Often when we purchase a piece of jewellery, we are ignorant to the amount of work that has gone into its creation. I sit here, looking at the rings on my fingers, wondering who, where, how and why these beautiful items were created. On my right index finger sits a turquoise ring that my grandfather gifted my grandmother during the war. On my ring finger, I have a pigeon claw ring that I received on a silk red ribbon for my twenty-first birthday. Stories are formed the moment a piece of jewellery comes into our possession. Yet this leads me to reflect on the life of jewellery that precedes this moment. These rings on my fingers were once elements within the Earth, how have they come to adorn my hands?
Here at JewelStreet, all of our jewellery is handcrafted by independent designers. Each designer has different inspirations, different work processes and different philosophies. But all have the common goal to create beautiful jewellery. Touch the jewellery you are wearing right now - do you know how it was made? Do you know where the designer sourced the gems? Do you know the techniques they used? Join me as I unpack the intricate process of jewellery design, giving you a closer understanding of how your jewellery is made.
Sketching is the first step designers take to visualise their creations. Inspiration can be found everywhere, so many designers keep sketching materials on them at all times. After all, you never know when the next concept will manifest in your mind. The way emotions are infused into design is usually through initial sketches. The immediate and instinctual aspect of a design sketch often translates into the finished product, so this part of the design process is vital. Whether designers work individually or within a team, they all share an artistic vision, thus the ability to put their visions on paper is a necessity in jewellery design.
Refining The Sketch
Depending on the technique designers used, refining the sketch takes many different forms. This could mean translating a paper sketch onto a computer via CAD software. 3D mock-ups of the jewellery item are created, conceptualising the initial design into a refined model. This is especially relevant for bespoke jewellery creations, as the clients are given a full technical version of their ideas. Refinement is a key aspect of the jewellery design process, determining precise sizes, materials used, and the way all aspects of the design will come together.
Prototypes are essential in translating 2D designs into 3D models. Many designers use the wax modelling technique to create prototypes - an artisan technique that is used by many high-end jewellers. Here they can find the weak spots of their design, rectifying any design issues before using the final materials. This part of the jewellery making process is where the initial design comes alive. It is vital that jewellery craftsmen are intricate and thorough at this point of the process in order to create a faultless final piece.
The sourcing of materials usually comes before the initial design process, however this varies depending on each designer’s individual style of working. For example, for a designer who solely works with recycled silver, they will have sourced the materials before designing their collections. However, a designer may decide to release a collection featuring coloured gemstones as opposed to plain gold designs. They would then need to source the gems with their newly inspired collection in mind. An article published by Vogue advising readers how to break into the world of jewellery (read here) discusses the various ways designers work with their sourced materials:
Our designer, Geraldine Murphy of Saba Jewellery sources some of her materials remotely:
“The designs are cut out of sheet copper, sent to me where I enamel them at my workshop using kiln fired (vitreous) enamel.”
Designers all have their unique ways of working with materials. Depending on the size and aesthetic of different jewellery brands, this part of the jewellery design process varies.
There are numerous jewellery making techniques, which again, differs between each brand depending on their individual style. In our interview with Geraldine Murphy of Saba Jewellery (read here), she discusses the three main techniques used in her workshop:
I make my jewelry at my workshop in Dublin, by hand. There are a few different techniques but they fall into three categories:
1. Handmade from sheet sterling silver. I have a steel die which I use to shear out the sheet in a hydraulic press. Then I do the doming and forming with various hammers, add facial features, then rivet 9kt rose gold into the eyes, sand, polish and assemble.
2. Certain designs I send to a waterjet cutting company in Co. Louth on the border with Northern Ireland. The designs are cut out of sheet copper, sent to me where I enamel them at my workshop using kiln fired (vitreous) enamel.
3. Other designs are cast in sterling silver. The castings are sent to me and I sand, solder, texture, polish and assemble them at my workshop.
This process involves various manual techniques including filing, cutting, sanding, polishing and setting. Finishing is an essential part of the manufacturing process, by which all impurities and blemishes are smoothed out and quality control checks are put in place. You could have a whole team working on a specific part of the manufacturing process or a single jeweller crafting each piece from start to finish. At this point, the initial design is realised in a physical amalgamation of materials - you can imagine just how exciting this part of the process is to witness!
After this point, jewellery is marketed on various platforms and the selling begins. This is the part of the process where you step into the picture. All of this work goes into that one item that you are wearing today. You may think your jewellery’s life begins the moment you wear it. But truthfully, it’s has already lived a full and exciting life!
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