Colours of Christmas

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Our tree has been up for 2 weeks, and last night The Goblin covered the flat in fairy lights and all of the leftover fake tea lights from the wedding. It’s safe to say we’re excited (even the usually Scrooge-like Goblin is full of Christmas cheer!), so this week’s post had to be a festive one.

Everywhere you look, it’s red and green, and my workshop is no exception, so here are the colours of Christmas in precious and semi-precious formats…

Reds

Currently my favourite red stone is garnet (which is actually the birthstone for January, so I’m a bit early, but never mind that…).

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A deeper blood red than its ruby cousin, garnet is a truly historic stone which has been popular for centuries, featuring heavily in both Roman and early-medieval English design:

Fast facts:

  • Garnet is a member of the silicate family of minerals, which is the largest and most important class of rock-forming minerals, according to Wikipedia. My GCSE Double Science doesn’t give me any more clues on what that actually means, so let’s move on to language, which I’m a bit more familiar with…
  • The word ‘garnet’ comes from the Middle English word ‘gernet’, meaning dark red, although garnets do occasionally come in other colours, including green, purple, and blue.
  • Garnet is the state mineral of Connecticut and Idaho, and the official gemstone of New York. (More on state gemstones in a later post, because I just discovered they exist and I love it… If I ruled a state, the gemstone would be haematite or moonstone, if anyone is interested.)

Other prominent red stones include:

  • Ruby – everyone knows what these are, but did you know they’re part of a group called the ‘cardinal gemstones’ which includes sapphires, diamonds, emeralds and amethysts, and which were traditionally valued above all other stones?
  • Red Topaz (topaz also comes in tons of other colours, most often blue or yellow)
  • Red Spinels (spinels also come in a range of colours, including black, and I’d never heard of them until I bought a couple to try in the design below…)
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Available here

Green

It would be a cardinal sin not to pick emeralds for my favourite stone here (geddit), but I covered them in an earlier post, so I’m going to hone in on my second-favourite: aventurine.

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Available here

It’s a type of quartz that, like lapis lazuli, has gold inclusions, which gives it extra shimmer despite being a translucent stone.

Fast facts:

  • The shimmer the gold inclusions give off is referred to as aventurescence. I aspire one day to be so shiny that my glittering has its own descriptor…
  • It was discovered by chance in the eighteenth century, which is why it’s called aventurine, after the Italian for ‘by chance’: a ventura.
  • As well as jewellery, aventurine is used in landscaping, monuments, and interior design:

Other popular green stones include:

  • Jade – historically significant and highly-prized for centuries
  • Garnet – that’s right, my favourite stone above also comes in green (huzzah!)
  • Sapphire – these usually-blue stones have other varieties, notably pink and green
  • Malachite – pure stripy gorgeousness:

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That’s all for tonight, folks – I’m off to wrap some pressies to put under the tree…

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Hoop hoop hooray!

Although they’re being touted as the ‘latest trend’ by designers from Marc Jacobs to Michael Kors, hoop earrings are almost as old as jewellery itself, and have cultural significance across the globe. Since there are some hoops in my new collection, so I thought it was about time to dive into some of the history and culture of hoop earrings that high fashion designers have glossed over…

The first ever hoops?

Some of the most ancient hoop earrings surviving today are these elegant, gold, Sumerian hoops dating from 2600-2500 BCE, discovered in modern-day Iraq:

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Source: The Met

Hoops across space and time

Asia

As we saw above, hoop earrings were popular among the Middle Eastern Sumerians as early as 2600BCE, and this Neo-Assyrian bust demonstrates that they were still popular in the region by the 8th century BCE:

DP110585.jpgAnd hoop earrings remain popular across the Asia of today. They’re a significant accessory, for example, amongst the Hmong women of Vietnam and Laos, whose earrings are always made in silver because of its association with wealth, prosperity and health. Hmong silversmiths are among the most highly-regarded in the world, and genuine, antique silver Hmong jewellery commands a high price amongst collectors.

Elsewhere in Asia, the Gadaba women of Northern India traditionally favour larger hoops than their Hmong counterparts, and wear them, unusually, through the upper or middle part of the ear. Multiple hoops in each ear are also popular:

The Americas

Hoops are so wildly popular amongst the diverse cultures of North and South America that it seems a little ridiculous to squish both continents into one section, but with such a broad history, it’s no wonder hoop earrings can be a loaded accessory in this part of the world (particularly in the US).

Nobody is saying that any group ‘invented’ hoop earrings but, as with any issue of cultural appropriation, the key issue here is a privileged group taking credit for styles they would judge or scorn on the marginalised groups who popularised them. So, let’s skip praising white designers for being ‘edgy’ (heavy air quotes there), and take a brief look at the American history of hoops…

Many Native American groups have made beautiful hoops in both metal and beadwork for centuries:

In Puerto Rico, gold hoop earrings are a traditional gift for a newborn baby girl, whilst in Mexico, silver is equally popular.

As well as being popular in Mexico and other Central American countries, filigree is also found in Peru:

At the bottom of the Americas, in Chile and Southern Argentina, we have my favourite hoops so far in this post: the unusually-shaped traditional hoops of the Mapuche people, which have a distinctive, half-moon shape:

Europe

Like many things, it would seem, hoop earrings were first popularised in Europe by the Ancient Greeks.

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Wall painting from Ancient Thera (Source: Pinterest)

Some of you may also remember this filigree example which popped up in my previous post about Ephesus:

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Fast foward a few hundred years, and became associated with pirates in the 17th century. But why did the swashbucklers of old favour this style? Well, legend has it that it was so that if pirates were shipwrecked or otherwise drowned, and their bodies washed up on some unfamiliar shore, they would be guaranteed a proper burial, paid for by the gold in their ears…

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Another – more convincing – suggestion is that sumptuary laws in England during the ‘golden age’ of piracy (17th-18th centuries) stipulated that men couldn’t wear jewellery; a decree to which pirates promptly gave two fingers. They may have been horrendous people, but you have to give them a veeeeery tiny bit of credit for challenging gender-normative and classist fashion rules…*

Australasia

Flying over to the other side of the globe, hoop earrings seem to be historically less popular than on other continents. In some places, such as Samoa, wooden and shell hoop earrings are often hung from the ear rather than through it, painted in bright colours and floral designs:

Africa

Over in the Africa of the past, the Ancient Egyptians were big fans of gold hoops, and put them on their cat statues as a symbol of sacredness. They also wore them themselves, often adorned with the ankh (the symbol of life), or animal heads representing various deities.

Further west, in Mali, the most famous hoops today are those traditionally worn by Fulani women. These ornate hoops, known as Kwoteneye, can weigh up to 300 grams each! Due to their size and weight, they are sometimes supported by an additional cord passing over the head of the wearer. They are made from sheets of beaten gold, twisted into leaf-like shapes, and often partially wrapped in red thread.

Finally, moving south into Kenya, Maasai tribespeople make beautiful beadwork hoops to wrap through their deliberately-stretched earlobes:

Why are hoops so popular?

Hoops are a old as earrings themselves, and mean so many different things to different people. They’re simultaneously hugely different and endlessly derivative across the globe.

That’s the main part of the timeless appeal of hoops, I think: they are so simple but have so much potential as a means of self-expression. You can take an instantly recognisable earring shape and fashion it in a vast range of sizes, shapes, and materials, as well as adding extra adornments or wearing multiple hoops. The lightning run-down of global and historical hoops above (which, by the way, is not meant to be a complete history of hoop earrings by any stretch!) demonstrates the enormous variety this seemingly simple item of jewellery can offer.

If you’re brave enough to go big and bold, there are thousands of gorgeous hoops out there – a personal favourite is this pair from fellow Etsy seller Otis Jaxon:

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If you unfortunately work in an office with the aforementioned prejudice against large hoop earrings, or you just like your jewellery dainty, check out my new range of delicate charm hoops at Tiding of Magpies…

*Obviously I don’t support piracy, before anyone takes that the wrong way…

 

Design diaries: Winter 2017

There was no post last week, but I do have an excuse, because I’ve been working on a whole bunch of lovely new designs for you all! After a crazy weekend where my workbench looked like this –

– I have some new pieces I’m really proud to share with you! I’ll also go into a tiny bit of the inspiration behind them and give you my top picks from the collection, because I definitely have a few favourites among my new babies…

Pretty in pink

Rose gold is the trend that shows no sign of shifting – and I, for one, am thrilled! The delicate pink tint adds interest to simple pieces and offers different possibilities with colour and shape. For the first time ever at Tiding of Magpies, we now have some 14-carat rose gold fill pieces available!

(Side note, I’m loving rose gold and gold fill – much more staying power and less tarnishing than gold plating, but a way smaller price tag than pure red or yellow gold. Gold-filled metals have pure gold pressure-bonded to another, cheaper metal, whereas gold-plated metals just have the gold on top, where it can rub off upon skin contact etc.)

Top pick: the rose gold circle necklace. Oh-so-simple but sure to get compliments – mine has already!

Hoop-la

Hoops are another long-term trend that seems to be enduring the past few seasons, so I made myself some prototype designs a couple of months ago and haven’t stopped wearing them since. Because it’s a Tiding of Magpies design and I can’t resist a bit of extra sparkle, all of my hoops have charms or gemstones on them:

Top pick: I love them all and wear all the prototypes constantly, but if I had to pick I’d probably go with the small gold hoops with hammered discs – can’t beat a bit of texture on simple shapes.

Lovely lariats

Ever since I made my friend Sami’s bridesmaids’ jewellery, I’ve been a tiny bit obsessed with lariat (or ‘Y’) necklaces.

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I even made some for my own bridesmaids:

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Photo by Suzy Wimbourne Photography

That design (perfect for bridesmaids, as you can see!) is available now in sterling silver, gold fill and rose gold fill (like my maids wore):

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But I didn’t stop there, oh no… inspired by the different stones and metals on my workbench, I came up with another 6 lariats in lapis lazuli, freshwater coin pearl, garnet, turquoise, yellow topaz, and haematite:

Top pick: We all know how I feel about a bit of haematite…

Knot too shabby

Another design from my own wedding (because the best artists are self-referential…right?):

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Photo by Suzy Wimbourne Photography

This is also the only design which I’ve made in 9ct yellow gold for something a little luxe (although it comes in sterling silver too for a more purse-friendly option):

Top pick: The gold – can’t argue with sentimental value!

Thready to go

My popular pearl threader earrings were worn by both my mum and my maids at the wedding (in silver and rose gold, respectively), and I thought it was about time to see what other shapes and stones worked. I ended up with a few really varied designs:

Top pick: Probably the haematite cubes. What can I say? I’m just really into haematite!

All wrapped up

The originals of this design were a present for my best friend/bridesmaid/Girl Friday, Beth, but the design was too good not to expand upon… One manic weekend later and they’re available in the original lapis lazuli, as well as amethyst, rose quartz, black spinel, turquoise, and chalcedony, with silver, rose gold or gold wire. Phew!

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Top pick: These earrings are all about the combinations, so it would have to be rose quartz with rose gold, black spinel with gold, or turquoise with silver…

Stone cold rocks

I also experimented with a bunch of other stones in different shapes and sizes, and I got really side-tracked by the beautiful blood-red of some faceted marquise-shaped garnets:

I also worked with emeralds for the first time (such excitement!), and amber as well. I’ve definitely fallen in love with rough-cut stones for adding interest and texture to my pieces:

Since getting back from Central Asia, I also have a minor obsession with lapis lazuli, and when I found these gorgeous, geometric slices, I knew they’d be perfect for a simple design:

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Top pick: Impossible to choose! I love the emeralds for the ombré effect, the amber for colour, and the lapis for the vibrant blue and interesting shape. Guess I’ll have to make myself one of each…

What’s your favourite piece? Let me know in the comments!

Creative anxiety and how to handle it

So this week there’s no post here because… it’s over at Harness Magazine instead! My article is about the creative anxiety that comes with starting a small business from your hobby and how to tackle it. 

I’m also super excited to have been published in Harness in particular because it’s a fab online mag I read all the time. If you’ve not already, check it out – there are articles on everything you can possibly think of that relates to the experience of being a woman and they’re pretty excellent!

Silver clay on World Thrift Day

Let’s celebrate World Thrift Day by celebrating the exceptionally thrifty jewellery-making material that is silver clay. This time last year, I’d never heard of the stuff; now it’s in integral part of around half of my designs…

So, what is it?

Silver clay is made of tiny particles of silver, combined with binding fibres (paper or cotton usually) and water. In its original state, it behaves just like the normal soft clay you’d find in an art class. When fired, the binder burns away (making a really cool-looking flame in the process), leaving behind fine silver (99.9% purity, as opposed to sterling silver’s 92.5%).

There are two main types: Art Clay Silver and Precious Metal Clay. They’re much of a muchness in many ways, and that leads us on to…

Where did it come from?

This is the good bit. So, silver clay was first developed in Japan in the 1990s by two companies. Weirdly, they both got patents on their versions of silver clay around the same time. Not quite sure how that happened, but apparently good ideas are like buses sometimes…

What’s of note for today’s theme is that silver clay is also a really sustainable material, made of recycled silver which usually comes from discarded electrical items. Turns out TVs have silver in them – who knew? The clay can even be recycled at home – if a design goes wrong and you put it back with the rest of the blob fast enough, it can be reconstituted into a new design.

So what?

As well as the environmental benefits of using silver clay (who doesn’t like feeling good about saving the planet?), I actually find the clay kind of fascinating because of the way it changes. The first few pieces, it does feel a little like magic…

It’s also interesting because of the possibilities it offers – it can be smithed like normal silver once it’s fired (albeit it’s a little softer than silver), but it behaves completely differently before that. You can use it to pick up the tiny details of a fingerprint before setting it into a bracelet, or form a ring to be hammered and shaped after firing. It’s a fusion of modern technology and ancient techniques. It can’t currently replace traditional silversmithing techniques, though, particularly stone-setting – I prefer to see it as an addition to them rather than a substitute.

If you want to have a go yourself, it’s not super expensive (around £2.50/gram in the UK), which makes it thrifty in another way, too! Here are a couple of tips for starting out with metal clay:

  • Make sure you wrap it up tightly and put it back in the packaging as soon as you’ve taken the amount you want to use – once the clay dries, it becomes very brittle and hard to work with (although it is salvageable)
  • You probably need less clay than you think – it’s very stretchable!
  • Press firmly and evenly, directly down onto your clay – if you press at an angle you risk smudging or blurring whatever impressions you want your clay to pick up.
  • Get some of this stuff – it means you can make moulds of things which you can then ‘cast’ in the clay.
  • If you have a gas hob, all you need is a metal gauze to put over one of the rings, and you’re good to start firing. If, like me, your flat is electric-only, you can use a simple camping stove and camping butane.

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Tag me on Insta or Twitter so I can see your creations!

Disney Designs 2: I’d rather be shiny

I couldn’t do another Disney Designs piece without doing my new favourite Disney film: Moana. Seriously, it’s overtaken my long-time favourites, Hercules and Mulan, and it’s not even a cartoon! It’s also The Goblin’s new favourite – I don’t think he’s actually said ‘you’re welcome’ without singing it since the first time we watched the film…

The jewel in question is, of course, the Heart of Te Fiti, which Moana wears in a locket around her neck to keep it safe on her quest to return it to its rightful owner, the earth goddess Te Fiti.

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Source: associatedmormonletters.org

The Heart is meant to be made of New Zealand greenstone, which is the catch-all term for certain types of nephrite jade, serpentine and bowenite, and which is highly valued in Maori culture. (They’re known as taonga, or treasure, and are so valuable that they’re protected under the 1840 Treaty of Waitangi.) These stones are also extremely durable, so it’s no wonder the Heart survives an epic journey across the oceans! Carved and shaped greenstones are known as pounamu, and increase in value the older they are, as they gain mana (prestige or power) from the histories they are witness to. Different designs also – naturally – mean different things, as this very interesting articles explains.

Some examples of pounamu:

Making the Heart a greenstone pounamu is a gorgeous detail in the film, and I’ve definitely learnt something new researching it. I also now reeeeally want this necklace:

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Source: kouragallery.co.nz

Canon deities, canoes, and the world’s scariest crabs: bonus trivia

1) Maui actually did all the things he brags about in You’re Welcome, although he had a female counterpart, Hina, without whom he wouldn’t have been able to achieve many of them, and who was disappointingly left out of the film… They also left out the story where he dies from encountering goddess of night and death, Hine-nui-te-pō’s, vagina dentata – I wonder why! The teeth were made of obsidian though, so at least she was stylish with her murdering…

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2) The storyline about Moana’s people being voyagers and then stopping for a mysterious reason is actually based on historical events. After settling Western Polynesia (Samoa, Tonga, Fiji 3500 years ago, Pacific Islanders stopped voyaging for a solid two milennia…and nobody knows why. Why did a civilisation built on voyaging just stay were they were until 1500-500 years ago? Many solutions have been suggested, from wind patterns to algae poisoning, but it remains a mystery to this day… As a historian, though, I was delighted that this element of Moana was based on a real-life trend.

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3) Although the queer-coding of Tamatoa was one of the more disappointing elements of the film, it turns out that Coconut Crabs like him he is actually are well-known for stealing shiny things. At up to 9lbs and 3m from leg to leg, they’re also the largest land crab, and they’re bloody terrifying. They’re cannibals and autophages (they fucking eat their own offcast exoskeletons, people), and they’ve been known to attack humans. Maybe Tamatoa was more on point than I thought… I just wish they’d made him the same browny-yellow colour as an actual coconut crab rather than that loaded pinky-purple!

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So there we have it – Moana’s Heart of Te Fiti and some trivia on the film (which is amazing and you should all watch it right now seriously go I’ll wait). Moana is a badass heroine who’s also really human and fails throughout the film, and she has no love interest for the entire 107 minutes. It’s definitely not perfect, but it’s as close as Disney’s ever got to decent representation whilst still being hilarious. And obviously Lin-Manuel Miranda’s involvement in the soundtrack doesn’t hurt…

Which Disney design should I do next? Let me know in the comments.

Spotlight on: Wallis Simpson’s panther bracelet

We’ve been watching The Crown recently, so this week I’m shining a spotlight on one of the most famous pieces of jewellery from that era: Wallis Simpson’s panther bracelet.

The piece, like its owner, divides opinion. Some, like the author of this rather terrible article, find it vulgar, whilst others feel it epitomised Simpson’s style and love of fashion. I’m coming down on the side of loving it; putting aside any opinions on its owner, there’s no denying it’s an iconic piece which spawned a raft of replicas. I had a Topshop version myself at one time (not that I knew where the fashion had started, of course).

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Photo by Sotheby’s
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Photo by Sotheby’s

Let’s look at 5 fast facts about the bracelet:

1) It sold for £4.5 million in 2010, rumour has it to Madonna, although Sotheby’s never denied or confirmed that… The last time it was sold was as part of Sotheby’s Jewels of the Duchess of Windsor auction, which is the most valuable single-owner jewellery collection  ever sold.

2) It was custom-made for the Duchess of Windsor in 1952 by Cartier’s esteemed designer Jeanne Toussaint, referencing the nickname Louis Cartier (rumoured to be her lover) gave her. Cartier continues to make panther jewellery to this day, and it’s become somewhat of a trademark for the design house.

3) It was at the time a revolutionary design: the panther is extensively articulated, which allows it to drape itself around the wearer’s wrist rather than sitting stiffly like a bangle. Even today it remains a masterpiece of jewellery engineering due to the subtlety of its movement and sensuous lines created by the articulation. It also looks as if the panther is stalking its way around the wrist of the wearer, an amazing feat for a solid piece of metal and precious stones.

 

4) Poor Simpson was apparently very self-conscious about her ‘ugly hands’, often keeping them rolled into fists in public, so her statement panther bracelet may have been more more distraction than adornment.

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Source: Wikimedia

5) The bracelet is 195mm long, pave-set with brilliant and single-cut diamonds and calibre-cut onyx, and the eyes are two marquise-shaped emeralds.

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All stretched out. Photo by Sotheby’s.

So what do you think? Yay or nay? Personally, I’m dreaming of owning this beautiful piece as we speak…