Re-cycling Hidden Gems
How many of us have a collection of single earrings, broken necklaces, unfashionable bracelets and ancestors’ wedding rings in the back of the ‘itsy-bitsy drawer’?
Despite being a jeweller all my life, and making sure my earring backs are only capable of being undone with the force of an elephant and a pair of pliers, I have still managed to lose the odd one during camping trips, parties and concerts. It’s a real disappointment being left with one, but fortunately the singletons need not go to waste. One positive thing that can come from all these seemingly hopeless cases of random jewellery is a total make-over. Gold can be re-cycled and used to create a new design, and gemstones are usually hard-wearing and can be reset.
Once a design has been chosen, and the pieces of jewellery checked for quality (and that we are not about to melt a rare and collectable piece), any gemstones need to be removed. Jewellery that is hollow and has no opening to the outside air, even tiny pieces such as earring studs, need to be drilled or cut open. If this isn’t done first, they explode spectacularly when heated in the melting pot. Clasps and clips can have steel springs which also need removing to avoid contamination and then the making process can begin.
Gold can be melted and made into an ingot in the workshop. An oxy/propane gas flame, crucible and cast iron ingot-mould are used. A flux to prevent oxidation and help remove any impurities is also used. The ingot mould has to be warmed and dried before pouring the gold into it; otherwise the molten metal can spit and shower the workshop and the jeweller. Gold is a wonderful metal, but not at 1000 degrees down the back of the neck! Pouring is always slightly nerve-wracking: it requires a careful judgement of temperature and a steady hand.
Once the gold has cooled, the ingot can be shaped to create the piece of jewellery. This is done by rolling it through a series of polished steel mills to get the desired shape. The mills are usually turned by hand – rather like old fashioned mangles! In larger workshop they are powered by a motor which makes life easy! The gold can also be hammered and forged in the same way that a blacksmith would shape iron, and also drawn into wire. Round wire is made by pulling the gold though a series of decreasing sized holes in a steel plate, this takes a lot of strength, especially with thicker gauge wire.
Traditionally the jewellery is further worked into shape by bending it with pliers, cutting it with a saw if necessary and filing subtle shapes where needed. Individual pieces are joined by a process called soldering. This involves heating the metal to red-hot before the piece of solder applied melts and bonds the two parts.
People are often surprised to see that gold which has been heated and worked is an unattractive dull, dark brown colour! This is due to a layer of oxidation on the surface which has to be removed with a weak acid to bring back the gold colour.
Any gemstones used in a design need to have a setting which grips them into the piece securely. There are lots of different styles. Some are really simple and easy to make, others very elaborate and time-consuming. Diamonds are so hard they very rarely deteriorate so usually set straight into a new piece. Other, soft and scratched gems can be completely transformed if they are re-polished. Opals in particular look amazing with a new polish.
One of my favourite types of re-cycling is using materials that have an interesting story or sentiment. It is really rewarding to create something to suit an individual from jewellery that has a special meaning to them. This ring was made from the customers Grandmother’s diamond. I added the gold granulation details and a new setting to make it all secure and unique. Being able to re-use wedding rings and other very personal pieces of jewellery is also very special. To remember a loved one by wearing jewellery from a piece that belonged to them can be a great comfort and a reminder of good memories.
Reshaping history into a form that gives joy every time it’s worn, maintains or increases value, and is environmentally friendly, is a very rewarding part of the recycling story!