As a jeweller, you can never have too many tools, right?

For sure.

To my husband’s despair, I will never own enough pliers. Or hammers... files, stamps. But for most regular, artisan silver jewellery making, in my opinion, you should only really need one piercing saw. It is really important to find the right one for you, and there are a number of factors to think about.

You may have noticed that there is a huge variation in cost, but is it necessary to spend a lot? Does that extra £70 give you anything more than a marginal gain?

I currently own three piercing saws. I bought my cheapest (a non branded, 3” adjustable frame from Cooksons Gold), before I knew my interest in silver would become an obsession. My other two are higher-end models, the Knew Concepts with Quick Release Lever, and my Green Lion saw.

Here is a summary of benefits and drawbacks to help anyone choosing their forever saw.

Cookson’s Non-branded Adjustable Frame Saw (left, cost approx. £10)

Like many of its kind, the main benefit of the Cookson’s Basic is of course the cost, and the fact that you can adjust the width of the frame, allowing reuse of the many broken saw blades you generate when starting out. But as you improve, I found that this has limited advantage because, by the time you break a blade, the quality will have deteriorated, fragments may be bent or not saw efficiently, and the pieces you salvage probably have a very limited life remaining.

Further, as it is good practice to use the full length of blade with each stroke (to avoid wear being localised) you may well find it unnatural and frustrating to use an incomplete blade. I end up hitting the frame against the metal, because my natural sawing rhythm is broken. Further, being a bit of a weakling, I find the blade loading action delivers bruising of the sternum when baring weight to flex the frame to the width required to catch each end. With my bench not fixed to the floor, I soon needed a re-sand of my hardwood kitchen worktop, being the only fixed surface I could find conveniently in those moments of disruptive emergency blade changing! A cunning lifehack is to retrospectively tension the blade by loading first and stretching via the adjustable frame attachment. I’m sure adjustable saws are not designed to work like this... but it seems to work ok.

In summary, this saw perfectly acceptable, if you don’t mind fiddle and discomfort when tensioning your blade. But when you try a higher end model, you really do see what you are missing…

Knew Concepts Saw (right, cost approx. £70)

I bought the Knew Concepts saw with quick release mechanism after getting fed up with the fiddle and discomfort. It is quick and easy to load up the blade, once you figure out how to do it; this can be done by the flip of a lever. The saw feels sturdy because of the intricate, well-engineered frame, which holds the blade at a good, constant tension. There is no recycling of broken fragments with this girl, so if that is something you are looking for, then this may not be the saw for you. I found a very fine line between good tensioning and over-tightening/snapping the blade before it has even touched silver, which is something you avoid pretty quickly, especially if you insist on spending your profits on fine quality, high-end blades!

In terms of weight, it is incredibly light; indeed, a bit too light for my liking, but that is probably down to personal choice.

Ultimately, this is a great, well designed saw. However, because it is a complex piece of engineering, there is more in theory, to go wrong. Mine did malfunction after around 8 months, but I found the customer support is responsive and committed to giving you a good experience of their product.

Green Lion Saw (middle, cost approx. £80)

There is but one saw that has stolen my heart. The Green Lion is the gold standard, and is always kept in short reach of my peg due to its near (but not quite perfect) qualities.

She arrived with some nifty stickers; I feel not so much a gimmick, more a declaration, through great quality branding, that she knows she is hot. And was about to show me just how much.

With her Art Nouveau-esq styling, not only is she the most handsome specimen of her kind, her lion-engraved, super-tactile ergonomic handle makes her a dream to hold. She is perfectly weighted with just the right amount of heaviness to the downward cut, without putting strain on the wrist or cause difficulty manoeuvring around intricate curves.

She is designed, again, with the art of easy blade changing in mind, and presents an inspired simplicity in solution that the Knew Concepts saw lacks. The two hooks on each end pf the frame can be pulled together with one hand, to allow the correct distance to grip the blade. Whether you are left or right handed, the thumbscrews make this easy. But here lies the one and only disappointment of this tool, and what the instructions don’t tell you; it must be operated by a human with normal sized hands. It turns out I am blessed with a tiny hand span, so small that I didn’t appear on the ergonomic reference data used by Green Lion. Once I was over the bitter disappointment of not being able to use her most significant unique selling point, I discovered that she requires less frame flex to grip and achieve correct blade tension than a standard piercing saw. I can do the sternum manoeuvre against my peg in a split second, without injury. Job done. She and I remain workshop partners, and her weight and overall sexiness in the styling department make her a winner in all counts.

In summary she is not far from being perfect. If Green Lion were to make a limited-edition micro-saw for the lady with undersized hands, I would definitely be the first in the queue. In fact, if Green Lion make phones, cars, gin, anything, I’d probably buy them too.

#piercingsaws #greenlion #piercingsilver #silversmithingtools #thesilverbird #piercingsawreview #silversmithing #piercingsilver

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Starting a business in jewellery design is something I’ve thought about for a long time. In November 2019, having moved to a house which has space for a workshop, I decided to take the plunge, buy a workbench, and give it a go. A year and a half later, I’m making handmade products on a daily basis and I haven’t looked back!

I completed a degree in Product Design at Brunel University, and have been a secondary school Design and Technology teacher for nearly two decades. During this time, I have set up DT departments in two new schools, been a senior school leader, and have enjoyed developing projects which teach young people how to design and make novel, aesthetically pleasing products. Early in my career, I completed an MEd at Cambridge University, focusing on creative idea generation and development. This helped me to develop lots of strategies to give to children when generating ideas, for example, bio-mimicry; replicating the natural world in product design in order to make unique textures and forms. These strategies have proved invaluable as I started designing my own jewellery. I now split my time between teaching, silversmithing, and family life!

While I have worked with a number of different materials, fabricating in silver was new. By far, the best source of support comes from the thriving online metalsmith community and Guild of Jewellery Designers, which have provided countless gems (excuse the pun) of advice, and honed both my technical and business practice. Because of my background, silversmithing has been a significantly more gentle learning curve than navigating the world of social media marketing! I, as a fourty-something teacher, never imagined how much of my time would be attached to my laptop creating content for Instagram and Facebook! As I don’t have a bricks-and-mortar business, keeping active and engaging on social media has been pivotal in making my business viable. Great content required investment in specialist equipment for macro photography, along with a crash-course in how to use a camera! Highly reflective metal surfaces are exceptionally tricky to photograph so time at the workbench is not as plentiful for a jeweller as you’d think!

I said that I have worked with other metals, so why did I choose silver? Silver has the most amazing physical and chemical properties, which is why it has been used to make jewellery for many civilisations over the centuries. It is relatively soft, can be securely soldered, and polished to a spectacular, high-lustre shine. I collect every offcut to melt down and recycle, including dust from cutting and filing; nothing is wasted!

To me, silversmithing feels a bit like alchemy; I’m growing quite a collection of different chemicals, such as various pastes and fluxes for soldering, acids for etching textures, and patina for blackening a surface to highlight patterns. Silver needs constant annealing (heating to a high temperature to remove internal stresses) with a blow torch to soften it whilst being worked. This reverses the effects of work-hardening from hammering, bending and even sanding. Annealing makes it soft enough to accept an imprint. Delicate feathers or leaf skeletons can be compressed

into it, leading to exquisitely detailed natural textures. More commonly, I use laser cut paper to imprint patterns, or applying a vinyl ‘resist’ for etching into the silver using ferric nitrate solution, which eats away at any exposed silver, leaving behind a beautiful relief texture.

Polishing is by far the most time-consuming part of making; a huge amount of preparation is needed in order to achieve a perfect mirror finish. I go through up to twelve different stages when finishing work with different grades of abrasive papers, bristle brushes and fine grade polishes. And it is not a clean job; it requires a decent respirator facemask and a lot of cleaning up after! Fire-stain is the number one enemy; overheat the metal too much and you will end up with patches of discolouration that need to be ground out of the surface. This wouldn’t be so much of a problem, but it is invisible until the final polish and when it shows up, the only thing you can do is go back to stage one!

I make to order, using fine or 925 sterling silver, using processes that exploit silver’s wonderful physical, chemical, and aesthetic properties, such as fold forming, forging, anti-clastic raising and oxidation techniques. Fine silver is incredibly soft, which means it is great for making bezel settings to fold over the edges of gemstones. I love designing jewellery around the natural beauty of stones such as moonstone, opal and labradorite. I buy from all over the world; some gemstones are only found in certain parts of the world, such as larimar pectolite, a beautiful blue and white stone from the Dominican Republic. Every stone is hand-picked based on often spectacular aesthetic qualities. Personal choice from the customer can always be incorporated into any of my designs.

Whilst I enjoy making each and every piece in my collections, it is commissions that give me so much satisfaction in my work. I have enjoying meeting and working with clients to produce pieces that will be personal celebrations, symbols of commitment or treasured heirlooms made purely for a couple or individual. Worn close on the body, there is an intimacy to jewellery, and metaphorically, we hold certain items close to our hearts. They often hold meaning, memories and emotion. It is sometimes impossible to see a particular pair of earrings without thinking of the person who gave them or who once wore them. My love for commissions lies in getting to know customers, their ideas and preferences for a piece and to produce an item that will be enjoyed for many years.

So that's a little bit more about me, my journey so far as a new business owner, and my passion for this wonderful material that keeps me so busy!

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Good ideas are hard to come by. Confidence in my own ability to make them really held me back, even in the final year of my design degree, and as a young freelancer. The pressure of a deadline, the worry of not being able to draw well, even the conscious reward of grade or payment, conspired to chew away at my ability to fly a fledgling concept and see where it could go.

As a teacher, I see in the classroom all the time.

Being creative isn’t always easy; those who know how might earn at least a decent living salary doing it professionally, if not the millions that might come to a particularly gifted (and lucky) few.

The world is constantly looking for ideas that are ‘creative’. Though experts might argued about the exact definition, creativity is considered to be a measure of how unique something is, and how useful it is. A chocolate teapot might be a novel idea (i.e. a new way to use a material) but it is not massively useful, could be argued as not a creative idea. Achieving both novel AND useful is hard. Further, some add moral value into the criteria too… it can really make your brain ache!

When I started teaching, I was bothered by the insistence from management that my pupils’ books were maintained as highly curated collections of little manuscripts, with underlined titles, neatly numbered drawings, drafted accurately with rulers, and perfectly scribed annotations. Traces of error or blemish perfectly erased from history….

What designer, going through the experimental and sometimes messy, idea generation process, really works like that?! As if the classroom environment might not be artificial enough for pupils to freely record the contents of their imagination, let's make them worry about the judgement or sanction they might receive for using the wrong type of pencil!

If you can imagine rushing to record an idea at 3am before the working memory fails and the next idea comes along, you’d possibly be more on point about how early ideas are captured. If all you have is a scrappy post-it and an exhausted marker pen, then so be it! That sketch was a million times more valuable to me than the one I made for my tutors (often a retrospective tracing of a prototype photo, pretending to be an early idea, as I didn’t know how to draw from my imagination).

When studying for my MEd, a good decade (or more) ago, I researched how motivation to be creative can be altered by teachers during the idea generation process, and specifically how it could be reduced by enforcing ‘rules’ related to presentation. For pupils who don’t feel they are confident sketchers, struggle to be ‘neat’, or have brains which work faster than their hands can move, this can be super destructive.

Keeping children engaged in an activity that is inherently difficult is….. inherently difficult. Many children will give up when they don’t quickly get a sense of achievement. My challenge as a teacher is to grab early self-efficacy wins, securing engagement to see an idea through. But equally, the stakes have to be low. Counterintuitively, I have to make them feel it doesn’t matter what they produce, that anything is valid, but also completely valueless unless they wish to pursue it. When the pressure to be neat, produce immaculate sketch work, or throw out amazing ideas is off, the climate for experimenting is on. It doesn’t have to work, it doesn’t have to bear any fruit. I relax, so they relax. And they experiment because it doesn’t matter what happens, what it looks like, or what others think.

And guess what? Pupils create ideas that they didn’t expect because the climate is right for experimental failure and accidental success. It works, and those successes come, even when a child believes that they are not able to generate any worthy ideas.

The early stages of creative development for me could easily be summed up in a word- PLAY.

And what’s more, I’ve found the strategies that work for children, work for me as a jewellery designer. Low-stakes play specifically lowers the creativity hurdle. And that’s a bit of a contradiction when you are running a business dependent largely on your creative performance!

‘Play’ sounds unstructured, frivolous and not exactly professional. But playful doesn’t mean unstructured. To metaphorically throw all your paper in the air and expect them to land in exactly the right place is of course, unreasonable, and likewise play, done systematically, works. More on that in another blog.

I find that my ideas only go so far on paper. That’s really a personal preference. I’m a good enough sketcher but I really need to see ideas in three dimensions. To best exploit the process of experimentation, I play with sketch models, usually in similar materials to which I might make; copper instead of silver removes another creative hurdle- anxiety over cost!

My first idea is never my best. It’s only after going through trying numerous different possibilities, can I confidently select the best to develop into a final concept.

Remember I said previously, no judgements? Play is free from that, it explores each possibility as equal to the next. I find a photo of each experiment will effortlessly log the journey travelled, so I that when I’m ready to judge one idea against the other, I can refer back. If I don’t capture an idea, it will be lost as the next steals the focus.

This whole process could take anywhere from 30 minutes to several hours, but it has to be given time it needs, without pressure. Sometimes a rest when progress is slow can be useful too.

So, my response to the question posed in this blog is this:

Good ideas come from the freedom and time to play with different possibilities, in a low stakes and zero judgement context.

For a professional jeweller, the time to do this is not only massively challenging, it is an essential part of the job.

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