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Like the world’s population, the growth in the popularity of jewellery has been exponential. Understandably so, as jewellery can meet the wearers’ need to feel more confident in themselves or to give them the ability to exude beauty, power, class and style.
Of course, wearing jewellery isn’t new. Humans have worn jewellery for 40,000 years or more. Originally it was, to our modern eyes at least, somewhat crude in form, made with bones, teeth and stone stitched onto animal sinew. It would have had a functional or symbolic purpose whereas nowadays it's worn either for religious or simply decorative reasons.
Often there is a personal connection to a piece of jewellery; perhaps because of its giver; the time and place it was acquired; a connection with the subject, and even who made it.
A common feature in all jewellery items is the use in their making of precious metals or stones or both. Perhaps this and the essential decorative nature of the art form led to its adoption by the regal and the rich, providing, as it did, a very visible sign of their wealth. In its development over the centuries this “high end” of the art form remained a handcraft. Working with very expensive materials has ensured that it has remained so to this day.
Industrialisation and mass-manufacture, however, created the environment for the production of jewellery affordable by a much larger proportion of the population. Inevitably, though, these quick and economical methods led to a loss of individuality and uniqueness, with quality often forfeited to quantity, ease and speed.
As the level of wealth has spread downwards through the population and the buying power of the “man in the street” has increased, so there has been a surge in demand for unique, handmade jewellery that has a personal connection between the maker and the buyer.
Hence Highland Hiddle!
There are many different ways to make jewellery and in this blog we explore the different techniques used by our makers.
Silver and Precious Metals
There are two techniques used to make silver jewellery and they largely apply to other metals such as gold, copper and bronze.
Silversmithing is where silver metal sheets are cut into shapes or strips before being filed, shaped and soldered. Shaping occurs when the metal is cold, usually using a hammer. Separate pieces are joined together by soldering them, heated to the point the metal glows red. Pre and post soldering the piece is cleaned in an acidic solution (referred to as “pickle”) then a “flux” treatment is applied to keep the metal clean while it’s heated and to help the solder flow.
To complete the piece it is polished to achieve a smooth, shiny surface using a buffing wheel or by hand with a cloth and rouge (a jeweller’s polish). Other finishes can be added, such as a patina or an antique look.
Silver clay consists of very small particles of metal mixed with an organic binder and water to create a moldable clay. The maker will cut, roll and mold the clay into shape before drying.
The clay is then fired in the kiln where the harmless binder is burned away and the silver particles fuse to form the finished piece, which will be white when it comes out the kiln and requires a buff and a tumble to shine it. Again, different finishes can be applied.
Jewellery makers using silver and precious metals will often hallmark their jewellery for authenticity. Hallmarking is a ‘stamp’ on the jewellery applied by the Government Assay Office to certify the purity of gold, silver, platinum or palladium. The nearest facility for hallmarking for our makers is in Edinburgh.
Jewellery makers on Highland Hiddle who use either or both of these silver and precious metal techniques include Saffron Jewellery, HilChris Jewellery, Silverlines, Earthgems Jewellery and Indigo Berry.
Wire wrapping and wire work
Wire wrapping is time-consuming, requiring both patience and consistent pressure. The techniques range from making simple loops on the one hand to producing intricately stone set, wire wrapped pendants on the other. The wire can be wrapped, curved, bent and manipulated, becoming the structure and foundation as well as a design detail of the finished piece.
Buttons and Bead Jewellery
Nowadays there is a great variety of beads and buttons available for jewellery makers to use in design and manufacture, resulting in many unique and creative pieces. The beads and buttons come in a range of materials from glass and metal, to gemstone and wood. They are strung on wire and thread or soldered onto fastenings in creating the finished item.
Some jewellery makers may also make their own buttons using other crafting techniques. For example Dorset Buttons, a craft originating from that county, are characteristically made by repeatedly binding yarn over a disc or ring former.
In its raw form, resin is an organic compound, secreted by plants and trees. In jewellery making, liquid resin is combined with a hardener to set and form a hard-wearing, crystal clear surface.
Resin can be used in a variety of ways to create a piece of jewellery. Most common are; 1) to preserve items such as shells or flowers; 2) as a hard-wearing glaze over coloured paints or inks in a bezel cup, and 3) creating coloured resin pieces though the addition of different pigments and materials.
Depending on the desired finish, sometimes multiple layers of resin will be applied one on top of the other. The resin is lightly sanded between each coat and allowed to dry. Time and patience to complete the process is clearly required.
Clearly, all of these techniques require skill, time, care and attention. The wide array of handmade jewellery produced reflects the individual style of the maker and results in unique and high-quality pieces that the wearer can treasure forever.
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