A miniature galaxy

I had never heard of dumortorite in quartz before my brother brought me this stone but immediately fell in love.

Unfortunately its heavenly blue spangliness was meant for his wife and he wondered if I might set if for them. Even more unfortunately, she didn’t like it much! She is blessed with creamy skin and a mass of shiny, almost black, hair so wears more dramatic colours in the warm end of the spectrum.

After a bit of a chat she conceded that perhaps she might like it if it was set in a ring with a textured, darker finish. We discussed hammered finishes but reticulation came out tops.

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Dumortorite in quartz ring by Erica Madelin. The Dumortorite crystals form a thin layer at the bottom of the cabochon, their facets catching the light beautifully.

Reticulation is where a piece of metal is heated to the point it almost melts but, like skin on a cooling custard, can be manipulated with a flame into a textured, slightly wavy surface. It’s great if you are going to use a section in a pendant but is a bugger if you are going to use a bit of it for a ring. Metal bends where it finds least resistance so the thinner bits bend and the thicker bits remain stubbornly straight. It’s also wasteful of silver because your neat rectangle of a ring shank is going to develop a waist which will have to be filed parallel  again.

Those, and other problems mean that I am not entirely happy with this project but it’s still a beautiful stone and I hope she will like it and wear it.

 

 

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The Spirit of Spring

Spring has arrived with a vengeance and I can hardly believe that a nearby footpath that was under feet of snow a month ago is now bright with bluebells and golden broom.

It can’t help but have an affect on one’s mood and so this month I have been busy making shamelessly pretty things. Actually, that is not quite true as I have also been making a giant, copper, carnivorous flower sculpture but that’s a story for another time.

A couple of years ago I made some little Hawthorn leaves out of copper. Hawthorn is a great tree, a real all rounder. Some trees are one-trick ponies; the Lilacs for example are looking amazing right now but who bothers to pay any attention to them the rest of the year? In contrast, the Hawthorn often grows into gnarled shapes that look good in winter, it’s wood is hard, the spring blossoms beautiful and the berries and leaves can be eaten.

There is a huge amount of folklore about Hawthorn from the UK, where it was thought to guard the entrances to fairy land, to Croatia where it was considered the ideal material for staking vampires. In the Victorian language of flowers it represented hope and today trials are going ahead to see if it can help with certain heart conditions and high blood pressure.

So, it is a very much underrated spring bloom and deserves its place next to the ever-popular cherry blossom.

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Hawthorn hair comb in copper with silver blossoms and pearl buds. By Erica Madelin

The blossoms are of course in sterling silver and the buds are fresh water pearls. I had wanted to hold out for some half drilled pearls of the kind used in earrings but they are weirdly expensive compared to fully drilled pearls. Being pleased with how the first one turned out, I went on to do an autumn Hawthorn hair comb to match.

 

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Hawthorn hair combs by Erica Madelin. Copper with sterling silver, freshwater pearls and coral.

On a roll, I then finished the day with a delicate pair of jellyfish earrings in sterling silver with tiny tourmaline beads.

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Jellyfish earrings in silver and tourmaline by Erica Madelin

Don’t you just love that rock!? It’s a chunk of lava from Mount Etna.

A Lapis Queen

A while back I made a Turquoise ring in an unusual setting made out of a domed piece of silver. I won’t say it is unique, not just because that is a hideously overused and abused word but because I have learned that anything any silversmith can come up with, will have been done by someone else at some point. Having said that, I can say with honesty that  I am not aware of anyone else setting stones in this particular way.

Since setting the Turquoise (an unusual onion-domed cabochon with a tapering bottom) I have been looking for another stone of the same shape but have been unable to find one. Finally I found something that would almost do; a star garnet with a high dome and tapering bottom. So how come this is a Lapis? I hear you say. Well, erm, I was probably not careful enough when offering the stone up to the dome and working out where the prongs would end up because the stone just kept falling out. Fortunately my stock of stones provided a hitherto disregarded Lapis cabochon with a totally flat bottom which worked beautifully.

It is a heavenly rich blue, makes a nice partner for the Turquoise, and is generally a lovely, shapely, juicy little ring. People do still prefer the first one, but at least I now know I can use this setting for stones I hadn’t previously considered. I may have to consider trying a faceted stone next.

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Silver rings with Turquoise and Lapis By Erica Madelin

 

Fly, be Free

Another friend, another birthday.  This was a piece for a museum curator, specialising in metalwork and who often works with real, trained silversmiths. That was a little daunting and besides, she doesn’t really go in for jewellery, just the occasional colourful or shiny costume piece.

When she decided to leave the country I finally had my idea – a bird as a symbol of freedom. A few months later, visiting the Decorative Arts Museum in Madrid together, I spotted this bird embroidered on a bedspread and made a quick sketch.

The piece was pierced out of silver sheet while the bail was designed to balance the sweep of the bird’s wings. If I had been making it for myself I would have oxidised the whole item before polishing off the wing and tail tips to highlight them but I think my friend would have liked that less.

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Fly, be free. Silver pendant by Erica Madelin

Industrial Heart

It’s a day late for Valentine’s Day but here is my latest “grownup steampunk” piece comprising a heart shaped labradorite in gorgeous striped bronze and green, set in silver oxidised to echo the colours of the stone. Suspended underneath is a beautifully tactile Victorian cabinet key.  The idea of this series is that over time they gain character as they are worn and the patina changes and adapts to the wearer.

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grownup steampunk necklace by Erica Madelin

Electroforming

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Cryptozoological experiment in electroformed copper

One evening before Christmas I was sitting at the kitchen table listening to my neighbours scream at each other while Coronation Street played in the background. I was painting a small rat skull with a thick layer of black conductive paint when I realised that while they would think me odd, I would never trade places with them.

I have friends and family who prepared to boil up pigeon skulls and post me weird insects and I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Which brings me to electroforming – the reason I was happily playing with vermin bones.

The idea to try electroforming came to me at work after someone had shared a picture of a snapdragon pod which, upside down, looks like a little skull. 10 minutes of googling later and I knew I wanted to give electroforming a go. 30 minutes of googling  later I realised I wanted nothing to do with silver electroforming as this would involve the use of Potassium cyanide and possibly result in hydrocyanic gas and explosive deposits. I can be cavalier with chemicals but even I balk at using cyanide in the kitchen!

So copper it was, as it uses relatively benign mixture of sulphuric acid and copper sulphate, some copper wire and a bench power supply. There are good instructibles online or I’d recommend this book for anyone interested in giving it a go.

I clearly have a lot to learn but I shall leave you with my first attempts at copper plating.

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Electroformed copper rings by Erica Madelin

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electroformed pendants by Erica Madelin

 

Victorian Portraits

On a whim I bought a set of Victorian Carte de Visite from E-bay with an idea about doing something steampunk with them.  It didn’t happen. I kept looking into the eyes of the subjects and wondering if these pictures might be the last records of those individuals. Perhaps somewhere they appear in a family album with their names faithfully recorded but then again, they came from France which has experienced at least three invasions since they were taken so anything could have happened.

My solution was give them some friends and paint around them. I have a friend who makes steampunk jewellery so I may try printing these out and sealing them behind glass cabochons. It would be a nice way of combining art and jewellery.