28 February 2014

Stone setting - a master class

...Poor neglected blog. I am still here, but life is not being kind right now, and I have to pick where I put my energies. I can't believe that March is just about upon us, and the year is whizzing past. Still, at least it means that Spring's full blown arrival should be imminent. We are already getting days with some sunshine and blue skies, such a change from the grey rainy skies that have sat over our island for weeks on end. In the garden the snowdrops are fading, but the daffodils are bursting forth with their sunshine colour. I am looking forward to the feeling of re-newel that I seem to get in Spring. When everything around me is bursting into life, I seem to get a new blast of vitality myself. To be honest, I desperately need it.

My return to my blog is brought about by the fact that I have just spent some time in the classroom again. A snatched day - but a whole day; immersed in trying something new. I love to learn. I love to expand my knowledge. At the start of the year, when I tried to sit and make plans for the year, I was finding it tough. Circumstances are making it tricky for me to plan anything, my life is rather frustratingly out of my control just now. I asked myself about the things I knew I could achieve. There is a lot to be said for putting your energy into the things you can control, while not wasting energy on the things you can't. I came up with two things that were definitely on my 'to do' list for the year. One was to improve my Photography, and I started an online course to do that almost straight away. The other was to increase my stone setting knowledge. I think it would be fair to say that I am already an OK stone setter - better than many others I know, but I had a desire to try grain / pave setting which is more specialist, for finer work than I am currently known for.

Finding a course was tricky. I looked at West Dean, The Cass, Holts Academy, London School of Jewellery etc. Turns out, if you want to learn to set a cabochon, there are lots of courses for that. In fact I could teach you that myself. But what I wanted to study was proving illusive.

I logged in to the forum on Cooksongold, and found chat about a certain setter who I can only imagine is a very busy man. Everyone seems to use him. Not only that, he is the man who set the diamonds and sapphires in none other than Lady Di / Princess Diana's engagement ring, now worn by Catherine The Duchess of Cambridge. The wonders of the internet lead me to a little workshop in Kent where he was teaching, and a quick e-mail just managed to get me in, to snap up the very last place on a day course. You know sometimes when you just think 'this was meant to be.'

We started the day with the tutor showing us all his amazing samples. Little works of art. From those, we could select which type of setting we wanted to work on. Most people went for gypsy or flush setting (the top one), but I can already do that. One went for a little row of claw settings ( I picked one of those optimistically thinking I would do both in a day!). Someone was setting a big stone in a claw set ring she had made in the workshop the day before. I was the only one to pick grain / pave.

Next the tutor showed us how to grind our gravers, and then in fact mainly did them for us. Having done an engraving course before I was very relieved. If you get the steel too hot on the grinders, it 'blues' and you have to temper it again - yucky scientific stuff that I couldn't master before, so was relieved not to face it again. (...and now I know the bottom kind isn't spelt Spitz, we even thought it could be 'spits' for a while!)

We heated setters wax, and melted our settings into place.

Patiently and with great skill, Tony showed every person how to do one of their settings, while the rest of us watched on and took notes.

Then we all scuttled to our benches to have a go.

The radio was on, the atmosphere was relaxed, and of course there was lots of jewellery discussion as there was a mixture of hobbyists, jewellers that could do some setting, jewellers that sent their setting away for someone else to do it etc. As I work alone in my studio, I loved being surrounded by other like minded people, and having a good natter. There was a pause for lunch, and a chance to look through Tony's photo albums of some of the amazing things he has set. (Including a pic of 'that' ring.) Then we were back to work for the afternoon. The time absolutely flew past. 

By half past four I had produced this. Not quite as impressive as Tony's, but each stone had taken me less time than the one before, and the last stone and its little grains were definitely so much better than the first. 

So now its practise, practise, practise if I want to improve. I am thinking of signing up for another day, and perhaps doing the row of claw settings that I came away with un-started.

I can really recommend Edward and his studio, Tony and the course, to anyone interested. You can find their website here.