The Stressful Process in Creating a One of a Kind Design

Considerable time goes into creating every new design  but designing a one of a kind piece is especially time consuming and stressful. There are reasons that my one of a kind designs are priced the way they are. There are five major steps, and many smaller steps, in designing a one of a kind creation.

Elemental and Firesong Dragon

Elemental and Fyresong Dragon Pendants

#1 It all begins with hand picking the inspirational gemstones that will be the focal elements of a unique creation.  This process is great fun, but requires a trip to the Tucson Gem and Mineral show each February. After years of attending the show, I have learned the the lay of the land and how to to attack the many venues. Initially, I seek out my favorite vendors; ones who I have purchased from previously and who I know have quality gemstones. I take notes and snap photos of potential opals and fire agates; noting the show and the booth number. Not having an unlimited budget, but an eye for the very best, I think seriously about what treasures I will buy. Traditionally, I travel to this show with Alisha and/or John because 4 or 6 eyes are better than two and my apprentices are already well trained in what to look for. Between traveling and shopping, the buying trip takes 5 days and requires the expected expenses of air flights, hotels and meals out.

#2 My one of a kind designs require anywhere from fifteen to fifty hours of wax carving. I puzzle out and sculpt the proposed design in wax, not on paper. This is a 3-D exercise and I manipulate the wax so that the freeform opal can be set securely and so that any prongs or structural elements are incorporated into the design. As the design progresses, I refine and add detail. I relish my wax carving time. It is a methodical and meditative process and I listen to books on tape as I work. With an engaging book on tape, the hours can fly by but a usual wax session is between 3-6 hours. I find I need at least 3 hours to get into the rhythm of the wax but after 6 hours, my shoulders ache and my eyes tire. I am a regular at the public library, and my taste in literature is varied. Alisha and I both enjoy a good ‘who done it’ but I try to mix the mysteries up with some classical and foreign literature and an occasional comedy.

Firesong Dragon Wax back view

Fyresong Dragon Wax back view

Firesong Dragon Wax in Progress

Fyresong Dragon Wax in Progress









#3 After my wax carving is complete, I double box it and ship it to our California caster. About 25% of the time, my wax arrives broken and they must return it to me for repair. This is always disheartening but seldom  irreparable. All of my original carvings require careful spruing and a dedicated flask for the casting. I am sure that this is an especially stressful process and that my caster dreads the occasion when she may need to call me and tell me the casting failed. It’s been years since they have lost a master wax but it has happened and the many hours of my work is lost.

#4 When the completed master is successfully cast and returned to me to be polished, I will spend several hours carefully hand finishing the casting and preparing it for the stone setting. Most of you think of me as a jeweler, but I am more of a sculptor. I can manipulate wax or clay and can see things three dimensionally.  Although I do some rudimentary bench work, I am not a bench jeweler so I hand off my castings and the treasured gems to Dave with clear instructions as to what stones are to be set where. Prior to this I have calculated dimensions of any accent gems and ordered appropriate findings to bring the piece to fruition. Opals are fragile and there is always the slim chance that a stone will crack during setting. My one of a kind designs are created around organic stones so should a stone break in the setting process, all is lost.

#5 I hold my breath until the piece is finally finished, a process of 2-4 months. Even then, the process isn’t complete until Alisha, my daughter, jeweler, photographer and office manager takes photographs of the finished piece and our talented graphic designer, Lisa, edits the photographs and posts the images on Marty Magic, Etsy and Amazon. I write and add the ‘copy’ for all of our online listings, explaining the materials and telling the story. Happily, I enjoy writing almost as much as designing jewelry.

Because of the time and the many steps involved in creating a one of a kind piece, my one of a kind designs may seem ‘pricy,’ but they are actually extremely reasonable considering all that is involved and that my band width is limited to just a few each year.

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