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Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Back from Vacation

When even my wife goes on my blog and starts complaining that I haven't written anything in too long, I know that I'm way overdue.
We did go and spend some time getting refreshed in my favorite place in the whole world, Big Sur California. We went back to our favorite inn which you can check out here: . Those of you who have been reading all along will remember that we had an incredibly memorable experience there two years ago with the wonderful (regrettably) temporary chef Phillippe. Unfortunately Phillippe seems to have moved on and we were unable to see him again (anywhere), much to our dismay. However Ventana's restaurant is now up and running after their fire and they are doing a much better job in general with food than they used to. And the views from both the restaurant and the inn are still unbelievable. This picture is of us standing at the front of the patio of the Ventana restaurant and you can see the mountains that make Big Sur so memorable. If you could see a few feet to the right of us you would be able to see the Pacific Ocean in the distance.

Big Sur is so far out in the middle of nowhere that the night time sky is amazing. The first night there we saw shooting stars (many of you know how I fell about comets and things moving through space) and the sheer number of stars visible is overwhelming for a city boy like me. With the aid of a pair of binoculars it is astounding how much you can see.

We took a hike through some mountains in the Michele Pfeiffer State Park to see the Pfeiffer Falls (above) while we were there and then decided we should try to walk to the ocean through the Andrew Molera State Park. Unfortunately when we got there we were informed that we were going to have to ford the Big Sur River since they took all the bridges down in the winter. We didn't exactly come prepared for any river fording so we had to abandon that particular adventure!

So this is, in part why I have been so reticent in my writings recently. Between the end of the year inventorying, preparing to go on vacation, actually going on vacation, and then taking care of the large pile of work when I returned I have been fairly busy.

However one piece I made for a gentleman this past month was quite interesting. He had a jade carving that he had gotten in China that was very important to him. The rope like material it had come on originally had finally broken and he was desperate to wear it again. He wanted something that was consistent with the piece. I thought it would be nice if we could do an Asian style chain of some sort as that might fit the bill. In doing my research however the only type of chain that was distinctly Asian was a baht chain. Baht chains are made in Thailand and are often used in lieu of money. They are made up in 1/2, 1, 1.5 and 2 ounce weights and they are usually made of 23 1/4 kt. gold. I used to have a source for them but the problem with them was that they were always hollow. Hollow chains are problematic because the links get dented easily (especially in high karat golds). Actually I take issue with any hollow jewelry because of the damage problems. My source wasn't regularly stocking them anymore anyway and there was a timing issue as the gentleman is out of the country most of the year. So I offered to make him a solid version of the baht chain. This was an interesting project for me as I had never made a baht chain and I always relish a challenge. Additionally because of the significance of certain numbers to the Chinese, I needed to work these into the design of the chain. Eight is apparently a very important number to them, so I made the chain up with sets of eight round links alternating with eight square links (both styles are used in traditional Baht chains). I also built a new bail for the jade. This was all done in my own 22k gold mix and I poured all of my own gold just as I did in the chain in the last postings. The picture below is of the finished piece.

I still have plans to write about opals in the near future but I am also looking for new topic ideas. Please let me know if there is something you'd like to know about. Valentine's Day is rapidly approaching. Men readers take note. Ladies, remind your men that there is nothing more romantic than getting something special to remind you of how much they still love you or show your love for them by getting them one of my amazing William Henry Knives---one is pictured below!

There has been a lot of snow but I have actually never closed due to a snow storm and have no plans to. So if you're in my neighborhood in the middle of (yet another) snow storm come on in and visit! It's actually a great time to get my strictly undivided attention as usually no one else is ever there! Parking is a mess in Cambridge these days however, so you might want to think about taking the T at least part way in.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Part Two

Well it's not tomorrow but this is the soonest I could get back to my post on making the custom ordered chain. So here is the rest of the story:

Once the wire is made I have to roll it onto an appropriate sized pipe in order to make the circles I need to make the chain. Since by this time I have either a really, really long piece of wire or a bunch of shorter ones, it's not nearly as fast as one would think. Plus when rolling it onto the pipe I have to insure that it never overlaps so that the links are consistent in size. Once done with that I have to cut the links which, fortunately in this case, does not require me to saw them as it isn't necessary to have an absolutely perfect join on these links to fuse them, so I use a small pair of shears I have to cut the loops. Then all of the loops (and please note we are talking about hundreds of loops) have to be bent so that the two ends line up perfectly. Once done with that I can begin the actual fusing process. Once again I spend a large amount of time fusing links with a hot flame about 2 inches from my face. Periodically I have to toss some links into a separate pile as they aren't bent together properly and at the same time I start a separate pile of links that melt while I'm fusing them, or simply don't fuse properly. When I finish fusing all the links (hundreds, remember?) I go back and rebend the pile of ones that didn't come out right the first time and then go back to fusing them.

Once this first round of fusing is done, I have to stretch the loops into a long oval shape with a pair of round nose pliers. This inevitably leads to about a 20% breakage of the fused joints as they just didn't take properly. Those links are tossed into the pile with the other ones that didn't fuse properly. The ones that hold up okay are then squeezed in the middle to get a kind of elongated figure 8 effect. Once done with that I have to go back to my pile of bad links and guess what? I have to start all over again with pouring them into my ingot mold and then making them into wire which is then formed into loops and fused and stretched yet again (whereupon I will end up with another, albeit smaller, batch of bad links).

So now I have a bunch of figure 8 shaped links. I then have to fuse two of them together in opposite directions to start the chain. Once this is done, I bend up the ends and begin the actual chain making process. This involves putting each link through TWO (once I get the first few started) of the links in the chain, then rotating the chain 90 degrees and putting the next one through from the opposite direction. Each time I put a link through I have to then push a small sharp tool through the top two links to stretch them out so that they are prepared for the next link that will go through. This, inevitably, leads to more link breakage as by this time I am truly putting an extreme amount of pressure on each join in each link. When a link does break it is almost always one back a few links so periodically I have to remove three or four links to get the broken one out and then start back at that point again. This process goes on until I run out of links, at which point guess what? You got it. I have to take all the broken links and all of the failures from the last round of link making and START ALL OVER AGAIN with a new pour of metal, make wire, make links and finally continue to make the chain. Phewww. Sounds like I'm done, huh? Well no.....................

After this, I have to anneal (heat the chain to soften it) repeatedly and then hammer it out gently with a wooden mallet on a block to stretch it and set all the links properly. After each hammering I have to anneal it and spend some time loosening it up. Okay so now we're done, right? Well no............

Then I have to make the caps that finish the chain off. This involves making new metal that I make into sheet metal. I then have to roll it into shape, fuse it together, fuse end caps on, fuse the wires that I wrap around it on, fuse the little gold beads on, drill out the ends for wires to go through, set small diamonds in the caps, and finally make one of my signature S clasps. I'm exhausted just writing about it!

So finally I have a beautiful chain, made to the right length, using all of the customer's metal and some of mine and it's ready to go. Then I have to contact the customer (made a little more complicated by the husband's desire to surprise his wife with it), get him into the store and deal with the final payment and packaging.

Estimated time here: 15-20 more hours. So you tell me how much you think this kind of job is worth!
The picture at the top is of the pure 24k gold we got back from our refiner after he purified the customer's Kruggerand.