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From Jewellery Design to Prototype - And Deciding if it Stays or Goes

Last time I described how I come up with an idea and turn it into a design. Today I’m going to talk to you about how that design becomes a piece of jewellery.


First up is attitude. For the most part, when you’re setting up a business, you’re taking a leap of faith; in yourself, in your products, in your luck and much else. But most of all, you have to be optimistic, otherwise you’re bound to fail. But when I’m making a new design, I start with the opposite view. I assume that it’s going to fail, because I don’t want to be satisfied too easily.


Next comes the making part. I’ve been making jewellery for a while now, and have no problem with many of the techniques. But there’s always more to learn. Making things faster, more robust, with a better finish, the list can go on. I accept that each prototype is a learning process and will take about four or five times as long as when it becomes routine. But I try to make sure that the finish is exactly to the standard that I would be willing to sell to a customer. Otherwise it’s not a real reflection of how the piece will look, is it? And what would be the point of that?


Once I’m satisfied that the piece is made as it should be, it’s time for a pause. First of all, does the piece look right? It could be that it doesn’t sit well around the neck or wherever it belongs. If I still think it’s pretty, I might try to fix things by changing a curvature here or an angle there. But sometimes I just know it’s not going to work. So then it’s back to square one. Pencil, paper, drawing… blah blah blah.


If it passes this first test, I’ll wear the piece. I’ll sleep in it to make sure nothing hurts me at night. I’ll shower in it to see the effect of bath and shower products on it. I tug at the chain; no, not wildly like a chain snatcher on a motorcycle, but enough to check that it doesn’t break more easily than expected. If the shape allows, I’ll even have a go at hitting it with a hide mallet. Better for me find out that it falls apart before a customer does. Wearing the piece through a couple of days will also tell me if it’s too heavy, how it moves on my body, if it snags in my clothing or comes undone too easily. Trivial things, I know, but not so trivial if you’re a customer and the piece keeps snagging in your clothing and annoying you or slaps your chest and hurts you when you’re running for a bus.


Then there are issues that have nothing to do with the piece at all. It may take too long to make, which not only means a lot of eye-testing and backbreaking work, but also increases the labour cost, and may price itself off the list. If I know that the time will shorten as I make it more often, then that’s fine. But sometimes, it’s just the process. Each of my enamel pieces needs about six coats of enamel before it’s done. Each coat has to be painted, heated and cooled. That’s not a quick process no matter how many times I’ve done it before. So either I accept that and price the piece accordingly, or move on.


Now, just one small paragraph about design principles – no please don’t switch off, it’s not that bad.

According to design principles, for every piece of jewellery, there are seven elements that need to be considered. These are balance, emphasis, movement, proportion, contrast, unity and harmony. I won’t bore you with the details, but if you’re a geek like me, you can read more at https://www.firemountaingems.com/resources/jewelry-making-articles/bc4l. Not every element needs to be actively considered in every piece, and most often, you won’t consider any of them until something doesn’t seem right, and you try to put your finger on what’s not working.


The piece I’ve designed is asymmetric, so the most important feature is likely to be balance. Despite being asymmetrical, does the piece look visually well balanced, or does it look like a see-saw with an elephant on one side and a mouse on the other? For asymmetric pieces, I usually have a vertical line going through them so that I can check for balance.


Here’s a photo of a prototype of the piece I drew last week, along with some matching earrings I’d made earlier. That little green stone was supposed to be a bit of water-casting (unpredictable!) and enamelling (time-consuming). It didn’t work, so I set a stone in there instead. The jury’s still out on this one, and I think it’s heading towards a no, but I’m not sure why. So if you want to be really, really helpful, why not leave me a comment to let me know if you think I should explore this style further?


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