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.