Dear Jessica, To cut or not to cut, that is the question… I’m for
the curved cut-out because I’m a professional jeweller. I work with
precious materials. I simply cannot afford to let my platinum and
gold and silver filings fall on the floor where they are going to be
walked all over the workshop, dissipated and lost. Then there’s the
little gems that are difficult enough to find when they do fall onto
my tray or into my basil skin, let alone onto the floor!
To further tax our collective habits, how many of us prefer the use
of a basil skin or a flat shelf beneath our cutout? Personally, I
prefer both and have modified my bench so that I have a shelf with a
smaller cut-out, beneath which is tacked my basil skin. Because I am
also a diamond setter, any small gems that I drop tend to roll
predictably into a specific area or fold of the basil skin which
makes them easier to find.
Despite some post-modernist opinions to the contrary, there isn’t
too much wrong with tradition when it comes to vocational practice. I
recently saw a contemporary, beautifully designed jeweller’s bench
(oh, and it had a cut out, by the way) with a fancy turntable built
into one of the shelves, and all sorts of dinky little accessories -
and it costs over $5000 Australian. It was wonderful, and if I was
starting afresh, I’d be tempted. As an extra I could spend a further
$1500 on a state of the art LED lighting system instead of making do
with a common old incandescent light bulb or fluorescent light - or,
heaven forbid, that totally free resource, daylight.
I teach a range of master classes in technique within the jewellery
industry and also do some teaching for advanced amateurs. There are
few things more frustrating than to turn up at a venue to run a
jewellery class and be confronted with nothing but a row of
rectangular tables to work at. At one stage of a demonstration
recently I was kneeling on the floor, attempting to hold metal
against the corner of the table so that I could get my file around
it! (I know, I’m stupid to put up with this)
For the flat benchers, my reference above to “basil skin” may seem
arcane. A basil skin is a softly-flexible sheep skin which is
traditionally tacked to the underside of the jeweller’s cut-out bench
top to collect filings and fallings. The word “basil” is a jeweller’s
version of the older word “basan” which you will find in your Oxford
dictionary described as “a sheepskin tanned in oak or larch bark”.
Rex Steele Merten.