When launching a new blog for your jewellery brand based on the very modern medium of silver metal clay, where do you begin? At the beginning! Check out some of the oldest known metal jewellery in the world:
A burial at Varna (modern day Bulgaria), with some of the world’s oldest jewelry. Credits: Wikimedia (By Zde - Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=54998892)
Several things are impressive here. Firstly, this burial site is dated as early as 4560-4450 BC and we’re looking at some pretty neatly formed and interesting metal work. Nice round circular pieces; cylinders of gold that are uniform, beautifully formed beads... Secondly, there is a lot of gold here - apparently more in this collection of sites than was known in the rest of the world at that time. Finally, the clear connection between the gold adornments and the person’s status: the deliberate and reverent way the pieces have been presented in this very old school flat lay.
Basically since humans started doing anything much worth talking about, we have also been making jewellery because IT’S AWESOME.
Ok - there was a while where VIPs were decorated with ostrich egg shells and bones, but we seem to have moved on moderately quickly to the really good stuff.
Have you ever Googled ancient jewellery? Let me save you those three clicks… Here are some earrings from the first century BC, from the Etruscan region (ancient Italy):
By http://www.metmuseum.org/art/collection/search/250672. This file was donated to Wikimedia Commons by as part of a project by the Metropolitan Museum of Art.
Look at how lush they are… those rich silky golden forms...makes me feel a little bit wide eyed obsessive - like Golum. If you had the cash you could totally bust these out today with dark wash denim and a crisp white shirt, or more likely a gown. A little dented in after all these years since those domes are probably hollow. But look how detailed they are! That is a timeless design, executed brilliantly - three THOUSAND years ago.
And check out these incredibly detailed earrings from Hellenic Greece, circa 300BC:
By Jen - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=8895580
Can you imagine making these?? Seems safe to say it would take some serious doing.
Jewellery-making as a sophisticated art came about around the same time (give or take a few hundred years) as the invention of the wheel, irrigation, and other fundamental developments that gave rise to civilisation. What is particularly amazing is that the methods that professionally trained jewellers use today were developed in ancient civilisations like the Sumerians (Mesopotamia or Middle East), and the Etruscans. Techniques like ‘lost wax’ are said to have been developed 6000+ years ago: the desired shape was carved out of wax, then molten metal poured into a cast where the wax was burnt out leaving a near perfect metal replica of the original design. Pretty clever!
But ancient jewellery and the detail of traditional contemporary techniques are not my primary focus here. I go there to create context for a very recent invention in the world of jewellery: metal clay.
Balanced on my finger here is a whole bunch of silver atoms, mixed with an organic binder.
Japanese metallurgist Masaki Morikawa invented metal clay in the 1990s. Atoms of metal - typically Silver but now also Gold, Copper and Brass - are suspended in an organic binder that looks, feels and handles like clay. You can roll, twist, squeeze, squish and cut it into shape, then let it dry. When it's subjected to intense heat for the right amount of time, the binder burns off completely leaving 99.9% pure metal. Alright, but what's the big deal for jewellery makers and fans? To answer that, let's duck into the modern jewellery workshop for a moment.
Check out this remarkably clean and tidy jeweller’s bench:
Photograph by John de Rosier from The Jeweler's Files: My Bench (Episode 3) http://johnderosier.blogspot.com.au/2015/02/my-bench-episode-3.html. Used with permission.
What’s the first thing you notice? I’m going to guess its the metric buttload of tools and supplies. By implication, a buttload of training and or experience is required in order to operate said tools effectively. Basically you’re looking at thousands of dollars worth of tools and equipment, and that’s not taking the degree or apprenticeship into account.
Soooo… a substance that allows crafty types to create beautiful intricate forms out of pure silver, and sterling silver, with minimal initial outlay? Well it sort of revolutionises the field a little. And that’s where I come in.
Enter stage left: a young Me *bows with flourish*
Becoming a jeweller was the first thing I ever truly loved the idea of but when it came to discussing career options a in a small country town high school (for those whole ten minutes of career guidance I think I had!) becoming a jeweller didn’t seem to cross anyone’s mind. I followed the well-trodden path of going from University into an office and huzzah - that life is pretty good to me.
Buuuuut... this love of jewellery has never left me either. I just thought it would be one of those things in life that got away.
All of that changed in 2012 when I stumbled across silver clay; I saw an online training class for making silver charms on your kitchen benchtop:
In case you start to wonder, no, I am not being sponsored :P I just lurve this magical stuff so much. Once it became clear that I could sit down and create a ring, or earrings, or pendant etc out of PURE LUSTROUS SILVER I was hooked.
Pretty quickly I needed to learn wire wrapping techniques in order to execute my designs. Then I needed to dust off those basic metalwork skills I learnt in highschool - soldering, sawing, polishing filing drawing wire etc. When other people started noticing my jewellery and wanting to acquire some for themselves, a little hope bubbled up inside... and at the end of 2016 I began to develop plans to launch this brand Luminous Design - more on that in a future post!
Metal clay is crack for creatives. Seriously, if you start playing with it you may also end up hooked. You may not thank me for this discovery!! If you’re a crafty type with a slightly addictive personality who really needs to not spend your money and time on silver, for the love of God please STOP READING this blog now.
Once I made my first thing in clay and then fired it and watch it go from a soft lump of matte grey nothingness into the uber reflective glory that is burnished silver I knew this was going to be the obsession of my life time. (Can you hear my family groaning in the background? :))
Coin pendant in fine silver with hand carved Contour Line design by yours truly
This is modern alchemy! It NEVER gets old and I’ve been doing this for five years so far.
So, as I dig deeper into the world of jewellery, learning more techniques and gaining more experience, I’m also going to do what I’ve always meant to do but haven’t made time for yet - a thorough overview of jewellery as a field. Where did it start? Who started it? What were they doing? What did they use and how? How and where do gemstones form, how are they mined cut and set into jewellery? What are the most fascinating bits of jewellery ever made and what makes them interesting (hint: power and money - the root of all evil…) Who are the most famous jewellers and jewellery houses these days - are they really all that? Who decides what’s fashionable in jewellery? What’s the best kind of jewellery for me and how should I wear layered necklaces, or what the beep is an ear climber, or an ear jacket??
So. If you’ve love jewellery intuitively but haven’t investigated the details (because unless it’s your job, who has time for that?!) then YOU my friend are in the right place. Let me do the hard work; you just sit back and relax while we dig into one of the oldest passions in human history. I’m only slightly nerdy though so all these fun facts will be broken up with eye candy, goofy humour and frequent irreverence.
I’m also going to bring you beautiful recipes for home-made skin scrubs and tips for self care - inside and out - because beautiful jewellery is best displayed on clean fresh skin and with a contented smile :)
We'll also go behind the scenes in my tiny workshop to show you my experience as an Etsy store owner. We'll take a look at my creative processes and how Luminous Design came to be a thing. I'll bring you tips and ideas for how to style your pieces, and how to care for them. We'll do some occasional navel gazing to reflect on what really matters in life. And we’ll admire pearls of wisdom from inspirational people, for example Audrey Hepburn and Sophia Loren, and others. People who's down to earth attitudes to life and style remain totally relevant today, and which have shaped my own views on these things.
Posts will only be once or twice a month because I want to bring you high quality stuff - distraction that is not only pretty but also edifying. Plus - I’m going to go out on a limb here and guess that one of the last things you need is a whole bunch more unread email in your inbox…
If this sounds like your kind of thing, then yay :) Let’s be mates. Pop by here every fortnight for more, or leave me your email addy and I’ll send it straight to you along with a coupon for 15% off your shopping at Luminous Design Store. I’m most active on Instagram and Pinterest, and I would love to hear from you, so if you feel like being semi-social those are the best spots to find me. Also I'm not big on pushy marketing so if you would like to share this with friends who would care that will help the blog to grow <3
In the next post, we'll have a closer look at how pieces are actually made using metal clay. We’re going to go down to Silver town to have a detailed poke around because it’s amazing stuff, and the shining bones of Luminous Design Store. In fact Silver is everywhere - I bet you have little bits of silver lurking all around you right at this very moment… *mystery music*
Catch you then :)