Thursday, March 13, 2008


It’s hard to believe that in this complicated world, something so seemingly inconsequential as a piece of jewelry can trigger an alarm. Why is that? I think it’s because we all become attached to our jewelry. It’s personal. It’s worn representationally and sentimentally as a part of us or a piece of art and it’s on our body. It symbolizes the “me” in me.
That’s why I’ve become so accustomed to those frantic phone calls at the most unexpected times. Like on Sunday, from Mike: “I Lost My Earring, I never took it off, can you rush me a new one?", or “A Taxi ran over my key chain you made on Park Avenue, can you fix it?”, or “Can you make my necklace again? It was stolen; I never took it off until I had that mud bath and I never saw it again”. Just yesterday my friend Hal called with an amusing story: I've become his personal jeweler over the years, even repairing the pieces I didn't originally make him. Apparently he was scratching his neck while driving and caught his favorite saphire necklace under his thumb. He pulled it, the chain broke and all the little pieces went flying inside his car. I can just see him stopping his car, arms flailing, trying to find all the little pieces and causing a traffic jam in the middle of NYC. Of course, I got that phone call accompanied by a Fedex package the next day.
I understand the need to have that talisman, that lifeline. It becomes so personal and it’s all in a piece of jewelry.
I like to think I’m here to create your “armor” for life. That personal, symbolic, protective icon. And when there’s a jewelry emergency, just remember, I’m here for you.

Monday, March 10, 2008


We’ve all had delays and miscommunication in our tasks at hand. Recently I had a tiff with a client when her ring was not finished due to unforeseen complications: the mold my caster had on file for her ring had deteriorated, but this was not an adequate justification for her.

I remember in college, there was one most-talented student in my class that was always on his own schedule. His projects were perpetually late but nonetheless meticulous and inspired. His craftsmanship and designs were superb, but his grades reflected his lack of interest in meeting deadlines. He and I stayed in touch over the years: he went to graduate school and became a respected scholar in the field of metalsmithing and took special orders on the side. I moved to NYC and started my own business. Now we all know what it takes to stay in business and survive in NYC. Talent is only 2% of what it takes to succeed. One must be more organized and definitely responsible and dependable. If you were good at something, say in Ohio, there were always 200 masters in NYC competing with you for the same job. I quickly learned what it took to survive in such a competitive environment. Upon visiting my friend many years later, he was showing me a wedding band that his client was expecting for the wedding ceremony. He just couldn’t seem to be inspired to finish it. He called his client the eve of the wedding and relayed the fact that the ring wasn’t going to be completed in time. I was horrified; I could never even imagine such an incident.

However, what is actually involved in creating a special commission? I think this process is a mystery to so many people. Unless you are in the jewelry industry, no one really understands how much work and luck of the draw is involved in creating such a tiny piece of architecture. Unknown to many people, it takes a good 7 years of working experience to achieve a level of competency as a jeweler.

Here are some relevant and technical steps in the creative process:

1.) DRAWINGS: (Why is a deposit required for drawings of a commission?) What do you want and what are the specifications? Is what the client sees in his mind’s eye the same as what he is communicating and expecting you to create? Can you draw it in 3-D or perspective? Can you do a rendering (a colored/shaded drawing)? A loose sketch to creating an actual rendering is often laborious and time-consuming. From a rough sketch to layering tracing paper and getting all the lines correct, retracing it, transferring it to proper drawing paper to coloring and rendering the finished drawing. What about creating a drawing that is an “exploded view” drawing (a drawing that looks exploded, examining all the parts in the engineering of the piece) or one that shows “perspective” (a drawing that shows ¾ view, side view and top views)? This process can take hours that can turn into days. This is why I choose to charge a deposit for the drawings. Usually this charge is deductible from the entire cost of the commission unless the drawings do not turn into a commission. The charge then becomes the fee for the drawings alone.

2.) THE MODEL: We have the design, the drawing, now what? Is it to be a project for multiple pieces (such as the link in a chain) or is it one-of-a-kind? This matters in the creation of the piece. Depending upon the end result, a model will have to be made. This process usually involves a carving of the piece (the design from the drawing) in a 3-dimensional form from carvable jeweler’s wax. Once completed, the wax is approved by the client, adjustments are made and then it is sent to the caster where either a.) A silicone mold is made from the model, for multiples or b.) It is cast from the wax itself in the “lost wax” casting method. Lost Wax-casting goes something like this: the wax is placed inside a flask and filled with something similar to plaster, called “investment”. Then the wax is burned away in a kiln and hot metal is melted and injected into the negative space left in the flask from the wax model . The plaster is then broken away and the wax model is now in metal. This process is usually reliable but often the metal is porous, or filled with bubbles. Sometimes they can be repaired and sometimes not. Then the entire process begins again.

3.) MOLDS: Molds are mostly made from silicone or rubber. These are prepared and melted around the wax or metal model and then gently and expertly cut apart, like a puzzle. When the model is removed from the mold, a negative space in the form of the model is created enabling hot wax to be injected into the mold. The wax is allowed to harden and subsequently removed from the mold. This is an accessible and easy way to create multiples of an item. However, all original models must be stored in a file as most silicone/rubber molds have a limited shelf life and do deteriorate.

4.) THE METAL: Once the model is now metal, fabrication of bezels and other necessary parts of the piece are made in silver or gold. Here it is reliant upon the experience of the trained metalsmith. Things can be accidentally melted, porosity can open up and one tiny, missed last step in the entire process can terminate the life of this project. Even if our project was created totally by “fabrication”, or made from metal without any wax carving, the exact engineering and carry-through in the process of creating a piece of jewelry is filled with risk. Only a skilled craftsman can create something from start to finish without experiencing a meltdown if something unexpected happens. ANYTHING CAN HAPPEN !

5.) STONES: And then there is the setting of stones: will one break, just as you are closing up the bezel (the small ring of metal, which holds the stone in place)? If the stone becomes chipped or damaged, it must be removed and replaced. Even if a ring must be re-sized, the stone must be removed, as most stones cannot withstand the soldering process and the heat involved. The stone then has to be reset and will there be any damage from soldering or setting of the stone(s)?


So that’s the process: A lengthy fete of engineering full of strife and risk. But worth it in the long run, when something pretty and shiny is in my hands. The look of joy I see on my client’s face when the vision has culminated into actuality is my personal reward. I find it amazing that the journey of an idea is so parallel and representative of the journey of life. It is filled with inspiration, disappointment, frustration and joy all rolled into one adventure. It’s never about the piece; it’s always about the journey.

PICTURED: (picture from a rubber stamp, wax model and metal sample from a mold) This is a recent commission I received. My client David, an actor, had a rubber stamp of a Jester. I had made another Jester for him back in the ’80’s but he lost it and wanted it created again. Sadly, there was no mold so the entire process had to be re-visited. This time we have a mold and he kindly agreed to allow me to include this Jester in my line. I refer to this little Jester as the Cosmic Joker and we all know who that is!