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Competition thoughts


A couple of thousand years ago, I used to know an executive chef of
a five star hotel. He was a master in his craft and amongst many
conversations we had, he mentioned something that he had to do when
he was an apprentice.

It was called the ‘mystery box’ Basically, the students were given
identical boxes with various food ingredients in it and given a set
time to produce a dish of their choice.

I have always wondered if one could apply this to goldsmithing.
Imagine four identical benches, identical tools, some common tools,
and a mix of metals, say,some bar, wire, tubing, two or three stones
and two hours to do the job. You can make anything you wish, but it
must be finished at the end of the allotted time. No finish, no win.
I suggested this to a goldsmithing friend of mine and he became
quite upset and he said that you can’t make any 'important’
jewellery in two hours.

I agree, you can’t make a Faberge Egg or some of the jewellery the
IT’s (immense talents) that are the sages on this forum make in any
short time. But you can make some seriously cool jewellery in (say)
two hours.

I know of some hot, hot jewellers on this forum,like the jeweller
who can make a seven stone diamond and emerald eternity ring, pave
set, in an hour and a half, from melt to ultrasonic cleaning. Tough
to beat in speed, but no great design—

The mystery box would level the playing field, I imagine, by giving
an advantage to design, resourcefulness, technique over straight
skill, maybe. I don’t know.

I mean, it would be difficult to make an eternity ring if only one
stone was in the box.

So any jeweler’s main skill would be ‘flattened’ and their comfort
zone would be altered.

Anyone know of this kind of competition in the jewellery field? Would
be great to see the results, and compete, for that matter.

Cheers, Hans Meevis


I remember being “challenged” to make a piece of jewelry. The
conditions were do it as cheap as possible and as fast as possible.
Took a nickle silver spoon which I had paid about fifty cents and
forty five minutes of time, cut teeth into the spoon part (think
jack-o-lantern) bent the handle back around and inserted into the
"teeth. The handle now formed a bail. Called it “The Secret Life of a
Neurotic Spoon”. Eventually got $85.00 for it. I won. Twice! Still
have a box full of old spoons.

I think some kind if competition like this would be a riot. It would
certainly shake one out of the traditional jewelry mentality. It
might turn into what I call “throwing metal at the wall”. I encourage
my students do things like this. It is a good way to keep from doing
things that end up looking like all the other jewelry catalogs and
stores. Another diamond ring. Ho Hum.

I would think two hours is a lot of time to have. Nothing like last
minute panic to stir the juices.

Bill Churlik

Imagine four identical benches, identical tools, some common
tools, and a mix of metals, say,some bar, wire, tubing, two or
three stones and two hours to do the job. You can make anything
you wish, but it must be finished at the end of the allotted time.
No finish, no win.


I think that sounds like a great idea. I used to do a "grab bag"
exercise with friends when I lived in Austin. We’d prepare grab
bags by simply dumping beads/gem stones, faceted or cabachon, left
over wire, scrap metal etc. in a big box. Each person would close
their eyes and reach in and take out a handfull of “stuff” and put
it in a brown paper sack (no looking.) Then all bags would be
placed in one spot and shifted around so nobody would know which bag
they had filled. Then each person would simply take a bag from the
bunch and the fun would then begin. We allowed ourselves to use
solder if necessary and we could add jump rings and bezel wire too,
but that was about all the extra freedom we enjoyed.

There were no winners, no losers - just a lot of fun and laughs but
some amazing creations came out of that little exercise. Amazing
what you can do when you have limited ingredients. Really does force
you to think out of the box. Most of the time what we created could
be viewed as a “mock up” and sometimes the designs were so unique
that we would go home and later actually make a finished version of
the “mock up”.

I sometimes do the same thing to myself here at home. I simply
limit the time and materials I’ll work with - or may restrict myself
to one color, or one shape and see what I can turn up with.
Sometimes I just do sketches, sometimes I make mock ups, but almost
always something good comes from this exercise.


That sounds like Iron Chef: Goldsmith. You could host it at historic
Lapidary Stadium. It would be fun to watch!

Courtney Graham Hipp
cgHipp Jewelry Designs


I really enjoyed your letter about seeing what a jeweler could come
up with in a specified period of time using basic tools and a
limited number of materials. This is the kind of realistic testing
that ought to be employed in most universities. We have a university
in our area and lately it was announced that members of the football
team were going to be made to write a lucid and grammatic essay in
twenty minutes. I never did hear what the outcome was, but I did
hear a lot of moaning and groaning.

Your approach has actually been utilized by some jewelry companies
here in the 'States in the form of making a job applicant perform as
many jewelry and/or repair jobs as he could in a specified period of
time. “The proof is in the pudding”…

Ron Mills, Mills Gem Co. Los Osos, Ca.

Hans -

I remember once a long time ago reading an article about a
competition like that in beads. Everyone who entered received the
identical box of beads and had a set time to produce something in.
I recall that the results were so astonishingly different and how
interesting each piece was while being so different from every other

But I have not heard of anything similar recently.

It could be interesting if you wanted to be the energy center for
something like that.


Hans, I know you have a great idea here. Many years ago, I did this
with beaders. Each got the same variety of beads and thread, clasps,
etc. and were given time to “create.” No two were the same.

I’d be happy to do this with silver.

This calls to mind a wonderful annual (I hope) fun activity
conducted in recent years by the Long Island Craft Guild
(LICG),whose members work in: ceramics, glass (hot; warm and cold),
metal arts–including jewelry- fiber, graphics, leather,sculpture
and wood. Some artists work in more than one medium, others work in
only one. This particular annual activity draws the disparate
members of the craft community together to participate in creative
endeavors either within their field of expertise or outside of it.
Here’s how it works: An organizantion known as the Association for
Resource Conservation, Inc. which sells or donates scrap and
surplus for creative use through its Materials Resource Center,
donates a quantity of surplus scrap of all sorts to the LICG. On
the appropriate day, members converge at a designated meeting place
where the assorted surplus goods are set out on several tables.
After that it’s each one for him/her-self. Total activity time runs
about 4-5 hours including lunch. Nobody expects to create a
masterpiece, but it’s a great interactive, inter-craft activity
with surprising results. Odd bits of paper and fabric have blossomed
into pop-up books; yarn and computer parts have turned into wearable
jewelry; window-blind parts and plastic scrap have evolved into
decorative lamps; anything at all has become whimsical
sculpture…etc. Many of us who have been chained to one medium
have seen possibilities in breaking out into another one, or
improving our outlook in our own medium. It’s like being back in
kindergarten without the restraints of institutionslized teaching.
There is no soldering, but wire-twisting tools and other basic tools
abound. It’s a great way of meeting your fellow crafters (some of
whom are well-known) and exchanging pleasantries and ideas with them
in an informal, non-competitive setting.


When I was in college our metals instructor was an absolute genius
when it came to competitions for us. One that I remember in
particular was a sort of relay race. The cla ss was divided into
teams consisting of 3 people. Each team had a piece of silver,
jeweler’s saw, ring mandrel, solder, torch etc. The object was to
see which team could complete a ring the fastest.

The first person on the team had to saw out the ring, pass it to the
second team mate who had to form it. When it was formed it was
passed to the next team member who had to solder it. We all had a lot
of fun.

Another competition was to create a piece of jewelry that had as many
cold connections as one could work into it. We were given a weekend
to complete this project. I still have the one I made, and when my
mind goes blank as to how I made, for example a universal joint, I
can refer to my piece.


I would be delighted to provide a space for something like this to
happen. I have room for about 12 - 15 people and enough equipment to
serve all at my studio here in Asheville. Hey, the southeast metal
benders verses…!

Bill Churlik

 Would be great to see the results, and compete, for that matter. 

A “mystery box” competition would, indeed, be stimulating. If it
were I, I would prefer, say, 24 hours, to make it more about
inventiveness and less about pressure, but a 2 or 3-hour task would
be pretty cool, too. You never know what you might be able to do
until you have to. My local guild is hosting SNAG next year-- I
wonder whether there would be any way to work something like this


Threads magazine does an annual “challenge” for which they pick
three admired and well-known garment designers. They send them each
the same box of stuff and give them a limited time (not two hours!)
to come up with some unique use. Usually there are parameters, e.g.
the outfit must be something that can, with strategic
subtractions/additions, switch from day-wear to evening wear.

This isn’t really a competition, because there are no winners. What
I like best is that each designer must write about the process she
went through in coming up with her design. I would love to see Orchid
sponsor something like this. I think many (most?) of us could learn a
tremendous amount. I really feel the dearth of descriptions of the
actual design processes used by the “masters.”

Lisa Orlando
Aphrodite’s Ornaments
Elk, CA


That’s my home town! Count me in, Bill. Will there be wax in the bag?

Chuck Hunner in Asheville

    Anyone know of this kind of competition in the jewellery
field? Would be great to see the results, and compete, for that

I don’t know of one – I don’t think it exists, but it sounds great.
Line up some corporate sponsors, put it on during another even like
a trade show.

Or…call the TV stations, sounds like a great reality TV show!

Elaine Luther
Metalsmith, Certified PMC Instructor
Hard to Find Tools for Metal Clay


If I told you what was in the bag would that not be letting the
"cat" out of the bag? Lets see, there is Delft casting materials,
sand casting, and the light speed investments. Yes casting could be
an option. Maybe one could use sticky wax to hold a stone on the nose
or ear lobe. Am I in trouble yet?

Bill Churlik

I would be delighted to provide a space for something like this to
happen. I have room for about 12 - 15 people and enough equipment
to serve all at my studio here in Asheville. Hey, the southeast
metal benders verses....! 


All you need to do know is sell this idea to the Discovery Channel -
“Southeast Metal Benders” vrs the “Cold Canadian Connectors” -
couldn’t be any less interesting than say Choppers or Monster Garage
could it?


A teacher had a “design competition.” Everyone was invited to dump
out their junk drawer, bring it to class and put it in the communal
pile. We were to make something, not restricted to jewelry, but “body
ornamentation,” from anything found in the pile. We had to use cold
connections (being allowed to solder would have opened up more
possibilities). We made wonderful things from springs, clips, wire,
paper, plastic, bottlecaps, pull tabs, fishing lures, chain, oil
clamps, pens, hardware, just to name a few things. Wonderful exercise
to get us to think “outside the box,” and lots of fun. We were
restricted to individual efforts, but after all the fun we had when
we got together to demonstrate how the body ornamentation could be
used, ribald comments and just inspirational observations, the only
thing that could have made it better was to have worked in teams so
we could play off each others’ ideas. Sounds like a fun competition
that could be incorporated at an Orchid get-to-gether, perhaps at the
annual dinner in Tuscon?


I find it interesting that you mention the Discovery Channel! It
came up during the class today. The folks were relating our
discussion on bronze castings to some things that they had seen on
the channel. (One lady wants to do small bronze sculptures in the
near future. I just happened to get the furnace running today after
too many years of it sitting in storage. Guess what, the new
crucibles arrived today too! Saturday’s casting class may get a real
show if I can get a model done up in time.)

Maybe the Discovery Channel… Maybe we really need to pursue this
idea. It can be entertainment as well as education and most of all
publicity for our art/craft. Logos on the hammer handles…Nah…
that would interfere with my feel of the handle…

CCC, nice.

Bill Churlik

Bill and All,

Casting sounds like fun, considering it’s already my bag. Let’s get
some junk drawer donations too. Uncontrolled randomness works for me.
It might be even fun to put scraps of paper in the bags with a
concept written on them. Each competition piece could be required to
portray a specific concept.

Now it’s my turn:

Am I in trouble yet?

Chuck in Asheville


I like this idea for a TV show: “Junk Drawer Wars” We need one
American and one Australian commentator! (Or at least someone who
can fake an accent.)

Eugene C. Gentile (Gino)
National Accounts Manager
Hoover & Strong, Inc.