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Posts Tagged ‘Art Jewelry’

Have you ever stopped to consider how many kinds of ice cream there are in the world? Vanilla, Chocolate, Strawberry, Funky Monkey, Chai Tea… the list is as endless as one’s imagination! This week, I stood in the ice cream aisle in my grocery store and stared at all the varieties. As I contemplated the relative merit of Triple Chocolate Fudge with swirls of Rocky Road versus a truly luscious French Vanilla Bean to which I could fresh raspberries and Irish Cream, it occurred to me that this is the same excruciating choice that a modern metalsmith faces when designing a new art jewelry piece.

When one considers all the options possible among stone setting, surface manipulation, patinas, different forging techniques- it is easy to understand why the creation of a new design can take days if not months and years. I am not by any means a master metalsmith as of yet, but even I personally know hundreds of different ways of creating a piece of art jewelry. My personal favorite, of course, is forged precious metals with gemstone accents, but I have large soft spot in my heart for an even more esoteric form of artistic expression in metals, called Mokume Gane.

Mokume Gane Ring

In the 1600s in Japan, a metalsmith by the name of Denbei Shoami invented a way of fusing layers upon layers of alternate metals. He discovered that when one did such a thing, then forged the layered billet into a thinner sheet, then selectively removed portions of the billet, and flattened the whole sheet again, one was left with an amazing amount of patterned beauty which was named Mokume Gane or “wood grain in metal”. He was a master smith, who was adept at the creation of forge-folded swords, or Damascus steel swords, for the warrior Samurai class of Japan. I can only presume through the distance of time that he felt the need of a new challenge as a smith, because the creation of Mokume Gane is a lot of work.

There are several different methods of creating this stunning mixed metal version of Rocky Road, but all of the methods are time intensive and subject to large amounts of failure.The first step of all the methods is the selection of the metals the artist wants to use. Some metals, such as copper, brass, silver, and certain gold alloys, are easier to work with than others, but the essential first step is the cutting, sanding, and cleaning/degreasing of the surfaces of the chosen metals. These metals are then fluxed, layered, and bound together under pressure. Usually this amounts to a set of iron plates bolted together with the layers sandwiched in the middle.

Mokume Gane Earrings

Here is where the methods diverge. The somewhat controversial, yet safer method uses small amounts of solder in between the layers of metal to bond the layers together, as is the case with traditional metal fabrication techniques. The artist doesn’t need to bring the metals anywhere close to their melting points, but is able to stay a comfortable 500 degree distance away from that threshold.

The artists who use the more widely accepted Diffusion Bonded method of creating this unusual material, rely on the property of fusion bonding to create their Mokume Gane. Once again, a small bit of science is required to explain this process. I’ll make short, I promise!

Mokume Gane Copper and Sterling Silver Art Pendant

Copper, Sterling Silver, Patina, Laquer

Certain metals and their alloys have the property of atomically bonding to similarly structured metals under the stimulus of heat and pressure. For example, when you take a piece of pure copper, and rub it vigourously on a steel obejct, the steel object will have acquired a coppery sheen in the area that was rubbed. This is a very low tech example of how “friendly” copper is with other metals. Most metals are willing to be sociable and friendly under the right circumstances, and there have been many phase diagrams and charts made up by more metallurgically inclined smiths than myself. I highly recommend Mokume Gane by Steve Midgett for those of you who are curious and like to read phase diagrams as bedtime reading material.

Of course, knowing what different metals require to be friendly with other metals has generally been a closely guarded secret that has been passed from generation to generation, and from Master Smith to Apprentice, for hundreds of years. It is only in recent years that Mokume Gane has seen a revival of new interest and an open sharing of information across the world. Smiths around the globe are using complicated alloys and fusion processes to combine a stunning array of dissimilar metals such as Platinum with White Gold, and Palladium with Silver, resulting in some of the most stunning patterns of luxury that is available today.

Mokume Gane Earrings- Long Dangle
So once one determines what metals to use, cleans, and binds them together, the whole apparatus is soaked in a hot kiln for hours. For the first method, this causes the solder to flow, easy peasey, and you’re done.

For the second method, the atoms on the outside of each piece of metal are starting to merge with the metal atoms of their neighboring pieces, forming a new alloy along their seams- this is the Diffusion Bond, I mentioned earlier. This new alloy can be formed with both metals in their solid states, or even in a semi-liquid state. So with the new alloy tentatively formed, it’s not quite enough to have this billet of material soaked in heat, and under bolt tight pressure. Now the artist has to force an even more forceful bond.

Okay, so it’s my favorite part- hit it with a bigger hammer!!

Bashing this innocent block of metals repeatedly with a very large hammer is quite fun, and yet, if the materials have been over heated, this will be the time when molten showers of metal spray in every direction and leave you with several days wasted and an unusable piece of metal.

After letting the material cool, it’s ready to be reduced and warped into pieces that are usable in jewelry or other decorative metalwork. If you cut a chunk off the side, heat it to forging temperature, and twist it repeatedly, you will wind up with a stunning cross section of a star pattern, which I’ve shown here in my Star Mokume earrings:

Star Mokume Copper, Brass and 14 K Gold Earrings

14 K Gold, Copper, Brass, Patina

If you beat the billet with a very fine round nose punch in lines, and then reduce the billet down to sheet, you will wind up with this very popular “Raindrop” pattern, as shown in my Mokume Gane pendant:

Mokume Gane Copper and Sterling Silver Art Pendant

Copper, Sterling Silver, Patina, Laquer

You can even forge it in a simple linear configuration, showcasing the traditional woodgrain pattern popular for centuries as shown in my Wright Metals pendant:

Handmade 18 K Gold Mokume Gane and Sapphire Pendant

18 K Gold, Argentium Silver, VVS White Sapphire

So, even with the siren lure of forging silver and gold, a metalsmith can become blase about the wonders of forging precious metals, and yearns for new challenges. As if there wasn’t enough to keep oneself occupied with forging silver and gold…

and yet…

…as much as I love French Vanilla Bean ice cream doused with Irish Cream and Raspberries, sometimes you just need Triple Chocolate Fudge with swirls of Rocky Road. Or a stunning Mokume Gane pendant.

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14 Karat Gold Fill, Glass

14 Karat Gold Fill, Glass


When I learned to knit all I thought about was the usual- blankets, booties and maybe a sweater. I learned about yarn, and the proper way to knit without injury and happily knit several dozen scarves, sweaters and baby blankets. Then I heard the siren call of metal, and before I knew it, I was knitting wire instead.
14 Karat Gold Fill knit cuff with Tourmaline

14 Karat Gold Fill knit cuff with Tourmaline


It was certainly quite a change from knitting yarn, but the intricate textures and surprising drape of the resulting jewelry had me hooked. Unfortunately, it is extremely easy to injure one’s self while knitting wire, and after knitting 4 bracelets in the course of one week, I wound up with a repetitive stress injury that prevented me from working for three months. As I went through physical therapy, and restrengthened my wrists, I mentally studied the movements I had been using and researched methods of avoiding such injuries in the future.
14 Karat Gold Fill Hoop Earrings

14 Karat Gold Fill Hoop Earrings


As a result of my studies I have learned that I should only knit for 20 minutes at a time- even if I feel fine- and that if I plan to finish a bracelet in any reasonable amount of time, I should stop and thoroughly stretch my wrists every 5 minutes. I have been experimenting this week with my new techniques and thought I would share these tips, as well as my latest knit jewelry with my readers to show that even with debilitating injuries, an artist is always learning!
Argentium Silver and Blueberry Quartz

Argentium Silver and Blueberry Quartz

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Part of being an artist who sells their work involves finding people who enjoy the work to start with and listening to their responses. To that end, I did my very first Art Festival as a professional Artist this last weekend. The crowds were fantastic, the bands were pretty good, and I won the People’s Choice Award! I met some amazing people who gave me wonderful feedback about my pieces, but I noticed most people didn’t know about, but were very interested in, some of the more technical aspects of my work. To help with that, tomorrow’s post will be about the creation and setting of Druzy Quartz Cabochons. In the mean time, I thought I would share my favorite experiences from this weekend.

I made friends with the artists around me, who one and all were very friendly. Matt Sackett, photographer, was particularly nice as quite aside from his wonderful photos, he brought his Ipod and played Earth, Wind, and Fire among other great bands throughout the weekend.

I met one of the owners for Northbridge Gallery in Smithville, MO who will be featuring my work for the upcoming Christmas season. I’m really looking forward to working with this lovely gallery.

My absolute favorite thing from the weekend, however, was the location of the fair itself. It was held at Zona Rosa which is a fabulous shopping/dining/loft living development that I really fell in love with. The winding tree-lined avenues amongst the fabulous shopping were good, but the way the area comes alive at night with Jazz artists and people out strolling and laughing was really wonderful. I felt like it was a little neighborhood where people really took the time to get together and have fun… I am really looking forward to next year!

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