20 August 2016

Heat, Bash, Buff: Learning To Make A Silver Ring


"Jewellery Has The Power To Be This One Little Thing That Can Make You Feel Unique." - Jennie Kwon

Having recently embarked upon my eye-opening journey into the world of Jewellery, my spirit guide, editor and working partner to all things sparkly and juicy in the jewellery world thought it was about time I stopped talking the talk of all things silver and pretty and set my sights upon navigating the benchpeg instead. The idea of flouncing around flaunting my very own silver number sounded absolutely fabulous whilst the idea of me having to make friends with a hammer and blowtorch sounded like one ghastly proposition. Needless to say, as the morning of my silversmith masterclass scampered into view to say I was anxious would be a serious disservice to the number of pep talks my mum fed me for breakfast.



Plugging the postcode into my Satnav and realising the Meon Valley studios were only a mere 15 minutes from home, I figured I'd arrived in no time at all with a spare 5 minutes to pull on my professional socks and get "in the zone". Intention and reality rarely coincide in my world and today did not fail to stick to the status quo. Finding myself parked up on the side of a country dirt track surrounded by nothing but green fields and horse poop, in my anxious, sweaty state at already being 20 minutes late I took it as a sign that getting behind the bench and creating something silver was not my forte and set off with the intention of trundling back home. I drove roughly 25 metres down the road and with a nonchalant glance to my right saw the sign for Lomer Farm. Drats. God had other plans for me clearly. Creeping through the tiny tracks, I grabbed my bag and any semblance of remaining confidence and headed on into my day of trying to keep the hammer on the metal and not my fingers. Welcomed by cheerful smiles and a group nattering over steaming mugs of teas and crumbly Viennese biscuits I instantly felt at home and ready to go as our delightful silversmith, Olivia Brown gathered us round to kick off the frivolous fun.



With the pitter patter of water droplets bouncing against the glass doors and the gentle hum of passion excitedly gushing out of the mouth of Olivia as she guides us through the motions, we each sit behind our work stations fiddling and settling into our curved jewellery benches. Seeing as I work for a publication called Benchpeg it seemed somewhat vital to actually know what said tool looked like.
We huddle around Olivia as she guides us through demonstrations of each ring making station and breaks down the step by step essentials to basic silversmithing skills. Over the course of the day I'd be mastering (more like winging it) the artistry of sawing, filing, annealing - which much to my surprise did not entail kneeling down for a cheeky tea break but involved heating up the silver to keep it soft with none other than a blowtorch, soldering, polishing and then eventually hammering. Who knew such a delicately simple metal band required such high maintenance, eh? My little silver band of love was most definitely going to be giving me a run for my money in the diva stakes...like mother like daughter I guess!

Pretending to know exactly what I wanted to create, I plumped for a rod of silver with a slight rounded curve and ogled it with bewilderment at the thought of trying to turn a single strip of metal into something dainty and wearable. I put my faith in Olivia that she'd be able to guide a blonde novice like myself to nailing a piece of handmade silver jewellery without nailing myself in the process. Time to get to work. The first step was to cut the rod of silver to the required length for our finger. Picking up a fine toothed piercing handsaw with trembling fingers I managed to cut in a straight line without the blade making friends with any fingers. My smug little victory smile soon lost its arrogance when Olivia presented me with a hammer to mould the metal into a curved 'c' shape. Getting friendly with the hammer was one daunting task in sheer fear of trying to pound my fingers into shape as opposed to the ring in question! I squirrelled over to the mandrel which is a tapered spindle used to grip the silver metal as I set my sights to shaping the soft silver metal into a neatly curved band by using a nylon hammer.



Next up Olivia showed us how to "anneal" our curved bands to stop the metal from hardening and breaking away as we continue to sculpt it. This involves heating the metal until it flashes a sharp glowing red into a deep grey; indicating that the silver has oxidised. A bit of flux which is a tiny strip of silver solder is also bound to the ring in order to seal the tiny gap in the curved ring. Flipping on my blue steel shades of cool, aka plastic lab googles, I picked up the blowtorch, turned on the gas dial and prepared myself to let rip. Like most things in my life, things didn't quite turn out as planned. The flaw in my vision was that I couldn't work the damn lighter in order to erect a flame of fire. In that moment with my cheeks flaming red I cursed my lofty sensible teenage years of not even attempting to find out how a lighter may function. Fiddling with the switch in a sweaty embarrassed mess, I passed the lighter over to Olivia who in one smooth flick had it blaring, flaring and ready to go. With my tail wedged between my toes I got to work trying to keep the flame directed on my ring of fire and not at anyone's face.

After the fire fiasco was extinguished, our rings were dropped into a hubble bubble melting pot of acid called a "pickle pot" in order to clean and neutralise the silver. As we ventured back to our individual bench workspaces, an array of different files were presented before us in order to file down the silver flux joining and buff away the oxidised coating. As we all concentrated on the task before us, it struck me just how magical the process of jewellery making really was. We can go to any shop - high street or high brow and pick up a ring that makes our inner magpies squeal in delight but seldom do we stop to consider the process behind its creation. Being able to take part in the creation of my very own silver ring has given me a new found appreciation to the level of work and passion behind its' design. After covering myself in a shower of shavings that left me looking like I was battling a nasty case of dandruff and giving the ring a good seeing to with the polish buffers, I beheld my little sparkly creation in delight that it actually resembled the shape of a ring! Success!

The final stage of our silver ring journey was the most creative part of the process. It was time to get close and personal with the hammers again to bash our pieces so that a glistening hammered finish was left. Back at the mandrels we all got to work like a practical anger management class releasing our inner turmoil of grief by bashing and hounding our rings so that a shimmery finish began to reveal itself. Popping the hammer down and beholding my ring like a new born baby, I gazed with unconditional love and admiration at the beauty I had created. Catching the broken sunlight glinting through the windows, my little ring of blood, sweat and repressed tears glimmered and twinkled as I slipped it onto my finger to which it remains today as I type this.



Arriving in a reluctant and apprehensive temperament, I left with an air of triumph, endowed knowledge and appreciation, a warm and thankful heart to the wonderful expertise of Olivia herself and a giddy excitement like a kid in a candy shop with my new sparkly creation! Immediately reaching for my phone and searching for the next jewellery taster day available I think it's safe to say that my little ring of silver has more than made a mark in my life and has hammered an undiscovered interest in jewellery craftsmanship! I think it's about time my little silver band found a friend to wrap itself around...well what can I say, as a girl who feels naked without all my treasured rings on my fingers I think it's quite fitting to declare that rings are like pringles; you can't just have the one!

To find out more and book yourself a day of inspired adventure guided by both Olivia Brown and Belinda Hager, please visit here 

[Post created & published for benchpeg.com]
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