Over the last week or so I have been *slightly* obsessed with making tiny silver animals. Rather than hand piercing them from silver sheet I wanted them to be more realistic, and a bit more 3d so I decided to have a go!
All too often nowadays people think it’s okay to simply make a mould from an item they’ve bought, and cast a piece from it – which is very simple since the invention of silver clay. Apart from all the copyright issues, where is the skill in that? I decided that my animals were to be made from scratch, all handmade silver, 100% by me.
First off, I started with a sketch of the animal before moving on to make a Fimo model (other polymer clays are available!) Here are the first stages of my silver moongazing hare:
The final silver casting was still quite rough, so I spent many hours filing and sanding to get the contours and appearance right, then after a bit of polishing here’s the final result!
I’ve also added a cute little silver cat to the collection, made in the same way – she’ll make a fabulous pin or pendant.
Any requests for more handmade silver animals? I’d love to hear what you think! Jo x
Chasing and repousse is an ancient method of shaping metal into contoured forms using hammers and punches to move the metal.
I was lucky enough to attend a workshop with Il Maestro- Fabrizio Aquafresca at In The Studio last October. Fabrizio is a world renowned master having learnt studied the art himself from the age of 13, and producing commissions for an illustrious selection of clients including The Vatican. Il Maestro travels to the UK a couple of times a year to teach so I was delighted to secure a place.
The metal is attached to a block of pitch where the design is pushed into the reverse of the piece using hammers and punches. We practised on copper to begin with before moving onto precious metals!
The next stage is to flip over the piece and add the detail and outlining – this is the “chasing” part. Given my obsession with hares, it was only natural that I would choose to make a tiny silver moongazing hare picture!
After many hours of burning pitch, hammering and other things I will not bore you with the finished piece was ready, plus a bonus piece made for me by Il Maestro! Now I have silver moongazing hare twins!
Since the course I’ve made several more pieces of handmade silver jewellery using this time consuming and skilled technique, but think that the results are definitely worth all the effort !
So, things have been pretty busy here in the run up to Christmas at Lucylou Designs; making orders for lots of lucky people to receive as gifts, and typically this is when I seemed to have lots of inspiration for designs, but no spare time to try them out.
After the last Christmas posting date was past, it was all systems go to make this little chap who I have been looking forward to creating for ages now! Meet Noel – a little silver hare adorned with 24 carat gold symbols – I made him just in time to celebrate the winter solstice on 21st December.
Noel is made from sterling silver sheet – carefully cut out with a piercing saw, then filed and sanded to refine and perfect the edges. He was looking pretty handsome at this stage, and then I employed the ancient Korean method of Keum Boo to apply the 24 carat gold symbols to him.
Pure gold (24ct) and pure silver have a similar crystal structure, and so under the correct conditions of heat and pressure it is possible to get them to bond together at a molecular level. The gold symbols on Noel are applied in this way – so they are not stuck on – they are absorbed into the surface of the metal and become part of it.
Preparing the sterling silver for Keum Boo involves forming a layer of pure silver on the surface – this is done by repeatedly heating and “pickling” the sterling silver in acid – usually a minimum of 7 times. The 24ct gold foil is then carefully applied to the silver, and it is heated to approximately 400 degrees C using a blowtorch. Now for the tricky bit…. When the silver is upto temperature pressure is applied to the gold foil by rubbing with an agate burnisher until the bonding is complete. I don’t have any photos for this part of the process as it takes two hands to do this part – I’ll rope in someone to take some snaps next time.
After cleaning the piece up, some jump rings were soldered on to the back so Noel could be hung from a chain. I know I’m biased, but he’s such a handsome chap!
I spent a fantastic day at The Waterhall, Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery today, as an exhibitor at the Guild of Jewellery Designer’s show. The location was stunning and the work from the designers there was equal to it. Out of all those designers every one of them seemed to bring a different skill or angle to their handmade jewellery, so much amazing variety!
I was pleased to find a few little silver hares dotted around the exhibition – turns out I’m not the only designer who loves them!!!
I was lucky enough to recently spend a weekend with Teresa Speer – an inspirational jeweller and lecturer, and Peter Johns – lecturer and very clever man who invented Argentium Silver.
Between them they showed me how to work with this special silver, and how to make the most of its unique and amazing properties.
What is Traditional Sterling Silver?
Traditional sterling silver is an alloy – containing 92.5% pure silver, and 7.5% copper. The copper gives it its hardness, and allows us to wear it as long lasting jewellery – without the copper pure silver is too soft and is damaged by day to day wear. Unfortunately the copper also causes some problems –
Tarnish – copper reacts with the atmosphere and perspiration to produce a dull dirty layer
Metal Allergies – copper is thought to be the trigger for many metal allergies people have to gold and silver, as it is present in both.
Firestain – a dull blue / grey bloom that you may see in patches on silver. It is due to the copper absorbing oxygen and forming copper oxide (which is black) when the silver is heated. The copper oxide sinks into the top layers of the silver, and it can only be removed by many hours of filing and polishing. (Not my favourite job – but necessary to finish the piece to a high standard!)
In mass-produced commercial products sometimes the firestain is removed using highly toxic chemicals including cyanide, but more often it is not removed and they are silver or rhodium plated to disguise it, but as the plating wears off it becomes disappointingly visible. The blotches on the silver urn pictured below are firestain.
What is Argentium Silver?
It is purer than traditional sterling silver as it contains 93.5% pure silver. It still contains a small amount of copper, but some of this has been replaced with a metal called germanium. The germanium forms a tough and transparent layer near the surface of the silver which prevents the copper from reacting with the atmosphere. This means that Argentium silver is –
Tarnish resistant – In industry approved tests Argentium silver was shown to much more resistant to tarnishing than traditional sterling silver, meaning that your jewellery stays brighter and cleaner for much longer.
Hypoallergenic – It can be worn without adverse reaction by many people who have allergies to gold and silver
No Firestain – The germanium prevents the formation of copper oxide, so no unsightly firestain is formed.
Additional benefits of the Argentium Silver include
Stronger – It can be hardened so it’s stronger than sterling silver weight for weight allowing the making of lighter more delicate but strong pieces of jewellery
Greener– It’s made from 100% recycled silver so it’s kinder to the environment.
Brighter – It is a whiter coloured metal – closer to the colour of pure silver, and whiter than either white gold or traditional sterling silver.
Argentium silver is fully hallmarkable – so you can still have your guarantee of quality – it will be marked as sterling silver and can also bear the additional flying unicorn hallmark of Argentium silver. It is becoming increasingly popular for wedding rings, driven by the trend for white metals, and its superior bright white colour. As the makers of Argentium say –“if silver is the new gold…. Argentium is the new silver!”
I wanted to show you the stages involved in making this unique bangle – I hope you enjoy it!
This bangle is for a 21st birthday gift, and has 21 rings on it – such a lovely idea! If I had my age in rings on the bangle I don’t think you’d be able to lift it, or I would need a security escort with all that silver!
First the rings are formed out of 3 different types of silver wire. They are wrapped tight around a mandrel to make a coil, then using my trusty saw, I cut through the coil (and hopefully not my fingers) to form individual rings. The rings are then soldered shut, before perfecting their shape by hammering them on a mandrel using my rawhide hammer. Then the rings are filed and sanded to make them smooth and perfect.
In this bangle the rings are all different patterns, so they are then put back onto the mandrel, and hammered using a metal hammer to texture or flatten the silver.
Shaping the silver bangle
The main bangle is made from 3mm round silver wire. The length of wire is hammered around a bangle mandrel to give it a uniform round shape. When I am completely happy with the bangle I slide the rings on, and carefully solder the bangle shut. It is then tapped round the mandrel again to ensure it is perfectly round.
The bangle is then sanded again, and ready for a final polish, with 2 types of polish. Finally – the finished article is ready to give as a fabulous gift!
If you follow my blog you will have noticed that I am keen on recycling. I recently set myself a scrap pot challenge -to design and produce a piece of handmade silver jewellery using only my scrap pot contents. I outperformed and made 4 delicate silver rings and 2 pairs of beautiful textured silver earrings!
Now recycling and reusing is common place in everyday life, so why are we still making so much of our silver jewellery out of newly mined silver? Mining negatively impacts the environment, workers and surrounding communities, so it makes sense to reuse what we have already dug up right?
Although it makes perfect sense until now it has been really difficult to source a supplier of eco-friendly silver for jewellery making in the UK. Recently Cookson Gold started to supply eco gold, and now *HURRAY* they are about to do the same with silver.
I will continue to use recycled silver in my handmade jewellery as much as possible, and think the scrap pot challenge will become a regular event – and your comments on some design themes for that challenge would be very welcome!
I’m looking forward to sharing my greener handmade silver jewellery with you!
Last week I set myself a recycling challenge – to make a new piece of handmade silver jewellery using only silver from my scrap pot.
Hmmm, how to turn this lot into something nice to wear……
After a good old rummage, I found a few pieces of silver that looked promising and decided to texture them with a spring theme of tiny flowers.
To those of you who know me , it’s no surprise that I chose to make rings – (I’m fairly obsessed with them), but instead of my trademark silver cocktail rings, I opted for the spring flowery theme instead.
4 silver rings later and I thought, perhaps it was time for some silver earrings….. again using the same tiny flower texture on them.
I enjoyed my recycling challenge so much, I think I will have to do it again – perhaps next time you guys can suggest a theme for me to work to…?
So, if the scandal of horsemeat masquerading as beef in recent weeks has taught us anything it is that what we buy may not always be what it claims to be…… The idea of testing and guaranteeing the quality of a product is not a new idea – it has been around since 1300 in the form of hallmarking! The Goldsmiths’ Company have been testing and guaranteeing the purity of gold and silver in London for the last 700 years. The name hallmarking derives from the practice of taking the items to Goldsmiths’ Hall for marking. I have my handmade silver jewellery hallmarked at Goldsmiths’ Company Assay Office, and there are a further 3 Assay Offices in the UK which do this work – Birmingham, Sheffield, and Edinburgh, each with their own unique mark.
Any item of silver weighing over 7.78g needs to be hallmarked by law, if it is being described and sold as a precious metal. 7.78 g is not very much – as a guide, a small sachet of baking yeast weighs 7g. A full hallmark comprises of: • The maker’s unique mark usually 2 or 3 initials • The metal fineness –sterling silver is 925 • The assay office’s mark – Goldsmiths’ mark is a leopards head • The optional date stamp letter to indicate which year it was hallmarked. The picture below shows my hallmark on a pair of handmade silver cufflinks– this one has 2 extra marks – a lion which is the traditional mark for sterling silver, and the Queen in an oversized crown which was a limited edition mark to celebrate the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee Year.
Lucylou Designs’ Hallmark
These marks are only applied after rigorous testing of the metal by the Assay Office. These are not to be confused with items stamped with 925. The 925 stamp without the Assay Office marks does not mean it is necessarily sterling silver – it just means that someone has stamped it!
Fully hallmarked handmade silver bangle by Lucylou Designs
I was interested to see an online seller offering handmade sterling silver bangles for sale – they were quite cheap and I was wondering how he could even buy the silver and hallmark it for that price – then I noticed they were only stamped with 925 and his makers mark– he was offering “full hallmarking” as an optional £20 extra! Both naughty and illegal! I only routinely hallmark silver jewellery that is over 7.78g in order to keep the costs down for the customer, this generally means that silver earrings and silver rings, and some smaller silver pendants do not need hallmarking by law, but can be if a customer requests it. The Assay Office even offer an engraving service, so personal messages can be added to special handmade pieces. If you would like to know more about the hallmarking process there is a really good article on it at The Goldsmiths’ Company website. Related Blogs Is it really silver?Making the bangle with rings
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