I’ve had a few interesting projects head out the door to their new homes recently and thought I’d post them. I’m going to go ahead and elaborate (warning: long post) with some design notes on here for some of my students and anyone else that is interested in the design behind some of the pieces. A lot of what I make is pretty straight-forward, but even some of the simpler appearing ones often have lots of little decisions along the way.
This first piece was a fun little pendant I just finished yesterday and they picked up tonight. The stones are rutilated quartz. The top ones with the rutile growing in those central star shapes as opposed to normal shards only comes from one place in Brazil, no where else. It was interesting to wrap. The customer already had the idea of hanging them like this, which I completely concurred with. I really like the contrast of the shapes. I wrapped it in 24 gauge gold-filled wire. I wanted to complement the sheen of the rutile shards, so I didn’t twist any wire this time. We also debated when they dropped off the stones if she wanted it to be a solid fixed piece or let the bottom piece swing freely. We decided that swinging freely would be nice. Personally, while I would have done whatever, I strongly felt it’d be nicer swinging freely as well and am glad they decided to go that way. I think it will add more physical movement to the piece and really add a lot of light movement across the rutiles in the quartz. I knew from the beginning that I would do a clean simple wrap with clean lines so it didn’t detract from the stones and emphasized the geometry of them.
I wrapped the angular piece on the bottom first. I debated doing the bezel similar to a couple of recent projects (half-round wraps mostly, with prongs where needed) but thought it would look heavy on that stone–wanted to keep it lighter looking and really frame it in to draw attention to the neat shape it’s cut in. I tried something a little different. Normally, I wrap all one style (prongs, or kicked in, or swirly, etc.) but if you look closely, you’ll see that I used prongs at the bottom (angeled to complement the direction of the nearby rutiles), kicked in on the right side to emphasize the vertical lines and then a wire laid across the front of the stone in the upper left. I rarely run wire across the face of the stone like that, but I thought it rather looked like more rutile and sort of neat. Structurally, could have done either prongs or kicked in all the way around, but with the asymmetry of the stone, I like the asymmetry of the mechanics as well. Also shaped the wires at the top of the bottom pendant where they’re gathered to close it so that the angles complemented the angles of the top of that stone.
It wound up being a little trickier to wrap as I worked my way to the top because I had to bend the angles as I went to make sure things were hitting right, which meant they were in my way and I was having to dodge wire once I got near the top, especially avoiding bending the ones that I’d temporarily dropped in that upper left corner, then getting everything on there tight enough to bind them back in and yet still be able to get the stone in and out until I was ready to bind it in permanently. The other tricky bit was that I had to be exceptionally careful throughout the piece to make sure my bails were centered so that the bottom piece hung centered from the top piece and all that centered above the point on the bottom piece. Visually, if something is a little off on a normal pendant, I can usually compensate to make it look right. With this piece, there were several points that if it wasn’t all perfectly aligned, it would have just looked and hung "off" and not looked right. I did compensate the tiniest bit for the added mass on the left side (extra weight) so that it would hang straight and not want to tilt from the weight.
I left the very top loop of the bottom pendant unfinished until I got the top stone wrapped for two reasons. One, the orientation of the loop (side to side, or front to back) would be determined by which design I used for binding the top stone. Sure, I could turn it later, but no reason to weaken the wire even a little if I can avoid it. Two, having the loop finished would mean that I’d have to incorporate the bottom pendant in the top pendant as I made it, almost from the beginning. Having that hanging off while working on the top piece, while doable, would have been unnecessarily crazy-making between the weight of it and it being in the way. Far better to add it way at the last. As it turned out, good thing I waited because I wound up changing my design I thought I was going to use for the top stone.
The top stone, what’s on there is actually the second attempt. I scrapped the first one. I was originally going to do what I do on high dome stones like this one, and often amber and thick domed dichroic glass. It’s a simple wrap in heavy wire that lets a lot of light in, but as it turned out, while the stone has a nice dome, it’s just shallow enough that I didn’t think it was secure, and it also let the stone turn a little too freely. I was concerned that one, the stone turning…well, it’s prettier from certain orientations, so I wanted to be able to fix it in place. More importantly, if it turns freely over time, I wondered if it would either eventually wear a groove or scratch in the stone, or wear the underside of the wire and weaken it. Anyway, it just wasn’t working for me so I took it out and redid it in a simple bezel/cage wrap and kicked in the wires on the sides. I think it echoes the wrap of the bottom piece and the wire kicked in on the sides emphasizes the shape. Started the wrapping at the bottom center, which is what I normally do on ovals and rounds. It’s easier to get the sides symmetrical that way. Plus, I needed to remember to put that bottom loop in there for the other piece to hook into. Once everything was bound on the top one, then the last little step was adding the bottom piece to the top. Overall, I was really pleased with how this piece came out. I think it framed and complemented the stones nicely.
This is a piece that I sent off fairly recently. It’s a Trinity cross that was custom ordered by a gentleman, a design he asked if I could do. I thought, sure, it’s a variation of any other number of shapes I do occasionally. Overall height is 1.5" or so. The base wires are 22 gauge gold-filled and sterling silver, mixed, and it’s wrapped in gold-filled 22 gauge half-round. I twisted the outer course (sterling silver) of the internal wires. It was a prototype design and I’ll probably do variations of it later, a neat project.
This is another one of those pieces that wound up being more involved than first appearance. The general mechanics of binding a bundle of wires and shaping to whatever shape is something I’ve been doing periodically and isn’t all that complicated. That being said, there were several design decisions to be made with this one:
- drawing out a clean "cartoon" to go by (more on this later)
- to interweave or not to interweave, and if so, how
- what to do with the ends
- how to do a bail for a chain
On the cartoon, this is basically something I do for anything where I want to make my design to a certain shape. For example, if I’m shaping a heart, I always sketch one to compare against. I can’t freehand a heart out of wire to save my life, for some reason. Angles/curves just don’t look right when I’m holding it. So whatever the shape, heart, snakes, etc. I sketch a shape. Then as I’m working, I wrap a little, shape a little, compare against cartoon, adjust. Wrap/shape, compare, tweak. Wrap/shape, compare, tweak. And so on, a little at a time. For this type of wrapping, I usually use wrap wires about two feet long or so. Longer, the weight causes the wraps to want to twist around easier and it’s a pain to support the ends, so I just piece it on the back periodically.
For this type of design, the symmetry is critical, so I didn’t want to freehand the design. I played around with my compass and drew out a new cleaner design to use as my cartoon. As I worked, I just wrapped/checked against the design constantly to make sure I was maintaining the correct curve. I worried about what would happen at the corners, but the wraps worked out just perfect. I spread the wires slightly at the corners to give a similar appearance to the bail. More on that below. I also rounded corners ever so slightly–sharp bends would make the piece weak, especially with wear over time. I think this piece was meant to be something that is worn pretty much constantly, and by a guy (and military if I recall) so sturdiness was an extra important consideration.
To interweave or not. Originally, I don’t think I was going to, but once I got going, I decided it wouldn’t be any harder to interweave it versus just layering it as I went. In the end, what made the interweaving more complicated was at each point where a layer passed another layer, I had to do some funky manipulations and be very careful to not distort the lay of the wrap wire. I think in the end, the interweaving also gave it a little more strength. Plus, as the layers crossed, I had to do subtle adjustments to put a little bump up or down and made it overall with an ever so slight convex shape. I think the undualations mixed with the wrap/spiral makes it really catch the light and will give it a lot of visual and light movement.
The ends. That’s always the quandry with wire. What to do with the ends. Half the time, something decorative can be done with them, but with this kind of design, that would detract. I wound up doing a hidden thing (that’s the point) I do occasionally. A little bit of planning is needed since it has to be done right from the outset, not something you can decide on later. Just need to make the outside course of wire doubled so that it goes across the end of the bundle and provides a place to hook onto when I came back around. The only fiddly part was with all the movement and shaping initially, I was constantly having to check my opening because it kept closing up. It was basically just a wire’s width–too much and it’s weak–too narrow and it won’t admit the wires I want to hook into it later. I wound up adding some temporary spacers hooked in there that I cut out later so it didn’t close up on me. When I got to the end, took out the spacers and hooked the opposite end in. The join is on the underside course of one of the center intersections. Barely even shows on the back because I added a little halfround to finish the pattern. I like the backs of my pieces to be nearly indistinguishable from the front when practical. Sometimes I put special little things on the back that only the wearer ever knows about.
The bail. I initially thought I was going to put a loop at one of the points. When I got there, I decided it would look strange and disturb the symmetry of the piece. What I wound up doing was slightly spreading the wires at the tip to maintain the visual sharpness of the points (otherwise, it would have looked more rounded) without adding an actual sharp bend. The top point in the picture was the first point I did and I spread it a little more than I would the others to be able to admit a heavier gauge secondary bail that I made later. Avoided the loop and it’s barely noticeable in the overall design. I did wind up putting a spacer in that as well since making the curved side as I left the point, it kept wanting to suck it down closer. My tolerance was just barely to admit the large wire so any shrinkage would be a real problem…so again, the spacer wire I removed later. I also added spacers on the other points as I did them so they kept their points (and also used spacer wire to keep the right distance as I bent each wire individually as I rounded the points).
This next set of pictures are part of a set I did this summer with these two really large blister pearls a customer brought to me. One she wanted in a pendant and one she wanted as a pin. Wanted one silver, the other gold. Didn’t matter which. Didn’t particularly care what color beads since we’d determined in our initial conversation that we tend to like similar palettes–if I liked the colors, she probably would. In other words, total artistic license. A lot of freedom in a way, but more pressure too.
For this pearl (yes, the big flatish stone…big, as in probably 2" tall, both of them), I thought would be prettiest to hang as a pendant and it had a little more of a grey cast to it, so I put silver on that one, and put gold on the pink-cast one (below, later). The other interesting aspect of this stone was that it actually had a strong convex curve across the bottom third of it. (Side picture is lower down.)
I decided to use amethyst, purple pearls and austrian crystal on it. Especially with the convex bottom standing out, I thought a waterfall pouring off the bottom and swinging freely would give it a lot of movement. For the asymmetry of the stone, I didn’t want the waterfall to go all the way across, but gave it visual balance and weight by adding the little sweep of beads on the left side.
The cage/bezel wrap was pretty straight-forward, but I ran into an unexpected issue with the bezel not wanting to stay in place due to the convex shape of the stone. The thin edges of the piece didn’t let me build something thicker/stronger to keep its shape independently, plus it would have looked too heavy to use a thicker bezel or one of heavier wire. I think I used 22 gauge as it was. I really wanted the bezel to almost fade into the piece so that you mostly saw the pearl and the beads, not the wire. I wanted the wire to be more subtle. That’s also why I didn’t do a lot of swirly sweeping curly things with the wire on this one. It had such a pretty shape, I really wanted to keep the clean lines.
What I wound up doing (right–>) to stabilize it was a crisscross across the back. It was actually pretty strong going around the stone, just the convex shape made it want to jump out of place and the crisscross served to stabilize it. I’ve never needed to do this to any other pieces, so it was kind of a new thing, but a good thing to remember should this come up again. Plus, I thought it actually turned out looking pretty neat.
The earrings are a waterfall style I do, topped off with a focal bead of faceted amethyst bead that I’m pretty stingy with and pull out when I really have a good use for it. I used similar beads to those on the necklace so they go together.
This is the other blister pearl, this time set in gold-filled wire with faceted garnet and citrine. The pearl had rich pink cast to it that definitely needed garnets for the gemstone. I added the citrine because I think it’s an especially rich combination, the garnet red and gold.
If you’ll notice, the pearl is cut in an pretty unusual shape that I wanted to take advantage of. I figured I’d do the swirly wire work on the pin, partly as a contrast to the clean lines of the previous style above. Where the last style was cool and clean, I wanted this one sumptuous, bold and rich.
I wrapped the pin first, using a heavier gauge round wire (20 gauge maybe) and something lighter and twisted (probably 21 or 22 gauge). I made the pin a separate piece on the back out of the round wire and made sure to catch it as I swirled around the stone. I was originally going to put a lot more beads on it, like nested down in some of the lower swirls, but everytime I laid something down there, I wound up cutting it off. It wound up being way more eyecatching to make those pretty faceted garnet beads the focal point. Too many other beads kept being distracting. That one little sweep is just resting nested there at the swell of the pearl and wound up being far more effective. The swirls and a lot of beads were just too busy. The earrings are another style I do that I use a lot when I make sets with lots of swirls that complements them nicely. Again, same beads as on pin.