The surface of things makes a big difference to how we perceive them. Textures and finishes enhance aesthetic appeal and can pick out details. As far as jewellery is concerned, the surface texture or finish of a piece can be the make or break of a design and jewellers use a plethora of (often quite simple) techniques, to alter the surface of their pieces.
Types of finishes
In the world of hand-made jewellery to achieve the finished shine, the surface of the metal is sanded down with successively fine grades of abrasive paper. Then a reflective shine is created using a wax-based polish loaded onto a calico wheel or ‘mop’ which is mounted on a bench motor. The jewellery is held onto the spinning mop at just the right angle and for just the right amount of time to get a perfect polish.
A matt ‘frosted’ or ’satin’ finish is sometimes given to portions or whole pieces of jewellery. Small scale workshops can use an abrasive pad such as a kitchen scourer, wire wool or sand paper. On a larger manufacturing scale, a sand-blasting machine is used, or texturing wheels on bench motors. A ‘brushed’ finish, which is a similar surface, where the gold looks bright and reflects light but is not mirrored as such.
I really like this way of texturing jewellery as it leaves an authentic mark of the hand-made process. I use a variety of different hammers to get different effects. If needed, I will texture a hammer head by working on it with burrs or files, leaving a rough, organic looking surface on the metal. A narrow headed hammer can be used to make a bark texture (seen in the image to the right).
Engraving can also be used purely for texturing a piece, and the Florentine finishes, particularly seen on antique fine jewellery, are really beautiful. These are achieved with a very fine engraving tool called a ‘line’ graver or scorper. Narrow, fine parallel lines are meticulously engraved onto the surface of the jewellery, then the same is done at 90°, creating a soft, reflective texture which appears to glow and roll the light over the surface as the piece is moved, rather like silk when it catches the light.
5.The milling technique
Probably the most enjoyable and experimental texturing I’ve done is using a milling technique to transfer the texture of a material onto the gold or silver that I’m working. A jewellery workshop’s set of rolling mills are very powerful and if a textured material such as fabric, leather or rough watercolour paper is rolled together with a piece of soft silver or gold, its surface texture is pressed into the precious metal. The pressure makes the metal work-hardened and resilient. It can then be cut and used for making a complete piece of jewellery.
Thank goodness there’s an exception to the normal ‘going through the mill’ at least if it’s a jeweller’s mill the result will be much more interesting, decorative and toughened than before.
This was written and published as part of the ‘Hidden Gems’ series of articles by Erica Sharpe for the Western Daily Press.