I am always up for a challenge, and I have gained the reputation of taking on the near-impossible when it comes to custom orders. When a client proposes a design idea, I happily say, "No problem! I can have it done in a week!" This is followed by me working like a crazy woman in my studio stressing, sometimes crying, and always consulting my metal-smith friends. What I realized is that my perfectionist, over-achieving self creates this stress-ball environment. My latest big custom order, however, I learned to allow myself the time and space to enjoy the process, and I found myself in the zone and everything worked seamlessly.
First, a little back-story (I'll try to keep this short): I hardly watch TV, but I have a few favorite shows. My one of my all-time favorite shows is Better Call Saul (BCS). So one can only imagine how thrilled I was when l randomly met Michael Mando, who plays Nacho, at a local's restaurant in Albuquerque in March. That led me to following the lead actors of my favorite show on Instagram, because I was trying to get caught up with this whole social media thing (did I mention I am a very late adopter?). One actor followed me back, Patrick Fabian, who plays Howard Hamlin.
A few months pass. When I was at the Denver Gem Show, I received a DM from Patrick with a photo of a heart-shaped coral. His wife found it on the beach, and he wanted to know if something could be made into it: a necklace or a pendant. I immediately went into frantic custom-made mode, "Of course! No problem - " Then I paused. I thought, "I am going to go about this differently, I am going to have to take my time." Fortunately, the lead time I was silently hoping for was going to work. The following blog is to show my process of this project:
Picture of the heart-shaped coral. Coral is quite brittle, so I had to create a design that would properly support the coral without breaking it.
Then the sketches began:
Once a design was chosen, I modified the back to have a more mystic feel, with the waves and a crescent moon. A sample of a pierced and sawn back was presented:
With a design in place, the fabrication began. I gathered my materials and did a layout for scale:
First I pierced and sawed the free-hand drawn crescent moon and wave with a 5/0 and 6/0 saw blade. This was difficult because it had to be centered and also have the layer of copper centered to cover the back. A lot of precision measuring was involved! Then I shaped the thick gauge fine silver frame (without a mandrel; it was all freehand) and soldered it to the base. Here it is ready to prep for sweat-soldering the copper layer:
After hammering the copper oval to reflect the texture of the coral, I seat-soldered that onto the solder, being careful not to melt the frame. I then custom-cut the 22-ga fine silver bezel for the coral and annealed it. Then had to hand-shape the bezel around the coral, being incredibly careful not to crack it. (This was probably the most stressful part of the fabrication). Once completed, I cut, soldered it and then did a fine-tuning on the shape, height, and texture:
The coral came out so I could solder the bezel onto the copper. A lot of white-out was used to help prevent the slipping of the other metals as the solder reheated. (note: you must have proper ventilation to use white-out as its fumes are highly toxic). I also decided to go for it and solder the bail attachment at the same time:
After pickling and cleaning off the white-out, the proper level of patina was attained after several rounds of Black Max and polishing with a 3M blue bristle disc:
I used E6000 to set the coral, because bending the bezel over the coral was too much of a risk for breakage. I made a triple oxidized chain to balance out the size of the pendant and to be in line with the texture of the stone and metal. Here is the finished piece!
The pendant necklace was a big hit and I was honored to be asked to take on such a special project. Aside from learning a lot in the fabrication process, I learned that if I don't put myself under so much pressure, I can relax and enjoy each step of the metal-smithing journey. In the New Year, I plan to make this the norm, not the exception. Do you have an idea for a custom piece of jewelry? Contact me with your idea!