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Strutting to Faversham

Updated: Sep 15, 2021

Let me tell you a little story about when I went to Faversham.

After my silversmithing course, I set up a little jewellery workstation at home. It had all the basics and I absolutely loved being able to practice in my own time. I made good headway too. In fact, so pleased was I with my progress, that I was totally filled with confidence and enthusiasm. If I was a peacock I would be positively strutting! So I decided to up the ante and enrol myself into a stone-setting course. A whole weekend of setting gemstones – what fun! Never having set a gemstone that cost more than a few pounds in the simplest of settings, I let my little head run away with dreams of how I would one day be setting diamonds, rubies, emeralds and sapphires.

The course was in a pretty little village called Faversham, about an hour’s drive from London. Our teacher was a wonderful gentleman with thick glasses, called Tony Tigg. He must have been well over seventy years old. When he introduced himself, he told us that he set the stones in Princess Diana’s engagement ring? That’s the one that the Duchess of Cambridge wears. Well, I thought, at least I’m not being taught by an amateur!

There were eight students in the class. I was the only one who didn’t have a degree in something related to jewellery. That set alarm bells ringing straight away. A degree in Maths? All jolly good for my job in a bank, but of no earthly use whatsoever for stone-setting. Hmmm…maybe this wasn’t going to be such a breeze after all. “How do you want your tools cut?” Tony’s assistant asked me. I stared blankly. “Left-handed or right-handed?” he elaborated. Phew! That at least I knew. Left-handed. Although I write with my right hand, I do everything else with my left. The assistant proceeded to do something incomprehensible with a set of tools, and handed them to me.

Tools all cut, Tony demonstrated about eight or nine stone setting techniques and asked each of us to choose two that we would like to try. “Which are the easiest?” I asked. “Roman and Claw”, Tony replied. I chose those. He then called us one by one and showed us how to do our chosen settings. He took about twenty minutes for both. I commented that he made it look so easy. He said “Well I do have about 60 years more experience than you.” He started as an apprentice with his father when he was fifteen. He finished the demo and sent me back to my bench with all the right bits and pieces. He showed us a sample that looked something like the one here. It's just cubic zircona on a sheet of copper, and my picture isn't great, but isn't it beautifully done?

Four hours later, with a bandage on my hand, and a spatter of blood on my tools and the floor, my stone sat next to the metal, still stubbornly unset. The rest of the day went pretty much the same way. I sighed as I watched the others struggling, but not nearly as much as me. As we left in the evening, he cheerily called out “See you tomorrow.” And I thought “Oh God, I have to turn up again?!” I'd almost forgotten that it was a two day course.

Never one to give up easily, I drove down the next day, for another resoundingly dodgy session. I did eventually manage to set my stones, but my peacock strut was now much diminished. And then I found out that even the best professional jewellers get their precious stones set by a specialist stone-setter. Phew! Why, oh why, had nobody told me that earlier? But then, I thought, I would probably have come for the course anyway. You see, I’m a big believer in the power of knowing what you know, and knowing what you don’t know.

I know I’m digressing a bit here, but this course taught me a powerful lesson about the hierarchy of competence, and actually helped me move up a level. Check out the diagram below. When I started out, strutting as I did, I was clearly at the ‘Unconscious Incompetence’ level. I didn’t even know what I didn’t know. By the end of the course, if nothing else, I was aware of my ignorance, and had reached the level of ‘Conscious Incompetence’. I’m a glass half full person, and always looking for positives to take away from any experience. My cloud was that I would never set stones the way Tony does. But this move up the hierarchy of competence, was my silver lining.

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