Thursday, November 18, 2010

Jewellery and other stories

My late Grandmother took out her jewellery box during a visit I made to her last year.  I sat, as I have done all my life, and listened to tales and stories of family and events.  Each piece had a story to tell.  Every piece had significance.  Some pieces held secrets that had not been told for over 50 years.  These stories are our heritage and I love the way that jewellery is often a vehicle for the transmission of the memories.  It keeps the words safe.  Concretes them.  Each one a metaphorical locket that can be opened and remembered from time to time.


One of the favourite parts of my occupation as a designer and maker of jewellery is that I get the chance to orchestrate the fabric that supports this history.  I feel like I am part of a tradition that stretches way back through time.  We have always told stories.  The way in which we illustrate them has evolved but the core is still the same.


Recently I was asked to make a pair of cuff links.  The surface of the silver was to be imprinted with the leaves from an important apple tree in the Netherlands.  The tree is important because it is from the recipient's childhood home.  Soon this tree will be pulled down.  Developers have been pursuing the land for 17 years.  The inhabitants have fought long and hard to keep this tree and have only recently agreed to the developers requests.

Cuff links, November 2010 by Cari-Jane Hakes
The creation of these cuff links turned out to be extremely difficult.  A kind of resistance was put up by the piece at every turn.  Firstly, I could not get the leaves to imprint into the silver.  They were dry and flat but would not give up their texture.  I tried everything.  I annealed the metal multiple times to increase its softness.  I swapped the outer plates from copper to brass and so on.  I translated my difficulties into french and discussed it with my neighbour!  We decided the leaves were not dry enough.   The damp maritime environment that has caused my windows and doors to swell and stick had somehow re-hydrated the leaves.  I considered putting them in the oven.  However, a little spell under my desk lamp crisped them up.  Their brittleness told me it was time to pass them through my rolling mill.  


The next obstacle was soldering.  I have soldered hundreds of things.  But these cuff links put up a fight. I sat back and surveyed the variables.  I cleaned my flux.  I used different heating arrangements and positions.  The solder refused to run and I came close to melting the entire construction at least twice.


Cuff links, November 2010 by Cari-Jane Hakes
There was a point when I really felt as if all my hard won skills had deserted me as I really could no longer do the simplest things.


On the fifth or sixth (I lost count!) the solder flowed.  I relaxed.  Patinated, polished and buffed.


Looking back now the making of these cuff links mirrors the human story.  It is a curious thing.  The tree, the inhabitants resisting and fighting, just like the cuff links did on my workbench.  


And so my hope for them too would be that there would be silver lining to the cloud, something brighter, something shining on the horizon.

I have a month of such commissions in the run up to Christmas and I am so happy to be weaving stories into silver.  I just hope that not all of them resist creation and transformation!

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