Spotlight on: rose quartz

It’s getting dark and autumnal and I love the knitwear-boots-hot-drinks vibe but I’m less keen on the greyness, so today I’m looking at things through rose-tinted glasses – or rather, rose-quartz-tinted glasses…

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Source: giphy

Sorry… But really, though, a bit of blush pink crystal is a nice way to brighten up a rainy day, so let’s take a look.

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Source: gfycat.com

What even is rose quartz?

  • It’s a type of oxide mineral.
  • It’s the second most abundant mineral in the Earth’s crust.
  • The name ‘quartz’ comes from the German for ‘hard’ (snigger snigger), and the ‘rose’ part is, of course, a reference to its pale pink hue.
  • It’s generally thought that rose quartz’s pink colour is due to trace amounts of titanium, iron, or manganese.
  • The colour is also photosensitive, so don’t leave your rose quartz pieces in direct sunlight for long periods of time if you want them to stay pink!

Myths, legends, and hidden meanings

From Ancient Egypt to modern crystal enthusiasts, rose quartz’s pretty pink colour and association with romance has created mystical ideas aplenty, but Ancient Greek and Roman myths are the most romantic.

The first is that rose quartz was the physical gift of love bestowed upon humans by Cupid/Eros, the Ancient Greek/Roman god of love. Alternatively, another Greek myth told that rose quartz gained its colour from the blood Aphrodite spilt trying to save her one true love, Adonis. Both lovers bled onto the stone, and this was meant to represent true love. Kinda gross, kinda romantic…

Either way, rose quartz has also been said over the years to have the properties of:

  • Resolving arguments
  • Preventing wrinkles
  • Bringing love into loveless situations
  • Signifying that a deal had been completed
  • Fostering compassion

Whether or not you believe in its special qualities, one thing that’s undeniable is rose quartz’s gorgeous blush pink colour, which has made it popular in designs throughout the centuries…

© 2008 GIA
Ancient Egyptian necklace made from rose quartz, emerald & ceramic. Royal Ontario Museum. Image by Robert Weldon.
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Sketch of a rose quartz earring by Charlotte Isabella Newman, 1860s. Image (c) Victoria & Albert Museum.

Adventures in stone-setting

As I mentioned in my New Year Goals post, a) I’m taking a stone-setting class to buff up (haha) my jewellery skills and b) my goal was to set one ring. When you say it like that it doesn’t sound that ambitious, but there are a few reasons why I may sound guilty of, well…

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First of all, it turns out that before you can set stones, you need to grind your tools into shape on a cool grinding wheel that makes sparks and everything. That bit was very exciting initially, but it was also REALLY, REALLY SLOW, because there’s one grinding wheel and…more than one person in the class. Also, you have to grind your cutting tools to fit your hand, and if you have tiny elf hands like me, that’s a whole lot of metal to grind off!

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All toolboxes look like this, right…?

Tools in hand, time to set a ring…right? Nope, because proper stone-setters do hardcore apprenticeships where they have to get used to tools, practise cutting, and learn to control to the drill before they’re even let near anything more interesting than brass plates. Luckily, it was only a few weeks of practice, but still, after one term I had not set a single ring, and I was a little disheartened. (Having missed 3 weeks for my honeymoon probably didn’t help either.)

I started this term aiming to set one whole ring and, lo and behold, I have set FOUR.

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They’re not perfect and some of them need a bit of cleaning up, but those stones aren’t moving ANYWHERE. So far I’ve fully set:

1) A simple 3mm circular stone in a rubover setting (cubic zirconia in silver):

 

2) A 9-stone eternity ring (2mm cubic zirconia; this one was HARD, hence the mess!):

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3) A four-claw oval ring (8x6mm; garnet and silver. These claws need more shaping but the stone is definitely not moving so I consider it set!):

 

4) A four-claw twisted circular ring (10mm; champagne cubic zirconia and silver. This one is NOT subtle!)

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And finally, a moment of silence for the TWO castings of the same ring I destroyed. The first time, I’d done a lovely job with the claws and in tidying them up I scored all the way across the gorgeous, dark blue CZ I’d just set.

 

The second time, keen to avoid damaging the stone during clean-up, I filed the claws too enthusiastically…down to basically nothing. At some point I will reset this stone, but I think I need some time to forget first!

 

Next up is the smaller version of my GIANT twisted ring above. The aim with this one is to be a little steadier with my drill and not create a dimple that then needs to be very carefully got rid of to avoid damaging the claw it’s gouged out of… I also have some exciting square rings to set, which is a more complex operation (hence the brass rings and very cheap CZ stone – no point throwing good stones after experimental work!)IMG_20180416_180044.jpg

 

It might not look like I’ve made a huge amount of progress in two terms, but I feel like I’ve already learnt a lot, including:

1) Stone-setting is simultaneously REALLY hard and really simple. The principles themselves are just logic and physics really, but mastering the techniques to a high standard takes years.

2) Filing is an art of its own. Before this course I was fairly adept at filing down a soldered seam, but that was about it. Watching my tutor filing a perfectly-shaped claw as smooth as silk in a matter of seconds in one of the first sessions floored me.

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3) I’m not naturally good at filing! So I guess what I have actually learnt here is to be patient…

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4) Being a bit behind and therefore towards the bottom of the class is not the worst thing in the world (much as my perfectionism likes to mutter otherwise). Everyone is going at their own pace and there’s no exam – I just need to do as much as I can.

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5) Homework doesn’t end when you finish formal education. Although we don’t have official homework, y own workshop doesn’t have a pendulum drill or grinding wheel, so the more rings I can prep between classes, the more time I have to actually set and benefit from the tutor’s expertise in class.

6) Practice absolutely does make perfect (I know, I didn’t want to hear it either!). My first claw ring took me 2 classes (5 hours) plus prep time outside class. My second was completed start to finish in one class, with a break in the middle to watch a demonstration of the next ring we’ll be attempting.

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What’s your achievement of the week? Bonus points if it’s jewellery-related!

 

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!

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!

Wear your heart on your sleeve (or neck, or finger, or ears)

I just designed another custom order, and it occurred to me that one of my favourite things about designing for a specific person is that it often allows people to physically wear their interests. The current design is music-themed (a customer after my own heart!), but I’ve recently created a few science and maths-themed pieces. These are in some ways more interesting for me because I’m an Arts girl, so it’s nothing I would ever design for myself.

The three bespoke STEM pieces I’ve made recently are:

  • A large ammonite necklace for my nature-loving grandma
  • An ammonite and amethyst lariat necklace for a Geology student’s ball
  • A set of mathematical symbol studs for a Maths student

The first piece was a commission for my grandma’s birthday. She’s a botanical artist married to a Wildlife Trust director, so she pretty much loves anything related to natural history and plant life. She also likes a statement necklace, so my grandad and I came up with this:

The smaller version of this ammonite necklace is one of the most popular in my Etsy store, so I wasn’t too surprised when I got a custom order enquiry about it, but I definitely wasn’t expecting such an interesting commission. The enquirer was a lovely Geology undergraduate called Mo who was hunting for a special piece for her graduation ball. She’d seen my ammonite necklace and was hoping for a themed necklace to go with the outfit she’d already bought.

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This was a really fun one, because I bloody love designing for specific outfits and occasions. Mo had chosen an absolute show-stopper – a dark purple, v-neck playsuit with a flowing train:

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With a dress that eye-catching, the necklace had to simultaneously match up to and not detract from the dress. An amethyst was the obvious option, and I chose a faceted stone to suggest natural minerals. Paired with the ammonite, it made an unusual, perfectly-themed choice:

The final STEM design I’ve done this season is a set of tiny, delicate, algebraic earrings and a nose stud for a Maths student. I love these, and was tempted to make some for myself, but I felt it might be a bit strange to wear symbols that have no meaning to me…

So, from my recent designing experience, it seems that students wear their interests more than graduates. I suppose this makes sense, since their whole daily lives are defined by their degree choice. ‘Theming yourself’ has another benefit though – it helps you find like-minded people. And, as a relatively-recent graduate myself, I also know how hard it is to meet adult friends once you leave university (or school, if you don’t take the uni route).

Suddenly, for the first time ever, you’re not surrounded by an immediate pool of your peers that you can fish friends out of. How are you supposed to tell if that likely-looking person in your office is actually interesting on a friend level without quizzing them like a creep? (Seriously, if anyone has the answer, let me know in the comments…)

Sometimes it’s easier to start a conversation if you already know you have an interest in common, and interest-based jewellery (or clothing, or accessories) is shorthand for similarly-inclined potential friends to read and start conversation:

Wear a quaver pendant and someone might pipe up, ‘What an unusual necklace, do you play an instrument?’

Ammonite necklace: ‘Ooh, do you like fossils?’

Mathematic symbol earrings: ‘Did you by any chance study maths?’

Boom, instant small talk and a foot in the door to talk to a potential friend (without feeling so weird). I know that probably sounds a bit forced, but there’s also possibility 2: they notice your pretty necklace, comment on how they like it, and you start a conversation about the meaning behind it and find out if you do or don’t have that topic in common. Or you’re already talking and you find something else you both like. Or you decide you hate them and can therefore avoid them. Whatever the outcome, your choice of accessory has enabled a conversation…

The best thing about Etsy is that there are so many wonderful artists you can find something to express your interests. If you can’t find exactly what you’re after, almost everyone will make a custom order if they can (as I may have mentioned before, they’re some of my own favourite design projects). This is just a tiny selection of the interest-based jewellery Etsy has to offer:

So get out there, let your stylish freak flag fly, and meet some fellow humans!

Busman’s Holiday: Making our own wedding rings

You may not know this, but I’m getting married in three months. I mean, I never talk about it in minute detail, because it’s definitely not a huge logistical undertaking I should be allowed to put on my CV to show my organisational skills…

Since we got engaged last year, I knew I wanted to make our wedding rings. There was just one problem: I’m a silversmith, and we wanted gold rings. Silver and gold don’t behave that differently, so I did consider just giving it a go, but there’s one big problem with gold compared to silver: it’s a lot more expensive if you mess it up.

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Imagine the scene: ‘Honey, I’m home! Say, what’s that melted lump on your workbench?’ ‘Oh, that? That’s the £300 of gold that was going to be your wedding ring – oopsy-daisy!’ Not ideal. The Goblin is also the fussiest human alive, and the risk of him having hitherto-unknown very strong feelings about the particular hammer pattern I’d used once the ring was done wasn’t really worth it.

Luckily for us, the JQ struck again in the form of The Quarterworkshop, where couples can make their own rings under the supervision of a professional jeweller, Victoria Delaney. I also thought it would be cool for The Goblin to see what I do and have a go himself (and hammer his own ring to his liking – wahey).

The first thing to do was decide on colour and size for our wedding rings, as well as come up with ideas for styles. Our engagement rings are cheap (albeit much-loved) place-holders for the real thing…and it shows. They’re 9ct white gold, with mine measuring in at 3mm wide and The Goblin’s at 5mm. Because of the composition of the metal, they were seriously dinged about within the first month of wearing, so we knew we needed to go with something a bit more permanent and lasting for our wedding rings (how appropriate!).

I decided to slim my ring down to 2mm whilst The Goblin stuck with 5. We both liked the D-shaped profiles of our current rings, so those stayed, meaning that when we got to Victoria’s (adorable!) workshop, this is what was waiting for us:

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Seriously, though, how cute is this workshop space?!

After some coffee and a chat about designs, we got stuck into annealing, cutting and shaping – all just another day for me but really fun to have an experienced goldsmith directing the process and giving hints and tips.

Victoria also introduced me to a method of shaping and cutting through the seam (the bit where you make the ends of the ring line up so you can join them together) which was waaaay simpler and quicker than the one I was taught. Definitely going to be using that on my pieces in future! The Goblin had a lovely time shaping, soldering and filing his ring, and took it all very seriously. Look at this concentration:

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Then came the really fun bit: playing with hammers. The Goblin knew he wanted a subtle hammered effect, but I was torn between hammering and engraving, so we both spent a fair while whacking aluminium with the huge range of hammers in the workshop to find the right pattern.

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I decided to go with engraving in the end and am having a bramble pattern engraved on mine, so I started polishing it ready for engraving whilst The Goblin started beating his up with great glee.

After a lot of hammering (probably The Goblin’s favourite part of the day) and getting covered in polish, we admired our creations:

The rings are now off to be hallmarked with the Brum Assay Office anchor mark, which we love – wherever we move in the future, we’ll always be wearing a bit of the JQ! I can’t wait to see mine once it’s all hallmarked and engraved (I’ll post an update picture here when it arrives). We had a lush day making our rings and would definitely recommend it to anyone else looking for something a bit different for their rings. As The Goblin’s ring shows, no prior knowledge is necessary!

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All pictures are by Victoria Delaney © The Quarterworkshop, apart from the ones of our engagement rings.

Update: the rings are ready! How amazing is the engraving on mine – I would kill for that level of skill…

The Pearly Queen

Recently, I’ve had a lot of comments about (and orders for) my Tudor coin necklace; more than I was expecting, actually. Originally the necklace was more of a fun, nostalgic, ‘hey-look-it’s-that-coin-I-saved-from-Kentwell’ design I did on a whim than an homage to Tudor style itself, but people have really responded to it. Turns out people love a bit of Tudors (who knew?!), so I started thinking about how to incorporate Tudor influences into new designs.

The first thing most people think of when you mention Tudor jewellery is vast numbers of pearls, but why the sudden pearl explosion? The first reason is scarcity (or perceived scarcity). After all, what shows wealth and status better than something someone may very well have died trying to pull out of a sea creature? Interestingly, by the 1580s pearls were actually flooding across the Atlantic from the ‘land of pearls’, as North America became known. Fortunately for contemporary privateers and merchants, instead of devaluing the gems, this supply surprisingly did the opposite. Not only were pearls still fantastically expensive, they were now attainable in vast quantities, the better to adorn your way to the top.

The other reason for pearls’ PR boost in the British Isles towards the end of the 16th century was the reign of Elizabeth I, aka The Virgin Queen. For centuries, pearls have been associated with purity and perfection; in Ancient Greek lore, pearls were formed from the droplets of water which rolled off Aphrodite as she emerged from the sea.

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As Elizabeth built her image as the virginal monarch married to her country, symbolism was paramount, and pearls, with their centuries of pure connotations and their glowing luxury, were the perfect fit. She put them on everything, and ensured they featured in every portrait:

However, even this the Pearly Queen couldn’t always afford the vast quantity of precious stones needed for the desired, so the smaller pearls on her clothes were sometimes fake. You’d think this would be an obvious switch, but fake pearls (made from glass or nacre) were actually so common and of such relatively high quality in the 16th century that they were banned in Venice because of the danger they posed to the pearl traders.

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The Tudor obsession with pearls both spawned some truly gorgeous pieces and fed into new trends.

Bracelets came back into vogue in the late 16th century, after having been largely neglected since the early medieval period, and many were made of (you guessed it) strings of pearls:

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Late-medieval and early-Tudor headdresses also gave way to the ferronière, strings of pearls or jewels which festooned elaborate hairstyles:

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And finally, a post on Tudor pearls wouldn’t be complete without mentioning Mary I’s famous La Peregrina, the gratuitously large gem which eventually ended up around Elizabeth Taylor’s neck:

 

Sources:

  • Stoned, Aja Raden
  • Jewellery From Antiquity To The Present, Clair Phillips
  • 7000 Years of Jewellery, Hugh Tait