Here we are at last – the final stages of the brooch project which began earlier this year! If you look back to April you’ll remember that we got as far as fitting the setting which holds the stone in to the surrounding framework….
The stages that follow have taken place during the months since then in between other projects and shows.
The next (somewhat terrifying) step was to solder the box setting in place. As metal expands during heating, unwanted movement can occur, so I used iron binding wire to secure each of the corners tightly in place. Iron is a relatively soft metal which shouldn’t mark the gold even when twisted tight, and as it’s ferrous it can’t be accidentally soldered to the piece.
(It is VERY important to remember to remove the binding wire before pickling – other wise you’ll accidentally coat your whole piece in a layer of pink copper due to a chemical reaction between the iron and the acid!)
With the frame and setting soldered, it was time to start thinking about the extra parts which needed to be made out of 18 carat yellow and red gold….
Firstly, the ‘reeds’ which crisscross the setting on the front of the brooch. These lengths of wire included decorative balls at the lower ends (see February‘s illustrations). This effect is achieved using a technique referred to as ‘balling’ wire, often used to make headed pins for earrings amongst other things. The wire is dipped in flux and held at the top end in a pair of reverse-action tweezers. Heat from the blowtorch is applied to the bottom end, which will glow red and then start to ball up as it reaches melting point. This ball can be chased up the length of the wire, increasing in size as it goes. A steady hand is definitely necessary!
Once all seven lengths had been balled, I carefully bent each one to the right curvature using my original drawing as a guide. Doming punches, mandrels and a whole variety of jars and glasses were used as cylindrical formers during this process! Here they are, carefully marked out and taped in place so as not to get them mixed up…
Once they had all been fitted to the drawing, they needed to be positioned and marked on the actual brooch. To stop them from sliding around, I superglued each one in place.
This allowed me to mark the position of each wire with a fine scribe line, after which the superglue was dissolved with acetone and the pieces removed. Then came the painstaking task of filing small, angled grooves in to the edges of the frame with a round needle file to seat the lower layer of reeds…
Once these grooves had been made, I glued the lower layer back in place in order to repeat the process in order to seat the top layer of crisscrossing reeds. These grooves were necessary to create enough surface contact between the round wires to give strong solder joints. When all the grooves had been filed and adjusted, and all the reeds slotted in to place successfully, it was time to solder, one layer at a time. (Much holding of breath and a small amount of cursing took place during this stage…)
Success – all the reeds are in place! After a bit of cleaning up, the brooch is really starting to take shape.
I now turned my attention to the decorative backplate which was to hold the stone in place (see April‘s post for a reminder). After some testing using hastily pierced mock-up backplates and holding the stone and setting up against a variety of fabrics, I decided to make a change to my initial design: the semi-translucent nature of the stone suited a solid, highly polished backplate better, especially if the brooch was to be work against dark colours. With this in mind, I designed a pattern to be engraved on the top surface of the backplate which echoed my original idea for the fretwork. The curves in the design follow those of the reeds when seen from the reverse, with an abstracted linear design which contrasts and compliments the three-dimensional forms of the whole piece.
Although I have learned to engrave myself, I find it disagrees with my neck and shoulders so I outsourced this engraving to RH Wilkins, who did a fine job. An important (but stressful) part of being a jeweller is knowing your own weaknesses and deciding when it’s necessary to entrust the work to another skilled professional!
It was now time to focus on the elements which would form the brooch mechanism – the hinge and catches which would house the double pin on the reverse. The hinge is essentially made from a piece of yellow gold tubing, cut to size, which snugly fits the 1mm thick pin wire. But the catches required a little more work. They were made from small lengths of yellow gold wire, in to which a groove was filed with a square needle file to allow them to be folded at right angles. The joint was then soldered, and the catches carefully cut and filed down to size.
With the backplate returned and all the pieces cleaned and polished, the final stages of assembly could begin.The stone was placed in to the setting with the backplate on top, and the trusty superglue came out again in order to secure several elements to the reverse of the brooch: the tiny gold-headed pins (see April again), the catches seen above, and and the tubing hinge, which I decided to mount on a tiny bar-platform in order to give a little more clearance for thick fabrics beneath the pin.
These items all needed to be laser-welded in to place, as now that the stone was in situ, the brooch could no longer be heated as a whole for soldering. Laser-welding only applies very intense heat to a tiny localised area, so is an ideal technique for jobs and repairs where a stone is already in position. Superglue, sparingly applied with a needle, can hold the parts in position during laser-welding as it is burnt away during the process.
Once all these pieces had been welded, the joints required a final, very careful clean and polish along the sides of the setting: you can see the places where the welds took place below …
Nearly there. Now came one of the stages I look forward to least when making a brooch – it never fails to make me nervous! The 18 carat white gold wire which would form the double brooch pin needed to be inserted. With one leg bent at right-angles, I inserted the rest of the pin through the tube hinge. Using a pair of parallel pliers to very gently grip the tube without squashing it, I bent the second leg of the pin up 90 degrees to meet the side of the pliers…. And breathed a huge sigh of relief. (One false move during this step and you can end up with a squashed or twisted hinge, a wrongly bent pin or several other disastrous mistakes!) Job done. Now the legs of the pin could be trimmed to length and the ends filed and sanded in to points.
After a final check to ensure that the brooch could be worn and did in fact function as intended (it did, thankfully!) all that remained to be done was get it hallmarked at the Assay Office. In the UK, it’s illegal to sell precious metals items over a certain weight (1g for gold and 7.78g for silver) without a hallmark, which guarantees the metal has been tested and conforms to the strict purity guidelines for that alloy. In addition, the hallmark will tell the buyer which year the item was made, which Assay Office tested it, and (usually) which artisan or business made it, thanks to the initials or ‘makers mark’ which is uniquely registered to each craftsperson. If you own anything made by me, have a look for an ‘E H’ incorporated in to the hallmark… although you might a magnifying glass to read it!
….and finally, here it is. The finished brooch, all ready to be gift-wrapped and sent off. It’s always rewarding to finish a project and look back at the process which led to its creation. Let’s hope the client is happy too!