Friday, 27 May 2011

What is Engine Turning?

I'm about to launch my brand new jewellery range: the Phoenix Collection, in 18ct gold with diamonds. These pieces are entirely handmade and use a specialist technique called ENGINE TURNING.

So what is engine turning? It is quite a misleading name, as it conjures up images of roaring engines and automatic machinery. But it's really not like that!

You have probably come across engine turning, or guilloche (to give its alternative name), if you've watched antiques programmes on TV. It is basically a method of engraving repeated patterns, and in the jewellery industry it's traditionally used to decorate compacts, buttons, watch cases, lockets and picture frames. The machines were developed in the 18th Century and have been used to decorate traditional items such as the ones below. Coloured enamel was often laid over the engine turning to enhance the effect.

Engine turned watch case

Engine turned panel with blue enamel

The machines used for engine turning are no longer in production, and can be quite hard to come by. They are very complex, hefty pieces of engineering yet require no electricity and are entirely hand operated. There are two basic types: the straight line engine, for engraving straight lines at any angle, and the rose engine, which engraves in circles. Pattern bars can be used to engrave wavy lines, instead of a basic straight (or circular) cut, and by offsetting this pattern each time, and moving the cutter position, an infinite number of different patterns are possible.

The straight line engine, about 100 years old, used to create my new Phoenix Collection

Detail showing ruthenium plated 18ct gold being engine turned

My test pieces exploring different patterns on the straight line engine

Engine turning is still carried out but only by a handful of skilled craftspeople, who have learnt how to use these amazing antique machines. I first came across them when I began training as a jeweller, and immediately fell in love with the shimmering patterns they can create. I have explored some of the patterns possible and have produced my new Phoenix collection with the intention of bringing engine turning up to date and creating some contemporary pieces of jewellery focused on this very traditional technique. I used the straight line engine with no pattern bar and created a variety of designs which radiate out from the centre of the piece, with diamonds to accentuate the shapes created.

Engine turned 18ct gold and diamond Phoenix Collection by Emily Richard Jewellery
A video clip showing the effect of light on the engine turned panels in the Phoenix collection can be viewed on the Emily Richard Jewellery Facebook Page here.

If you have an interest in engine turning (or know of any machines for sale!) please get in touch - it would be a shame to see this beautiful art form become extinct.

Tuesday, 26 April 2011

A trip to the British Craft Trade Fair

I've recently been at the British Craft Trade Fair. If you don't already know about it, it's one of the biggest shows for (funnily enough) crafts made in Britain, held annually in Harrogate. Individual stallholders show their work - such as jewellery, ceramics, glass, wood, sculpture, textiles etc - for three days, while trade visitors from shops and galleries come to see what's new and what they would like to order to sell in their retail outlets.

One of the particularly exciting things about BCTF is that every year, they encourage new artists and makers to show their work. The "Newcomers Gallery" showcases the work of new businesses or recent graduates, which can really add another, fresh dimension to the work on show. I was part of this area at the show last year, and it surprised me that so many people this year remembered my work and commented on it in a very positive way.

A typical view of the "Newcomers Gallery" at BCTF 2010

I know I've talked about British Crafts before, and its importance is really emphasised after going to a show like this, speaking to other likeminded craftspeople and getting some feedback on the work you have on show there (as well as some sales!). It's a great experience and wonderful to meet everyone there, as well as catch up with some familiar faces.

For more information on BCTF, visit the BCTF website.

Monday, 21 February 2011

The designer maker

I’m a jewellery designer maker.

But what does that actually mean? Well, I design, make and sell my own work. Which means I’m self-employed, have my own jewellery workshop, and spend a lot of time trying to come up with new designs and find new customers! When you don’t have the power of a large brand or shop behind you, it can be difficult getting your work out to the public.

As I’ve already said, there are a lot of different jewellery making techniques, and this is the arsenal of a jewellery designer maker. The trick then is to come up with a design, and using those techniques, create something which catches the eye and imagination of people who may want to buy it.

Once you’ve made your collection, great! But what next? Well, I sell my work through galleries across the UK, and through craft fairs. I love meeting customers at craft fairs and being able to tell them all about the jewellery, what is was inspired by and how it was made. So I would recommend visiting craft fairs - and I don’t just mean the one at your local village hall! There are some large events which bring together some fantastic designer makers in one event, for example one of the best jewellery and silversmithing fairs is Goldsmiths Fair, held annually  in the magnificent setting of Goldsmiths Hall in London and hosting the top jewellers and silversmiths around today. There is a vast army of skilled craftspeople who work for themselves in the UK, who are making beautifully crafted, unique, well-designed work and who are very often undiscovered talents. The more people who are aware of the craft industries, and visit and buy quality work from designer makers, the more we can bring about a resurgence of British crafts and encourage these hand skills to be passed on to future generations.

Of course, I’m not just talking about jewellery. There are many more crafts. Ceramics, wood, glass, textiles, homeware, fashion...the list goes on. But designer makers are important. They create diverse, original, quality work and are waving the flag for craftspeople everywhere!

Large Torus Brooch by Emily Richard Jewellery, Sterling silver, oxidised with burnished edges

Wednesday, 16 February 2011

Hallmarking explained

Silver and gold jewellery doesn't have to be hallmarked. But if it's not, there's a chance it could be made from anything! Let me explain...

A hallmark must be struck on an item of silver, gold, platinum or, most, recently, palladium, by one of the four assay offices in the UK, in Birmingham, London, Edinburgh or Sheffield. Each assay office has a specific mark to signify which one has marked a piece of jewellery or silverware. I am registered with Birmingham Assay Office, whose symbol is an anchor.

A hallmark consists of this assay office mark, a unique mark to signify who has made the piece (the maker's mark) and a fineness mark. Pure metal is rarely used in jewellery: it is mixed with other metals to form an alloy, generally to make it stronger or better to work with. The fineness mark tells you the purity of the metal, for example sterling silver is 925. This is just the proportion out of 1000 that is pure silver. Other metals are marked in exactly the same way: 375 is 9carat gold, so 375 parts per 1000 is pure gold, 750 is 18carat, and so on. The shape this is written in signifies the metal - in the example of  my hallmark below you can see the 925 in an oval, which shows it's silver. There is also an optional traditional fineness mark, which in this case is a lion for sterling silver.

Emily Richard Jewellery's Hallmark from 2007, showing maker's mark, fineness mark, assay office mark, lion passant (traditional silver mark) and date letter 'h'

Sometimes, an optional date letter is also stamped on. This signifies the year in which the item was hallmarked, and charts are available to decode the letters and work out which year each letter means. Obviously hallmarking has gone through several alphabets in several different fonts by now! So a "B" in one style will mean a different year to a "B" written in a different way, or in a different shaped outline. 2011 is the letter "m" in lower case, in a box with cut-off corners like the picture above.

The assay offices will test every item they are sent, to ensure the metal is what the maker says it is. They are an independant body, which has been marking metal to guarantee its quality for over 700 years.

Jewellery CAN be sold without a hallmark, but the seller is legally not allowed to sell it as gold, silver or platinum unless it has been marked by an assay office. So if it says it's gold, look for the hallmark to be sure! The only items that are exempt from this rule are items under 1gram for gold, 0.5grams for platinum or 7.78grams for silver.

A lot of my work in silver falls under the 7.78g limit, so it's not hallmarked (this would increase the price of the jewellery unnecessarily, as the assay offices charge a fee for marking items). I do have a 925 punch, which I can hammer into the surface of the metal to mark the fineness myself. I know it's sterling silver, and in most cases this will signify it really is silver, but it still doesn't actually prove anything as it was not marked at an assay office - I just did it myself! Most designer makers like myself will be honest, and won't try to sell you something that isn't genuine. But if you're in doubt, look for the official hallmark. It's the only way to guarantee what you're getting.

Saturday, 12 February 2011

Making jewellery? That's just melting metal and pouring it into moulds, right?

Wrong! There are many jewellery making techniques, but as any trained jeweller will tell you, a piece usually begins life as sheet or wire, in whichever metal you are working with. Sheet metal comes in a variety of thicknesses, which can then be sawn, filed, hammered, pressed, soldered and transformed into something original and beautiful.This brooch began as a square, flat piece of silver, the design was marked out and the pattern pierced out with a very fine saw.

Geometric Flower Brooch, saw pierced sterling silver and garnet

Wire can also be used to form jewellery, and again is sold in different thicknesses and cross-sections, for example round wire, square wire and D shape wire.

Different pieces of sheet and/or wire can be attached together by soldering. This isn't soldering with your everyday soldering iron. This is soldering with fire! A flame is used to heat up the entire piece, to bring the metal up to the melting point of the silver or gold solder being used.

Of course, all this takes a lot of time, especially the filing, sanding and polishing required to produce a professional finish. Mass or batch produced jewellery is sometimes cast, which involves making a mould (often from a handmade original) and using this to produce multiple wax copies, which are then cast in metal. This cuts down on manufacturing time and provides multiple, identical units. These still need to be worked on by hand to give a good finish, as the casting process leaves a rough surface. It is not suitable for every piece but is a useful process and a very cost-effective way of making jewellery pieces which would otherwise be exceedingly expensive!

Cadillac Neckpiece, cast sterling silver and garnets
This Cadillac Neckpiece is made from repeated cast units, with handmade fittings and hinges between each piece - a marriage of skills as I handmade each piece before casting them to produce a piece with repeated, fully flexible links. A marriage of hand skills and production techniques!

Saturday, 22 January 2011

Welcome to the wonderful world of jewellery...

Hello and welcome to my new blog, all about making jewellery. My name is Emily Richard and I'm a jewellery designer maker, which basically means I think up an idea for a design and follow this through all the way to hand crafting a finished piece of jewellery. I work in a variety of styles, my main focus being on modern, innovative yet wearable jewellery such as the Torus Collection here, but also with an appreciation and interest in more traditional fine jewellery such as the Icarus Brooch below.

As well as designing and making my own pieces, I also teach jewellery classes. When I talk about my job, so many people are unaware of the fascinating process of manipulating bits of metal into beautiful objects. My aim for this blog is to discuss the subject of making jewellery, giving novices, beginners, aspiring jewellers and anyone else with an interest in this centuries-old craft an insight into the daily life of a jeweller and the tips, tricks and pitfalls of manufacturing rings, pendants, brooches and more in the modern age.