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!