone echoing a bouquet of ripples on a pond. I was so mesmerized by this little one that I went back to the raw rock pile to look for more of any similar kind. I am happy and relieved to say that there are a few more stones with this patterning so I don't have to keep this one.
In the past, I have hated making earrings. It's strong vernacular, but doing anything twice goes against my creative, artistic grain. In the creation of the earrings in the latest body of work, an element of the distaste has completely vanished. Because of the raw and asymmetrical nature of the metal-smithing, each piece gets to be a stand alone exploration into texture, mixing of metals, shapes, and sculptural concepts. Long story short; now it's fun and not so much like pulling teeth.
This pair of earrings, fresh off the bench, were a pleasure to create. I had not tried the exact way of engraving before, I hadn't blended the patina black silver with the Keum Boo in this way before, I hadn't floated black pearls out in front of anything like this before either. The trip into the frontier was akin to the deep sea diving for those pearls of wisdom these earrings visually represent to me. They're little slices of the big, deep sea garnering the little gifts to be found.
In the Deep Sea
Engraved, Patina Treated Fine Silver, Hammered Keum Boo, Black Pearls, Sterling Silver
Those who have been to the gallery have met me (Karen Britt) most likely. Many days I am pinned behind my bench-pin sitting low at my jewelry work-haven at work. Today, a visitor to the gallery and I were equally startled by each other as I was deep in focus (on the earrings in the thumbnail) while they quietly snuck up on the jewelry counter not noticing me either. We were both in our own 'zone' and galleries are good 'zoney' places. On the pretty days, I am out on the landing overlooking the Yaquina Bay polishing stones and doing the dirty work on the finishing of the jewelry pieces (getting a tan).
My grandfather loved to fabricate in his metal-smithing and I believe I received the genetic propensity for it as well. Lately in the gallery/studio, Keum Boo has been what's cooking in addition to mixing other metals. Many of you have purchased pieces and heard the story about it but desired an explanation in writing so here goes:
Keum Boo is an Ancient Korean method of fusing Gold (23.5k) to Fine Silver (99.9). For more information about the history, google is awesome. My mom learned to do it decades ago and I was instantly jealous though it took me many years to catch up to her. One uses heat and friction to create a mechanical bond between the two metals without solder. The result is a terrain-change-free blending of the two. Often, the fine silver is hammered or textured before the application of the gold to give it topography from which to glimmer and glow. In addition, one may opt to 'patina' the silver with Liver of Sulfur (potassium sulfide) for a bluish-black contrast to the gold that does not oxidize. All these results are delicious, inspiring, and somewhat habit forming.
The earrings in the thumbnail are actually an amalgam of 4 metals (going for the mega-mixed-metals award). The platforms are copper textured and treated with patina, overlaid with hammered fine silver and gold Keum Boo, the prongs, loops, and earring wires are sterling silver. The harmony and contrast of hues and textures are the goal.
Keum Boo is touching many of the pieces in the jewelry counter as of late. See it on the stone necklaces, rings, bracelets, earrings, and even dare I say it, some pieces of art on the walls! Check out the New Jewelry Gallery for the latest pieces.
Engraved Shibuishi Copper/Silver alloy, Hammered Keum Boo, Sterling Silver Prong Setting