Jewellery making – learning the tools of the trade

Only last night, I attended my first jewellery making class through Edinburgh Council. It was slightly daunting, being put in a completely new situation without any prior experience or knowing what you were going to be involved in. I was pleased to know that the first class was easy to follow and we were taught to make our own copper pendants using some techniques and tools I already learned from Design Technology classes in high school, like using a file, emery paper and a drill. We were shown some new jewellery making tools that I do think will come in handy in the future to purchase my own of.

Little did I know, the tutor of the class was none other than Nicola Turnbull, a local contemporary jewellery designer and silversmith.

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Source: Nicola Turnbull

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Source: Nicola Turnbull

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Source: Nicola Turnbull

Nicola set up a workshop in 2012 in Kathmandu, teaching diadvantaged young women jewellery making techniques in conjunction with Freedom Matters. Her pieces are unique in that they move freely when it’s held up, but remain static when they’re worn. The shapes and designs are pleasing to the eye and carries modern architectural aesthetics.

In some way, Nicola has taken my one and only favourite piece of jewellery from Links of London – the Slinky ring – and taken it even further by designing collections around the concept.

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Links of London 3-row Slinky ring in silver, was £120 (now sold out) from Chisholm Hunter

One thing I’ve learned from the little tidbits I’ve learned so far about jewellery making is that the process is a part of yourself. Each designer, through making each piece of jewellery, shows a part of their personality through their designs. While Nicola shows architectural symmetry and the wonder of movement in her jewellery, my other favourite jewellery designer Lilia Nash derives inspiration for her pieces through nature.

So to add my own flair to my first piece, after spending some time shaping the pendant itself (cutting, filing and removing the sharp and rough edges) I decided to spruce it up a little by adding my own little design to it while other participants in the class were trying their hand at cut out shapes in the centre of their pendants. I’m very pleased with the way it turned out:

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My first piece of jewellery – copper trapezoid pendant

I got my inspiration for the shape from a necklace I got from Kit Heath with a Tiger’s Eye pendant:

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The pendant is the same shape as these earrings. Kit Heath Tiger’s Eye drop earrings, £54.95 from The Jewellery Quarters

As it was my first piece, I felt the pendant itself, while it has a nice shape to it, was slightly plain, so decided to use a scribe (a pen-like tool you can use to draw lines freely) to inscribe a pattern to the surface and add my initials to the back of the pendant to mark it as my own design. While trawling through the box of copper pieces, I also managed to find a copper coloured jump ring too. Success!

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Close up of the pattern on my pendant

Over the weeks, we’ll be learning more and more techniques that will help us design our own final silver piece in the last 4 weeks of the 10-week programme. I’m already starting to think about possible designs I’d like to make and what exactly I want to make. Always eager to get started and build up on and perfect my ideas, I’ll be going through my copy of Magical Metal Clay Jewellery: Amazingly Simple No-Kiln Techniques for Making Beautiful Jewellery by Sue Heaser and browsing my favourite jewellery designers’ sites for inspiration.

For any prospective jewellery makers, depending on your learning style, you may wish to start off with joining a class to get the basic techniques down, or if you prefer to learn independently, I previously recommended some books that could be useful. To start you off though, here are some toolkits that I think would come in handy:

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Beginner’s toolkit, £35.33 from Cookson Gold

For a fact, in the first lesson, we used the adjustable piercing saw, the scribe, ruler, file, hammer and emery sticks. For stability and a surface to work on your piece, you’ll also need this:

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Bench peg and anvil, £11.08 from Cookson Gold

The slanted surface of the anvil means that it’s closer to you when you’re working at the bench. You might think ‘I could just work on the bench surface, couldn’t I?’ but when you’re trying to work on a small piece, the vast surface of a table or work bench doesn’t really allow you to maneuver the piece when you’re trying to saw it. Once you get your new anvil, you’ll need to cut a ‘V’ into the front (short) side – this will allow you space to saw through the piece without cutting into the wood.

If you want to get a more comprehensive set to start off with so you don’t need to add pieces here and there later, there is also the option of getting this set:

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Workbench toolkit, £83.16 from Cookson Gold

The Workbench Toolkit already includes the bench peg and anvil as well as tools from the Beginner’s Toolkit, but includes more viles and a toolbox to keep all your tools in one place.

No matter which toolkit you decide to get, a block of beeswax will also come in handy when you’re sawing away.

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32g (1oz) block of beeswax, £4.32 from Cookson Gold

The beeswax is a lubricant you can use on the saw to help ease the sawing motion of your piercing saw. While the sawing motion (I’ve learned from experience) depends largely on your hand and wrist position and movement, the beeswax can help with any parts of the metal that you’re having trouble with cutting.

For more information and to order commissioned pieces, you can visit Nicola Turnbull’s site here.

If you’re an experienced (or a beginner) jewellery designer, I’ve also found the UK Jewellers Collective Jewellery Forums to be quite helpful with useful information (especially when you’re working with precious metals) or just looking for advice on a piece you’re working on.

Have you started any jewellery making classes or are you in the business of making and selling jewellery? What advice do you think would be helpful for other beginners to jewellery making? Have you got a particular jewellery designer whose pieces you love?

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