As mentioned in my previous post, stretching a ring to size it up is problematic, and only to be attempted with plain bands. In my more mercenary moods, I’ve always thought that repair goldsmiths should, as a “service” to their retail store owners, supply them with their very own ring stretchers. A ring stretcher, as shown, consists of a split, expandable mandrel onto which the ring is placed, and a lever, which is yanked down to expand said mandrel, thereby stretching the ring. The problem is, if there is a weak spot in the ring, say a solder joint from a previous sizing, the stresses are concentrated on that point and the ring will snap. Or, as in this case, when stones are set into the band. This ring fared quite well in the process and didn’t actually break, but stretched, more or less evenly, at each of the holes containing gemstones. Had it broken at one point, early in the process, the repair would have been a simple solder to repair the crack. As it was, however, the ring stretched, and stretched, and stretched until it was a total write-off. All to save a couple of bucks.
Leave the goldsmithing to the goldsmiths.
Over the years, the question has come up surprisingly frequently, “So, how do you size a ring? Do you, like, stretch it or something?”
No, we usually don’t stretch them, although very occasionally will stretch a plain band up by a tiny amount. It is risky and makes the ring thinner, so we’d prefer not to (See the next episode http://kmpltd.ca/2018/03/29/update-customer-helping/).
No, what we do is, generally, cut the ring and either remove enough material to size it down, or add enough material to size it up. The length of material necessary to raise or lower the size is just over 2.5mm per, or the thickness of two dimes. When asked what we do with the gold that we cut out of down-sized rings, this number will help to reassure customers that we’re not making out like bandits on each sizing; most of the cost of sizing is in the labour. It takes time to do it right.
The simplest sizing is one where the ring is being sized down, is still in good shape, and the back of the shank hasn’t been thinned out by wear. The ring is cut and filed so that there will be no obvious seam, then closed up, maintaining the original, circular shape as much as possible. It is then soldered, cleaned up, and polished. Would that it was always that simple, but that’s the basic gist.
Sizing the ring up involves opening the ring to the correct size, ensuring, once again, that the basic shape is maintained. The opening is then filed so as to present two parallel sides, a piece of gold filed to fit, and the repair soldered and finished as before. The sides of the opening need to be parallel so that the new piece will be held in place while soldering, otherwise it pops out as it’s heated and burns a hole in your shirt. Don’t ask me how I know. I am, of course grossly over-simplifying the process, but I haven’t got all day.
Where the process gets complicated, is when the back of the shank (the ring part of the ring) is so thin that, to size it up in the normal manner would render it ridiculously thin. This can be du
e to wear, or built in to the structure of the ring by shabby manufacturing. If the latter, little can be done to improve it, but if it’s just the back bit of the ring, then extra material can be removed, out to where the shank is a bit thicker, then a more substantial piece of new gold can be soldered in. We try to send stuff out looking better than when it came in.
If there is so much wear that the ring is thin more than half-way around the shank, then a full shank replacement will be necessary, but that’s a story for another day.
Just a note about solder. When we talk about solder in the industry, we’re not speaking of lead solder, which is the most common type that people think of. Horrible stuff used on electronics and copper plumbing. Our solder is actually karat gold (10K, 14K, 18K) that has been alloyed in such a way as to lower its melting point. Properly used, it makes an invisible joint that is as strong as the original material.
Thus endeth the lesson. For more pedantic fuckery, stay tuned.
(I originally stuck this up on my old site, but figured that, as it is, or should be, of general interest to my customers or potential customers, it should be up here as well. It will also give me more practice in posting to this blog, which isn’t quite as intuitive as the old one. Story of my life.)
I’ve been making jewellery for, effectively speaking, about forty-five years. I sold my first pair of earrings when I was fifteen, so there have been a lot of pieces put out there. I know what they looked like, kind of, but there is no record of them anywhere. Or at least any record available to me. That bugs me.
When I started my own business in 1986, I began taking photos of everything I put together so that I could keep track of my accomplishments, for better or worse. At first, I used an old Nikon SLR that I cadged from my wife. She had purchased it for her year at journalism school and it was just sitting there. I added a macro lens to it and it served me well for the next twenty years or so. The process of snapping a dozen pictures at a time and having to wait a week or more to find out whether they had worked honed my skills as a bonehead photographer, as I seldom got a second chance. Filing the photos away into a series of crudely organized albums provided the basis for my future database project.
When I finally got my head around the concept of computers, the database started to develop, but it wasn’t until the advent of digital photography that things really achieved some efficiency. Until then, I was still snapping analog photos, waiting for processing, then scanning them into the computer. Oh, and I still used the photo albums for organization and display, so I was just adding another layer of work. Add to this the books of contact sheets, listed by approximate date, and you have quite a lot of extra time spent on archiving and organizing photos.
The convenience of digital photography provided a great deal more flexibility in the process and, not incidentally, an increase in the actual number of pictures taken. By this time, they numbered well into the thousands so the database was pretty much a necessity. It provides the basis for the IdeaShopper that exists online, but that’s another story entirely.
During this time, the pictures were generally taken under a certain amount of duress, as I’m always running somewhat behind. I’d finish the piece, snap the photo of it, and the customer would come and pick it up. The artistic quality of each shot was secondary to its value as a record of work done. To this end, the photos have a starkness to them that, I hope, provides me with enough detail that I could duplicate the piece should a bad thing happen. I refer to them as autopsy photos.
Over the years, I have had some professional shots taken of my pieces, but this is a rare occurrence and inconvenient in the extreme, what with my propensity for running late. That being said, I was impressed by the incredible difference between my rudimentary work and that of a pro. My most recent apprentice, Chris Sifford, is a pro and took some stunning shots of a few of our pieces. Chris has since moved on to other, more lucrative pursuits, but I still appreciate the life he brought to my work.
A small contretemps recently brought to my attention the subject of copyright, and my complete ignorance of the subject.
I say ignorance because, while I do know a lot about the concepts and rules pertaining to protection of intellectual property, I don’t pay much attention to them. Now this would imply that I’m a big stealer of Ideas, and that would be true. Sort of. More to the point, I don’t worry about my ideas being out there for any and all to see, because such a huge part of what I do is process. Start with a little concept and make it into a thing. It’s what I do, and anyone who wants to take one of my little concepts and run with it is more than welcome to do so. It is my contention that the finished product will not resemble, in more than a passing way, the product I would put together. Vision and technique are as individual as people.
Now, back to being a big, fat, stealer.
I have been praised, upon occasion, for my design prowess, and will accept such praise gladly, but I can’t help feeling like a bit of a sham. I don’t design this stuff, I just pay attention to the wants and/or needs of my customers. If they come in with a picture of another designer’s jewellery and want something just like it, well, they can’t have it, any more than I can duplicate one of my own pieces. Everything is run through the filter of their concept, my technique, and the way these come together. Add to this the inevitable differences arising from budget, physical size, and practicality, and you perforce end up with a unique piece.
People notice my stuff and can recognize it as mine if they’ve paid attention, and that’s the way I want it. It’s got a style that is uniquely mine but puts into three dimensions my customer’s unique vision.
One of the problems with working in a goldsmith shop as opposed to some fancy-ass retail store is that the bigger picture becomes obscured by the job at hand. I have an uncanny ability to focus on the small picture (Whoever said “Don’t sweat the small stuff” wasn’t a goldsmith) leaves me somewhat unprepared for the world around me.
As I work away in a building with an air conditioning system that is unpredictable, at best, and currently completely non-functional, I don’t really worry about the fact that perspiration is making it difficult to hold onto my tools. I just grip more tightly. It has always been a characteristic of the places I’ve worked (or owned) that the most important thing is the quality of the piece being made at that moment, and my surroundings shouldn’t make any difference. Suck it up.
I begin to recognize the true extent of the discomfort when a civilian shows up. My customers seem to accept the heat without complaint, although after climbing several flights of stairs, they could be forgiven for kvetching some. Not only is my shop on the actual third floor of the building rather than the second, as would be understood from the address, but each flight of stairs is ungodly high, given the fourteen-foot ceilings we are blessed with. I’ve considered obtaining one of those emergency kits with the cardiac paddles, just in case.
So, to my customers, thank you for your patience and forbearance. The cooling system is, so they claim, up and running again and the building should be comfortable by the time the weather cools down. You’ll be able to hang beef in here. Bring a sweater.
It’s the time of year when things start to get busy around here, what with all the people that appear to find it impossible to get married without my help, so it’s a damn poor time to be doing spec work. But that’s just what contest entries are all about. The CanadaMark people are, once again, running an international competition to highlight the Canadian diamond industry, and I’m here to play. They are awful quiet on the subject, running no public campaign at all, so I figure I may as well wave the flag for myself.
The competition is for pendants this year and, while I’ve done a jeezly lot of pendants in my time, the numbers pale in comparison to the rings that I’ve spit out. This, combined with a reduced retail value on the piece will, I’m sure bring out the best in the designers in Canada and around the world. Well, Canada, the US, and Britain, anyway. Pendants are much simpler to design, in some ways, thanks to their two-dimensionality. You can draw the design on a flat piece of paper (or digital screen, or what have you) and pretty much have an idea of what the finished product will look like. There’s none of the necessity for a CAD/CAM system in your head or on your desk to help view the many aspects of a three-dimensional ring.
That doesn’t mean that designing pendants is easy, it’s actually quite difficult to rein in the imagination and not get things too cluttered, or at least that’s my experience. I’m an idea editor and like to keep the picture simple. Problem is, a two dimensional design says it all on first sight, and if it ain’t love, it won’t work.
I’m just rambling now, so I’ll get back to y’all later and show you what I’m up to…
There will be pictures.
Here’s the contest page: http://www.canadamark.com/contest
And here’s some of what it took to get there: http://kmpltd.ca/polaris-pendant/
What, you may ask, is with the squared off shanks?
If you’ve perused the works of KMPLTD sufficiently, you will for sure have noticed the odd bumpy bits at the back of our rings. We still call them bumps, bumpy bits, whatever, so let’s not get too involved in the nomenclature. Suffice it to say that they are not simply a stylistic affectation, they actually do work.
I spent the first few years of my marriage trying to ensure that the diamond in my wedding band stayed on the top of my finger, where it would do the most good. I can fix this, I figured, so I reconfigured the shank with these nifty little bumps. It worked, so I started putting them on all the rings I make. People liked them, so a tradition was created.
Practicalities aside, there is also a subtle status boost contained in the bumps. A ring made this way is somewhat problematic to size up or down extensively. It was made for a specific person, sometimes a specific hand and changing the size can quickly throw off the proportions. I liken it to having cuffs on the pants of a bespoke suit. Real cuffs, as opposed to simply folding the too-long pants up like ‘fifties blue jeans, make it more or less impossible to lengthen or shorten the pants. They were made for you, made perfectly, and require no adjustment. Granted, your legs may get shorter as you age, but by then it’s probably time for a new suit.
Surgeon cuffs are another subtle sign of a custom-made suit. Apparently, back in the day, before infection was seen as any sort of hazard, a surgeon would show up at the hospital, roll up his sleeves, and get to work. In order to keep the gore off his jacket, which he refused to remove for decorum’s sake, the cuff-buttons needed to be functional. This rendered the jacket un-alterable, as with the pants example. If you look closely at a fellow’s sleeves, you can determine whether the suit is off-the-rack or custom-made. If he opted for the Surgeon cuffs, that is. And why wouldn’t he?
How do I know this shit and why should we care? Good question.
That is all.
So here it is. A modern new website avec le blog space, at right about the time that I heard on a podcast that blogs are passé. Sounds about right, considering my usual late-adopter habits. If you’ve been visiting the old website and are concerned that the crusty old bugger is gone, well, rest assured that it still exists here. It may suffer some neglect, due to the demands of the new baby, but I have always been kind of lax as far as content awareness.I’m not 100% sure what sort of blather I’m going to insert here, but perhaps I’ll do a sot of frequently asked questions format, or some teccnical stuff that people may be curious about.
First, though, I should try posting this thing to see that it actually works.
To quote D. Wayne Love, “ Meanwhile, I’d like you to just sit on back, relax, and dig your heels in, ’cause it’s gonna be a bumpy ride, brother.”