Pearls By Jo Varney

July 9th, 2014

For me personally, pearls are something that I have come to appreciate over time. I was never immediately drawn to them like other gems but instead, like many, simply wrote them off as something my Nan and mum wore.  It is unfortunate that we are conditioned into thinking that most pearls are white, round and come in single strings because the reality of what is available now is quite to the contrary.

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I think my ‘eureka’ moment came as I stood for the first time in a hall totally devoted to pearls in Hong Kong, at the Gems and Jewellery Fair about 10 years ago now. It was a truly awesome sight. Everywhere I looked there were tables laden with pile upon pile of loosely strung pearls with buyers closely scrutinising each one. It was at that point that I realised I needed to try a little harder to understand and appreciate these little wonders of nature!

When you see pearls laid out on mass, it is far easier to see the true range of qualities and grades available. The lustre of a good quality pearl is absolutely stunning, almost metallic so you can see your reflection in it! Unfortunately pearls of this quality command high prices and are simply not accessible to most.

 


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The difficulty when purchasing pearls is the lack of standardised grading system. Unlike diamonds, pearls are graded differently by each farmer, so what is ‘A’ grade from one supplier will not be ‘A’ grade from another. It is vital to build up a good relationship with your supplier so you both have a clear understanding of what you are buying. This is particularly important when supplying goods to the mass market here in the UK as consistency is absolutely key. (It can be a very steep learning curve when things go wrong!)

Although naturally occurring, true ‘natural’ pearls are rare and the majority of pearls today are farmed, ‘cultured’ and are grown as quickly and efficiently as possible. The range of colours and shapes, if left undisturbed, is largely determined by the origin and age of the mollusc. But, as with everything, there is an increasing demand for new and innovative shapes and colours which require more human intervention.

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 These soufflé pearls pictured above are one of the more recent innovations to take the pearl industry by storm. They are only grown by two farms in the Hunan Province of China which makes them extremely rare. I have learnt about them from a company called Pearl Paradise (pearlparadise.com), who are one of the few American suppliers of these top quality pearls. (Their website is packed full of information about top quality pearls and their blog details some of the amazing, more unusual finds they source from buying trips abroad. It’s well worth a look).

The Formation of Soufflé Pearls

‘The earthen material that is inserted into the existing pearl sac – a nacre-producing pouch inside a freshwater mussel from which a pearl was already harvested – is inserted to “souffler” the pearl sac. The material, which starts out dry, soaks up the surrounding moisture and begins to expand. As the material expands, the pearl sac also expands. The pearl sac continues to deposit nacre over this now-much-larger nucleus – the birth of a soufflé pearl.’

Once the pearls are harvested, they are drilled so the mud can be removed, leaving a large, hollow form. Traditionally pearls are sold by weight so initially soufflé pearls were discarded but that soon changed as their popularity grew.

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I absolutely love these new irregular beauties. They challenge all that we traditionally associate with pearls which is no bad thing and you can rest assured that you will not have seen your granny wearing them!

 

Summer Trends by Jo Varney

July 2nd, 2014

If you don’t have children, you may not be aware of the latest craze that has swept through playgrounds across the globe. Loom Bands initially started out as a kid’s fad, and is basically a reincarnation of the friendship bracelet. However recently, they have exploded onto the mainstream market thanks to the celebrity endorsement of the Duchess of Cambridge and David Beckham plus countless others.  The Duchess received one as a gift from some children during her recent tour of New Zealand and has since been spotted wearing it discreetly concealed under her more formal attire. And whilst the youngsters tend to favour the ‘more is more’ approach, stacking and layering colours and styles up the wrist, the more subtle approach sported by Kate is infinitely more wearable by adults.

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So, what are they?? Well essentially ’Loom Bands’ are tiny coloured elastic bands that can be woven together using a loom to form a multitude of different designs from a single line ‘Loosey Goosey’ , to fish tails and railroads. They come in a myriad of different colour ways including glitter, neon, rainbow and even scented so the possibilities really are endless for the creative youngster.

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Hobbycraft have reported a 331% increase in sales since the Duchess was seen wearing the bracelet, so it would seem that the ‘Kate Effect’ has definitely struck again with ‘Loom Bands’ now being described by the company’s  buyers as an ‘absolute phenomenon’!

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The style and ethos of the friendship bracelet is perfect for summer and has enjoyed unwavering popularity year after year thanks to Links of London, Thomas Sabo, Lola Rose etc etc. Who have all produced nice quality, mid –market priced bracelets which appeal to the masses.

Most big brands now have a version of a ‘friendship’ style bracelet because they have realised the potential of the style. It is casual, (so can be worn every day), it is unisex (major plus point), and it creates a trendy, young and urban look to any outfit (who doesn’t want that!). Plus, because these bracelets use materials such as cotton, leather and rubber they can be produced in literally hundreds of different colours and styles so it is unlikely that you will see lots of people wearing exactly the same bracelet.

This, in turn taps into the demand for more individual, customised pieces that Pandora have capitalised on so successfully during the last decade. Their brilliant marketing and seemingly unlimited choice have created an illusion of individuality and originality that customers crave.  Friendship ‘style’ bracelets fall firmly into the same category.

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For me, casual, colourful and fun sum up what summer trends are all about. Forget the Fashion Houses and magazines, just look around you and you will undoubtedly see it for yourself. It doesn’t matter if it’s a neon loom band bracelet made by your daughter for a few pence or a Links of London Friendship Bracelet for £200, tear up the rule book and throw them all on – summer is here!

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How to use pearls in precious metal jewellery. By Aimee Booth

June 30th, 2014

Hi there, my name is Aimee Booth and in this post I will be showing you a simple little trick on how to use pearls in your jewellery! From elegant drop pearl earrings, to rings, brooches, anything you can think of. You could also use this trick in beaded jewellery as well as precious metal!

If you’ve wanted to use pearls before, but aren’t sure how or what tools and adhesive to use, read on to find out!

What you will need –

-          A half drilled cultured freshwater pearl of desired size. You can buy these pearls in ¾ or full round. For this tutorial you will need either of these. You can also buy halved pearls but they are predominately used to be trapped in the metal, with claws for example.

-          Wire that fits snugly into the drilled out hole in your pearl. I believe most pearls have around a 0.5mm hole in them but don’t take my word for it, if you can, check before buying your wire.

-          Of course, the piece of jewellery for the pearl! (Finish and polish the piece as much as possible before setting your pearl to avoid damage later)

-          An epoxy adhesive, I recommend the two-part Araldite Rapid, a heavy duty Epoxy adhesive that is really strong and holds well with any movements, unlike superglue which may crack and break.

Step One

Start off with your finished piece that you would like to attach your pearl to, here is just a simple pendant design I created for a giveaway, you’ll notice I haven’t pickled it, so it’s still pretty oxidised, I usually don’t have much trouble with soldering on oxidized silver like this, unless it’s been heated lots. Choose where you would like your pearl to go, in this design the pearl is going inside the heart at the top left.

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Step Two

I held my heart design with a third arm so it wouldn’t move when placing the wire on the inside. Borax the end of your wire and on your piece of metal where you will be attaching it, apply a small pallion of solder. I used easy solder as this is the last thing I was soldering onto this piece. In this photo the piece of wire for the pearl was held in place by reverse action tweezers.

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 Step Three

Once you’ve heated up your piece and your wire is now soldered on, (be careful when soldering this wire as the thinner the wire, of course the easier it is to accidentally melt it!) pickle it to get rid of the oxide layer.

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Step Four

Cut down your piece of wire if you’ve used a long piece like me, so that it doesn’t get caught up easily in your pendant motor. Buff and polish your design now before starting to fix in your pearl.

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 Step Five

Prepare your adhesive! Here is the Araldite two part A-Epoxy adhesive. It comes with the two tubes of epoxy solution, the resin and the hardener, a mixing stick and instructions. Be careful getting it on your skin as it can irritate. Here you can also see two little pearls, one of which will be set into my piece!

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Step Six

Cut down your wire to the length desired to go into the hole in the pearl, whilst not being visible once inserted. You’ll notice here because it’s a really tiny pearl, the little stump of wire is probably only around 2mm long.

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 Step Seven

Squeeze both parts of the Araldite Rapid onto a scrap piece of plastic or little dish, make sure you use equal amounts of 50-50. Because you’ll only need a tiny bit, be careful when squeezing! (they can come out pretty fast and catch you off guard, glue everywhere!) Mix them together thoroughly for around 30 seconds with the stick provided.

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Step Eight

Make sure your little pearl post is clean and dry, perhaps even with a bit of a rough surface. Apply the adhesive to the post and carefully insert the pearl onto it, push down firmly and let it set! It will set completely in around 10 minutes, but is at its strongest approximately 16 hours later.

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Step Nine

Once the adhesive has set, give it another careful polish (I just used a polish-impregnated cloth) and there you have it! A wonderful little trick on using pearls in your jewellery. If you’re more into using beaded jewellery, you could use this trick to your advantage too! Perhaps finish off the end of a piece of wire wrapped jewellery with a little half drilled pearl, there’s lots of possibilities.

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Thank you so much for reading and I hope this has been helpful! If you have any questions or tips I would love an email from you!

Enjoy! – Aimee

Aimeelbooth@ymail.com

www.facebook.com/alvynejewellery

 

Jo Varney – Disc Cutter 5 Hole Review

June 6th, 2014

By Jo Varney

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Disc cutting tools are extremely useful to have in your kit if your saw piercing is a little rusty and/or your work uses a large number of discs as initial constructive elements.

This particular disc cutter is the baby of the range available at Cooksongold and retails for an affordable £25.49 plus VAT. The hole sizes range from 1.3cm – 2.5cm and both the block and punches are made from steel as you would expect.

When you receive your disc cutter the punches will be located in the corresponding holes. Before using the cutter you will need to firstly remove all the punches.

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Before proceeding any further, take a moment to familiarise yourself with your punches. One end of each punch is bevelled and the other is flat. The flat edge is the cutting edge so always place the punch into block, cutting side down. It sounds obvious but it’s easy to make a mistake which could potentially damage your cutting edge and would result in them having to be reground.

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Place your chosen piece of metal into the locating slot at the side of the block, ensuring it’s resting against the back so it cannot move.( I used 0.7mm sheet copper but I think most of these cutters can accommodate up to 1mm as a maximum. I would suggest a few practise runs to establish its limitations before embarking on any project using a costly precious metal).

Then place your chosen punch securely into its corresponding hole and strike firmly with a hammer until it pushes through the metal. (This will probably take 4 or 5 strikes or maybe less if you work out!).

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Your result should be a perfectly cut, flat disc which will fall from the base of the block. It should then require just a minimal amount of work to smooth off the edges, but really nothing much.

The punches are a little tricky to remove after use but you can loosen them by using a small hammer or pure brute force if you are that way inclined!

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I was actually really impressed with the simplicity and effectiveness of this little tool. It is extremely easy to use and produces great results.  It’s efficiency is also going to save you hours of working time if you are currently saw piercing out your discs and also quite a bit of money if you are currently buying your discs pre-cut. Either way it’s a win/win situation. In the past I have spent hours sawing out discs and I now really wish I had taken just a little bit more time to peruse the tool catalogues! I think we can all be guilty of struggling on sometimes with the basic tools, when just a small investment would make the world of difference. Finding the right tool to do a job can be so crucial to your profitability and overall efficiency as a craftsman and I consider my lesson to be learnt. A great little tool – I want one!

The Colour Gold Part 2

May 30th, 2014

By Jo Varney

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In many ways it is difficult to separate the colour gold from the material itself as the two are inextricably linked, as are our associations.

The colour gold can either be depicted as flat and tonal or metallic and shiny, ‘gold-tone’ which is a phrase often used to differentiate from the material itself.

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‘Golden Tones’

As you can see from these colour charts, flat ‘golden tones’ have the same warmth as the real thing but none of the pomp and ceremony. For the vast majority of us however, if we want something to be gold, we want it to be metallic and reminiscent of the element itself.

The most prolific use of the colour gold throughout history has been in religious art and iconography as well as adorning the palaces and possessions of the social elite, be it royalty, nobility or otherwise.

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The images above are of Catherine’s Palace in St Petersburg, Russia. This was the Baroque summer residence of the Russian Tsars and it was rumoured that 100kg of gold was used to gild the stucco facade and the numerous statues on the roof.

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The Vatican Library

 

In each instance the use of gold sends a powerful message of importance that transcends language. Throughout early history, few people could read or write, so colour was the simplest way to convey a message that could be easily understood across the social classes.  If someone was adorned with gold or their home was decorated with gold, there could be no doubt as to their social status.

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Adele Bloch-Bauer’s Portrait – 1907 (Oil, silver and gold on canvas)

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Of course not all the gold used for decoration was real. As soon as technology allowed, imitation gold pigments became widespread. The metallic element of the gold paint used in many of the Art Nouveau paintings of the period, was achieved with aluminium powder and pigment allowing its usage to be much more common place. Some of the most recognised ‘golden’ paintings of the era were produced by Gustav Klimt (1862 – 1918). As a symbolist painter Klimt understood the impact of so much gold within his work and combined with his sensual and erotic portrayal of his female subjects, his work has always caused controversy within the art world.

For our tastes today, the prolific use of gold can seem a little vulgar, especially for the British who tend to favour a more subtle and understated style. In our modern day world of communication at the touch of a button, we no longer need such powerful displays of symbolism, yet the allure of gold continues.

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However those who do indulge, be it real or fake, do so at their peril. Pictured above is Michael Carroll who made the headlines after winning 9.7million pounds on the lottery in 2002. The self styled ‘King of Chavs’ was well known for his love of gold jewellery amongst other things, which earn’t him widespread condemnation across the country.  ‘I only started to think about three things – drugs, sex and gold’. Vast displays of gold, in this instance, became indicative of a certain lifestyle and have done for a while now. It is interesting how our perceptions of gold today have shifted but also how over the centuries symbolism can evolve and change from positive to negative.

Gold- By Jo Varney

May 16th, 2014

By Jo Varney

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Gold is one of the most captivating and beautiful substances on the planet and has fascinated man for literally thousands of years. Although it’s tricky to pinpoint exactly when it was first discovered, it is known to have been in existence from as far back as 6000BC.

Gold was one of the first metals to ever be discovered and along with copper, silver, iron, mercury, lead and tin make up the seven ‘Metals of Antiquity’.  These metals are what our civilisation was based and built upon and have shaped the way we live our lives today.

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Long before gold became used for currency (around 700BC); it was initially used for displays of wealth and power in the form of ornate decorative trinkets and vessels.

Early civilisations equated gold with gods and rulers, and gold was sought in their name and dedicated to their glorification. Humans almost intuitively place a high value  on gold, associating it with power, beauty and the cultural elite and since gold is widely distributed all over the world, we find this same thinking throughout ancient and modern civilisations everywhere.

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Whilst copper was more prized for its practical and utilitarian applications, the malleability and lustre of gold meant it was perfect for decorative objects as it was easily worked. It was and still is too soft in its pure state to be put to much practical use and aside from this, the sheer cost of using pure gold for most is simply out of the question.

It was largely due to these reasons that the first ‘gold’ coinage ever produced was in fact made of Electrum which is a naturally occurring alloy of gold and silver with trace elements of copper. Also known as ‘Green Gold’ these alloyed coins were more durable and therefore practical, but caused trading problems due to the varying percentage of pure gold in each one. (Gold content ranged from 90% – 45% depending on its origin). The colour of Electrum was often very pale due to its lack of gold content and could even technically be likened more to silver.

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Of course the gold we buy today is produced to very strict criteria and the whole alloying process is tightly controlled so we know exactly what we are buying. It is actually quite fascinating just how many different ‘recipes’ there are for each standard of gold. Each recipe produces a slightly different colour and carat and there are varying rules and regulations across the globe as to what is and is not acceptable within an alloy.

For example the UK is one of the few countries to still recognise 9K due to its relatively low gold content, (375 parts in every 1000) but we are used to its pale colour and lower price points, and therefore that is what we prefer. The US opts for 10K as standard and many European Countries will accept nothing lower than 14K, so hallmarks are absolutely crucial for the purposes of identification of purity. In contrast Middle East countries favour the very high value gold alloys often 22k and you will see in places like Dubai how much yellower the gold is than here in the UK.

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Irrespective of value, carat or colour, the allure of gold has spanned centuries and will continue to do so long after we are gone. It’s sometimes easy to take it for granted when working with it every day, but it’s great to be part of an industry with such an aweinspiring material at it’s heart.

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Can you dig it? An Interview With Lydia Niziblian

May 6th, 2014

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Lydia Niziblian tells us how digging up dad’s garden inspired this exciting young jewellery maker from Wales.

Lydia, We’ve Heard You talk about your childhood digging up shards of china, old coins and bits of metal in your parents’ back garden. Is this what first inspired you? And how did your dad take to you digging up his dahlias?

 Some of my earliest memories are of visiting the National Museum of Wales and I remember being very excited by the idea of finding treasure or fossils. But when it came to digging things up, it wasn’t a problem because I had my

own little patch of garden! I think my mum thought I would catch her love of gardening but I was more interested in

what I could find when digging. I kept any ‘treasure’ in an egg box.

You came to jewellery making by a roundabout route. What finally convinced you to ‘take the plunge’ and go for it?

 I first tried working with silver when taking a City & Guilds at night school. I was working in television production

and missed doing something arts related. I totally fell in love. After I’d left my job, moved back to Wales and had

my children I was left with a fair bit of free time. I dug out my tools (digging obviously being my thing!), started experimenting with silver clay and then more traditional silversmithing. I soon realised I couldn’t stop if I wanted to!

Within 8 weeks of dusting off my torch was registered as self-employed, and was renting a local studio to work in.

We see you’re back in your home town now. Is that sense of place important to your work?

 I love Cardiff. Physically, how the City, the coast and the mountains are all so close. There’s no lack of inspiration here! My three favourite places when I want to clear my head ready for a new project are still places I loved as a child: the Museum, Forest Farm Nature Reserve and Llandaf Cathedral. I love the community in the workshops

where my studio is (The Printhaus) and the markets and open studio days we have there mean meeting plenty of

locals. Cardiff has a thriving creative community, and working next to people who are working in different disciplines

has always been inspirational to me. In our workshops alone we have painters, sculptors, print makers, graffiti artists

and textile designers – it’s fab!

Your pieces often have the look of ‘found objects’, like treasures from an archaeological dig in some lost

Continent. Is that the feeling you’re aiming for?

 Absolutely! Ultimately I want them to be artefacts to be discovered by the wearer. To look like they have a past and a story. We’re back to that word ‘treasure’ again, but that’s what I want them to be: little treasures.

There’s also a science fiction dimension to your work (the ‘Your Satellite’ pin for example). Where did that come from?

 Ooh… nicely spotted! I love science fiction – books and films… and being an astronaut is another of my thwarted early ambitions. I’m still fairly disappointed that we’re in 2014 and the hover-cars and robots are a bit thin on the ground. Space is an incredible inspiration. I can easily lose a day looking at photographs from the Hubble site. Literally aweinspiring stuff. The satellite pin is an easy one: I really enjoy reticulating silver and have a day of it every now and again as a treat! Reticulated silver always looks like topography to me, and reticulated discs always remind me of little moons – hence the satellite reference.

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And a subversive streak? The ‘Keep your Diamonds’ cocktail ring for example looks like it’s thumbing its

nose at the ‘establishment’!

 I do use simple, traditional techniques but sometimes the finished pieces don’t look very traditional! I really enjoy

crystals and minerals, and have used both in jewellery, as well as uncut gemstones. Nature doesn’t get it wrong and some of the crystal forms are beautiful enough to include with minimal preparation. The KYD ring was made

around a natural iridescent apophyllite crystal, which is beautiful in its own right. You don’t necessarily need diamonds!

We love some of the poetic names you give your pieces, ‘Rolling with the Small Gods’ being our favourite. Do you like to give your pieces a story?

 I’m constantly torn between not naming pieces at all, and giving them a fifteen page back story! So, one piece

might have a title like the ‘small gods’ necklace, another might be simply ‘uvavorite ring’. It depends on my

mood – I should be more consistent! Incidentally, the necklace got its name as the piece of prehnite I used looked

like a green eye which reminded me of the title of the Rudyard Kipling poem ‘The Green Eye of the Little Yellow God’. The titles are usually a bit tongue in cheek. If you’re going to name something, it might as well be a bit full-on!

What hints and tips could you give our readers for building a successful jewellery making business from

scratch?

Well, all mine come from finding confidence in what you do. Don’t be afraid to make mistakes. Find your own path and your own style and don’t be afraid that you’re doing it ‘wrong’ or asking for advice.

 

Finally, how has Cooksongold helped you get established?

Well, I’ve recently started using the Cooksongold forum. It is absolutely invaluable. People are very generous with their time, advice and experience. Being able to talk with other people in a similar position is just great. And, in practical terms, Cooksongold means I get the materials and tools I need as quickly as I need them!

Sounds like you’re on your way to the top… and ‘rolling with the big gods’!

 I hope so… my work seems to be attracting a lot of attention in all the right places these days.