Giovanni Corvaja granulation workshop

(Some of) you may remember my post a few weeks back about an
upcoming granulation workshop being given by master goldsmith
Giovanni Corvaja. The workshop was held June 20-25 in Clyde, NC, at
the Haywood Community College Continuing Education facility. It was
a huge success, inspiring everyone who attended, especially two
attendees, Mountain Metalsmith Association members who wrote
articles relating their experiences. These articles follow for those
of you interested in how the workshop went.

Giovanni Corvaja Granulation Workshop

By Ruthie Cohen

In the fall of 2001, the members of Mountain Metalsmiths Association
of Clyde, NC were approached by Arch Gregory, director of the Metals
Program at Haywood Community College and MMA member, on the
possibility of taking a 5-day workshop with Giovanni Corvaja. This
extremely talented jeweler is internationally renowned for his
ability to stretch the technological envelope of the ancient process
of granulation to a new level of contemporary design. Instead of a
lump of charcoal and a blow torch to create miniscule granules of 22
karat gold and platinum, Giovanni was responsible for designing a
graphite crucible, a graphite ingot mold, and also a small portable
kiln and ceramic crucible in conjunction with industrial
manufacturers. A microscope and a “super-charged” water torch are
also part of his studio tools as wires in gold alloys and platinum
are drawn down to microscopic thickness. All of these achievements
and he’s still only 31 years old. Phew!!

Of course the MMA jumped on the opportunity. For many of the
participants, it meant sacrificing a block of time and money, but
all thought the chance of adding another technique to their
repertoire was well worth it. What made matters easier was the
generous sponsorship by Myron Toback, Inc., a NY supplier of metal,
findings and tools. When approached as a source for .9999 pure 24
karat gold and fine silver casting grain, Michael Toback incredibly
offered to sell the materials at cost to the group and even sent a
care package with assorted aids for the granulation process. That
generosity was greatly appreciated.

Day One of the Granulation Workshop at the HCC Continuing Education
Jewelry Studio was an amusing sight as 10 participants dragged in
assorted torches, flex shafts, files, saws, and other miscellaneous
hand tools in various containers. Since no one knew what to expect,
the jewelers brought just about everything that was portable from
their respective studios. This was quite a collection of tools.
Giovanni proceeded to lecture on the theory and process of
granulation. His humor twinkled through his highly technical lesson
and the group found him generous in sharing knowledge and patient as
he was bombarded with many questions. He brought some incredibly
complex samples of his work with him, and distributed reference
material and a cd for the participants to keep.

Each succeeding day seemed to fly by. The workshop members had to
construct their own kilns from firebrick and binding wire. The
debris level in the lapidary area and outside rose as participants
were filing and grinding the firebrick and ceramic crucibles into
the correct shapes. Even the sidewalk outside the studio was used to
grind the firebrick into fitting tightly together. However, cleanup
was orderly and thorough to make room for the next stage in the
process. Giovanni showed all how to alloy gold and fine silver.
Calculators and digital scales were quickly whipped out to measure
out exact amounts of casting grain. After melting the alloys down,
the ingots were drawn into wire and sheet with a rolling mill and

Then came Firing Day. Charcoal powder was dried out and layered into
the graphite crucibles with tiny snippets of various alloys. The
loaded kilns were then fired up with assorted torches. The jewelry
studio in the Continuing Ed building is not air conditioned so the
participants sat in a row; sweat dripping as they all stared into
the kilns watching swirls of fire heat up the crucibles. It was
gratifying to see these assorted jewelers work cohesively together
to go through the various processes. Under the expert guidance of
Giovanni, the jewelers talked each other through the initial
meltdown of the alloy into the ingot mold and then the firing of the
assembled kilns. Hi-fiving it on a successful melt was a humorous
reaction. Constant discussion was involved to check on the progress
of the kiln firings. Comments like “burn that carbon plume to get
rid of the fumes,” “crack the lid a little, your flame is too
hot.”“have I reached 800 degrees Celsius yet?” “May I borrow your
sunglasses, this light is too bright,” “Is it time to maintain
temperature for 20 minutes yet?” drifted through the sweltering
heat. Obviously all dressed for comfort, not fashion, and water was
copiously consumed. The assorted torches and tanks were generously
shared by all. If one ran out of gas, another was quickly offered to
keep the kilns up to temperature.

The moment of truth arrived as each jeweler emptied their graphite
crucible into water. The tiny balls of gold or silver were examined
for consistency of shape and size. The results were shown to
Giovanni and with a discussion of how the firing went helped each
jeweler for the next one. Then Giovanni showed all how to apply the
tiny granules onto the sheet using a fine brush and glue made up of
copper carbonate, gum Arabic, and distilled water. This was after
purifying the sheet and balls a few times by heating them up with a
torch and then putting into the pickle and a final cleaning with
distilled water. A reducing flame brushed the metal carefully placed
on scored charcoal blocks. They were heated up until the balls
flashed as they fused to the base metal, then doused in the pickle.
Giovanni coached all individually for this step and then louped each
sample to see how successful the fusion was. Various jewelers in the
group then proceeded to explore the fusion process in terms of their
individual styles. It was intriguing to see how each translated the
process onto a pendant, accenting some rings, earrings, and even a
granulated cabochon made of 18k gold.

All the participants in this workshop knew that they were having a
phenomenal experience. No one wanted to leave each day and Giovanni
was quite generous in sharing his knowledge and time with the group.
He would not stop working until the last person finished for the
day. The hours were supposed to be from 9 to 5. Each day started
earlier and ended later as enthusiasm mounted. People started to
work at 8:15am and quitting at 6 or 6:30 pm was common. The
camaraderie amongst the participants was amazing and even Giovanni
commented on it. After the final cleanup on the last day, various
emails and addresses were exchanged and a celebratory dinner was
held at a local restaurant in Asheville. What a wonderful experience
that workshop was. Everyone who participated came away with a lot of
knowledge, not only for granulation, but also in other steps of
creating jewelry. All agreed that they couldn’t wait for the next
year’s Mountain Metalsmiths Association Workshop.

Giovanni Corvaja Granulation Workshop

By Celia Kudro

Maniac. Meticulous. Genius. Three words used repeatedly by those of
us attending the five-day granulation workshop held this month at
Haywood Community College Continuing Education Campus with the
master Italian goldsmith, Giovanni Corvaja.

Giovanni Corvaja has built an impressive body of work that has been
exhibited internationally to incredible accolades usually reserved
for an artist much older than his tender 31 years. He studied for
two years at the Royal College of Art in London (where he met his
wife Jaqueline Ryan, also a goldsmith) and studied before that at
the Pietro Selvatico high school for the arts in Padua under
Francesco Pavan, a master of the famous Paduan school of goldsmiths.
Giovanni’s present works are at the cutting edge of technology and
he is pressing the very limits of metal itself; for example, drawing
down platinum wire to a diameter of 5 microns, one quarter the
diameter of a human hair. He has designed and uses a sapphire hammer
and anvil in order to forge platinum in such a way that it retains a
shiny surface on the impossible to polish, delicate pieces he is

Being a master goldsmith, Giovanni insists on being a “purist”. He
alloys all his own metals (excluding platinum, at least at this
point in time) and has even constructed pieces that contain as many
as 26 different alloys of 18K white, yellow, and red gold! He will
often work months on a single piece.

His foray into granulation came about quite by accident when he
entered and won a competition calling for the modern application of
the ancient Etruscan art. He was then asked to give a workshop. This
resulted in a large amount of research in order to unlock the
secrets of the ancient discipline and finally arrive at the likely
process that was used nearly 3000 years ago. In order to duplicate
the process, it was necessary for him to design both a kiln and a
proper crucible to maintain the temperatures necessary as well as
the reducing atmosphere to form perfectly round granules. Having
perfected the technique, he is now graciously passing it on through
the workshops he conducts all around the world.

The granulation workshop began first with a lecture on the
metallurgy involved in the granulation process and then moved on to
the manufacture of both gold and silver ingots. Ingots were prepared
by beginning with .9999 gold and .999 silver. Giovanni gave the
class formulas for several 18K alloys of various colors as well as
22K. Each participant made on average three ingots: 18K, 22K, and
Fine Silver. Several participants made sterling and one made and 18K
red alloy as well. The ingots were then rolled into sheet to form
the base and drawn into wire that was then snipped into small bits
to form the balls for the granulation. The small pieces of metal
were then layered with charcoal powder in the special graphite
crucible designed by Giovanni. The firing process takes about 1 hour
total including the necessary 20 minutes at the desired temperature
for the individual metal-and the granules are ready. Granules are
"fixed" to the base with natural “glue” consisting of Gum Arabic
mixed with Copper Carbonate or Silver Carbonate for white gold (as
the fusing agents) and finally fused.

Throughout the course of the workshop, Giovanni was generous with
everyone, dispensing both bench tips and advice for improving
metalworking techniques many areas including torch handling,
annealing, and wire drawing. It is clear that he passed along a
great deal more to the participants than just the process of

Giovanni Corvaja came to the Mountain Metalsmiths Association’s
workshop by quite a stroke of good luck. Chris Weston, a Haywood
metals program graduate and MMA member, was seeking to further his
knowledge by studying in Europe. The school he chose was the very
same high school for the arts, Pietro Selvatico, that Giovanni
attended (they do accept a certain number of adult students). Chris
understandably became quite a fan of Giovanni and his wife
Jaqueline’s work and encouraged the director of the metals program,
Arch Gregory, to come to Padua and see the work and meet Giovanni,
Jacueline, and Frncesco Pavan for himself. Arch made the trip last
year along with Wendy Sloan and Roya Tadayon and the rest, as they
say, is history. As Giovanni planned to attend and present a
demonstration in conjunction with the SNAG conference in Colorado
this year, a trip and a presentation at Haywood would be arranged to
coincide with it!

Speaking for those who took the workshop, it was a truly special
pleasure to study under such a kind and generous instructor as
Giovanni Corvaja.

Sharon, It was wonderful of you to share with us, the experience that
Ruthie and Cecelia wrote about in the workshop with Giovanni
Corvaja. I met him at SNAG and found him to be quite humble and
unassuming for such a large talent. I must admit to feeling envious
of your wonderful experience, even with the heat and the sweat! Thank
you for taking the time to bring this event to the forum to share
with all! Susan Ronan Coronado, CA