I’ve been making jewelry and doing other metalsmithing over the past five years. When I started, I was just playing around; I had no idea it would lead to me doing as much as I am now. I didn’t know it would lead to me equipping a studio of my own. But that’s where I am.
In my first career, I was a software developer, and spent many years at various Silicon Valley startups.
As a fairly new jeweler/metalsmith/artist, it’s difficult enough putting up my work for public view, especially when you have people like Jim Grahl, and so many others here whose work is simply stunning both aesthetically and technically. But Jim personally encouraged me to do this. So I will.
I’ll start with some of my early pieces, and add to those in subsequent posts.
This is a copper and silver concho hatband I made for my wife around April 2012. One of the first things I found exciting was texturing metal, and I used my regular tool chest ball-peen to form the copper backs. For the sterling hearts, I figured out a way to do some simple casting – I hand-shaped hearts from paraffin, set them in plaster of Paris to create a mold; I melted out the wax, filled the form with casting grain, and used my plumber’s blowtorch to melt the metal. The one thing I’d definitely do differently now (because I didn’t have the equipment or knowledge then) is hard solder the hearts to the backs. These are soft soldered – lead-free solder, of course, but still soft.
The hatband (using traditional brain-tanned deerskin):
And the hat:
More later. Thanks again for the encouragement Jim.
Ya know, If there hadn’t been a previous dialogue about the time and background you have in this game…
I’d have thought these well done, and by a pro.
Please step back and acknowledge your eye for seeing balance and creativity in achieving the metalworking to get to the end product…
Your thinking alone is an asset to us all.
Hi Alec, Thanks for sharing. Looks great.
I enjoyed your solution for casting the hearts.
Jim, thank you. You’re too kind. And Doug, thank you as well.
Thank you Betsy. I realized I left something out. Looking back, it’s funny, but not so much at the time – the first time I melted the sterling casting grain in a mold, I didn’t know how it would behave. I didn’t anticipate that it would bead up like a blob of mercury. So I made another block of plaster of Paris, just a blank surface, sanded the surfaces of the mold blocks and the blank one using 120 grit sand paper so they were very flat. Then, once I had melted the silver in the mold, and while it was still liquid, I capped it with the flat block to force the metal into the mold.
These are one-shot molds. You can see how the plaster fractures in the bottom frame. But sometimes this leads to some great texture on the piece as well.
I played around with a number projects in copper, mostly just practice pieces. A friend asked me to make him some large conchos for a belt. These were relatively simple, but a good exercise in making several objects of consistent size and shape:
It may be interesting for some to know that the name for these items is" conchA", not “conchO”. I The name concha comes from the Spanish language and neans “shell”. The misnomer that has become popular for these ornaments however is “conchO”. Substituting the “O” for the “A”. as you might expect, changes the meaning of the word. The word many people have come to use to refer to these pieces changes it to the Spanish word for “dregs”, as in the gunk at the bottom of a coffee cup, or the “dregs of society”, as a reference to the lowest strata. This in my opinion is insulting to those who craft these magnificent examples of Southwest American Indian craftsmanship.
Jerry in Kodiak, (a long time admirer if SW Indian silver)
In case you’re not familiar with it, an easy, low tech and great way to do one-off pieces with cool texture is making cuttlefish molds (you can sometimes find the cuttlefish at pet shops – beak conditioners for birds). Works great (but stinks to high heaven until the heat dissipates!).
I’m familiar with cuttlebone (though I didn’t know about the smell during heating). My wife has a beautiful bracelet from Norman Bia, made from joined pieces of forged and cuttle-cast silver. I like the paraffin & plaster molds because it is so easy to work with the wax, and mistakes can be easily fixed, whereas a slip of the carving knife in cuttlebone is essentially permanent.
But yes, very cool texture.
Moving away from copper…
Eventually, I gained enough confidence (or suffered enough frustration) to buy my first jeweler’s torch. I bought a Smith Little Torch with an oxygen tank and caddy, and learning to use it made such a difference in what I could achieve.
The bangle bracelet below is what I consider my first serious undertaking. It’s a 1-inch 14 gauge sterling band, with 12 gauge rivets in 14K yellow, green, and pink gold. I have to say, I was nervous as hell, because I spent more on the materials than I had on anything before, and knew it was going to be a stretch for me.
Texturing this piece was fun. I spun it on my wood lathe at high speed, and ran a Dremel buffing pad at 90-degrees to the rotation of the bracelet.
Very nice! I’m pretty much a beginner too, and you’ve inspired me to try something similar to make a belt. So I’m curious how did you attach the conchas to the leather? Are they fixed or on slides?
Good Morning Peggy,
Concha belts have various means of stringing together. Typical the traditional belt was a soft flat leather strip that was threaded through the triangular holes as shown in Alec’s photo. This was more of a sash as the leather was left Long and was soft and tied on. The points of the triangles help hold the conchas in place. Eventually the sash became a belt. The conchas were tied on individually or laced on with a continuous latigo laced through the belt and the conchas pulling them together.
A loop or bale soldered to the back is great for silver conchas on bridles. Holes for ties is/are great for attaching to flat leather work like bags and holsters.
In recent times the conchas became larger plates with rivets attached that is set through the belt and held in place by everything from cotter pins, peaning the tabs, to threaded fasteners.
I have made them using the sash method for women’s wear. Loops for belts, bridles and headstalls, and guitar straps.
Mine are never heavier than 20 ga. In thickness. Alec’s copper hat band is great work. The look is perfect and for that much metal on a first time try copper would be my choice well.
Probably stuff you already know but have a great time with this.
Thank you. Don got it exactly right off the bat. In my case, the person I made this for ran a leather strip through the triangular holes.
Looking forward to seeing what you create. Please show us when you’re done.
…Thanks for the tip… was about to try that…think I’ll go outside to do it. I am a novice-hobbyist and you have saved my life from the pain and suffering from my most excellent other for ‘stinking up the laundry room’ …&
Very helpful info, Don. I started some items in my first metalsmithing classes, but didn’t complete them due to the practical issues of attaching them. Well, that and just I was in over my head in the project I chose to start out with. They have just been sitting there making me feel guilty, even though I know I can now comfortably finish them with the skills I’ve worked on since then. This has given me some new directions to get them off the bench. Thanks.
The attached concha is one my Dad made in 1940. Sterling, 18 GA. With a bridge bale. That is placed onto a guitar strap and it remains secure.
Great pieces, I really like your thinking when it comes to form, texture and attachment methods.
Continuing to learn how to solder, and still finding my own style… This was my first piece using cabs and bezels, an orange chalcedony bracelet. At the time, I didn’t have a disc cutter, so all the backs were cut by hand and then trimmed and filed. I also hand-formed all the figure-8 links. The clasp is a modified lentil style – if I were to do this again, I’d dome one side so it would be identical in shape to the stones.
One of the things I’m enjoying about sharing these pieces here is reflecting on how much time it took to make them, and knowing that I could be so much more efficient (not to mention doing a better job) today. Half my time was spent just figuring out how to do things. I worked with my dad a lot when I was a kid, and one of his sayings was “By the time we’re finished with this project, we’ll know how to do it.” How true.
Sufficiently emboldened that I might actually be starting to know what I’m doing, I ventured into solid gold pieces. A couple of earrings in 18K yellow gold. Both of these were primarily exercises in shape and texture.
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The layout on the left is me trying to minimize waste with that very expensive gold. Ultimately, I ended up using many of the leftovers without much modification. But that’s another picture for another post.