Travels in Tucson

As someone who has been collecting rocks since I can remember, attending the Tucson Gem Show has been a dream of mine for years. Its appeal is obvious, as it is the world’s largest gem show that takes place in sunny Arizona during a month that the weather in Boston is brutally cold and snowy. A perfect business meets pleasure destination for any metalsmith or rock hound, I’m thrilled to say that I made it out there this year. After months of grinding away in the studio to make money for the trip, I left what has been one of the snowiest winters in Boston’s history…

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Snowy studio view.

And flew to a land of sun, cacti, and rocky hills.

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Decorated cactus – love it!

The Tucson Gem Show isn’t in one central location in Tucson, but is actually many different shows that all come together across the city. To give a better idea of the scale of this event, a popular annual gem show that I attend in Massachusetts is a mere section of the Tucson Gem Show. Everything you can possibly imagine is available at this show, be it raw crystals large and small,

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Quartz points.

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Gigantic quartz cluster.

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Amethyst clusters.

beautiful carved specimens,

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Chrysocolla spheres.

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Carved, illuminated pyramids.

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Giant ruby in fuchsite egg.

 and outstanding jewelry from around the world.

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Collection of Tibetan jewelry.

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Navajo jewelry display.

Although I dabbled in all of these wares, and took a little bit of everything home with me, there was really one thing I came for: TURQUOISE! Arizona is home to some famous turquoise mines, such as Bisbee, Kingman, Sleeping Beauty, and Morenci. As I had hoped, there were buckets,

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Buckets of turquoise, my dusty shoes, and Noodles (Jenna of Strong Medicine Studio’s adorable pup).

and tables full of turquoise.

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Turquoise cabochons and a cameo from Jenna’s hand.

Although turquoise cabochons (stones cut with a flat back and domed surface for setting in metal) were sparse compared to everything else, seeing turquoise in all of its other forms was a fantastic experience. This stone has been my favorite since I was a kid, but somehow there’s always more to learn about it and more varieties to see.

I left Arizona with improved knowledge of stones, new friends, and a deep connection to the city of Tucson, and could go on for pages about my experiences there. But I also brought home an enormous haul of new stones, so in order to stop this post from sprawling on longer than it has to, onto my newly acquired treasures. A lot of photos lie ahead, fair warning!

For starters, I purchased some new types of supplies that I hope to integrate into upcoming pieces.

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Pyrite, quartz, labradorite, and onyx beads, and hand carved thunderbird bead with turquoise eye. Accompanied by non-jewelry-supply treasures of green jade plugs for my stretched ears, and rare petrified wood covered in smokey quartz!

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Southwestern woodcut beads and hand carved African shell beads.

I also replenished my dwindling supply of agate slices for Crystal Cavern pieces. These are smaller than my previous agate slices, but of the most beautiful quality.

imageI also couldn’t resist scooping up a variety crystals and specimens for decoration, gifts, and some for the shop.

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Gastrolith (stone swallowed by a dinosaur!), lepidolite, quartz clusters, Arizona ore, black tourmaline, opalized ammonite, and cuproadamite.

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Druzy caves.

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Aragonite.

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Calcite sphere.

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Fluorite sphere.

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Gigantic quartz crystal ball for my studio, pictured with the show-stopping Navajo made Kingman turquoise cluster ring that Jenna bought me at the show. Two of my most cherished souvenirs.

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Amethyst clusters and amethyst cluster candle for my studio.

Some new packaging supplies also worked their way onto my must-have list.

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Palo Santo, a fragrant, sacred wood from coastal regions of South America, perfect for burning as incense, and luscious, sweet smelling rosebuds. Pictured with a piece of art I purchased for my studio in Bisbee, AZ.

Along with these floral patterned glass cabochons that are so steeped in 90’s nostalgia.

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Can’t wait to make some 90’s grunge stackers with these.

And a primo selection of turquoise rough that I’ll be cutting into cabochons, which I’m excited to say is my next venture!

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Natural, old stock, Number Eight, Damele, and Castle Dome turquoise. All very rare.

As exciting as all of these acquisitions are, the best is about to come. The cabochons I acquired are the true treasures, setting off floods of design ideas in my mind with each time that I look them over.

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Lapis lazuli.

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Sonoran dendritic rhyolite.

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Baltic amber.

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Mexican fire opals.

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Labradorite.

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Moonstone, crazy lace agate, deschutes jasper, willow creek jasper, owyhee jasper, chrysocolla, Indian paintbrush, azurite malachite, and dioptase.

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Amethyst and citrine.

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Spiny Oyster. Rare, quality shells.

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Super rare Mediterranean red coral.

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Medusa quartz, one of my favorite varieties of quartz and one of the rarest types of quartz in the world!

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Mexican fire opal bullet cuts.

And finally, the turquoise…

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Pilot Mountain and Royston. Some of these are HUGE!

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Morenci, with the deepest blues I’ve ever seen and pyrite inclusions throughout many of the stones, a phenomenon for which this mine is known.

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A motherload of very rare Bisbee. This material captures the quintessential smokey blues and chocolate matrix this mine produces.

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Number Eight. Rarity meets quality in this amazing batch.

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Collector quality Royston.

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Evans, love the light teal colors in these stones.

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Blue Gem.

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Fox, note the characteristic teal hues.

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An unbelievable selection of Damele. Heart palpitations abound.

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A varied selection of Kingman. Blues greens, nuggets, spiderwebs, waterwebs, and pyrite and quartz inclusions.

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Stenich & Carico Lake.

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Patagonia, Cananea, Ithaca Peak, Blue Moon, & Red Mountain.

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More Damele that wouldn’t fit in the first photo, and Candelaria.

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Various American mines that just need a final polish, or reshaping/reapplying of backing, and then will be ready for jewelry!

I am ecstatic that I finally made it to this show, and that I scored the amazing stones that I did. But there is one thing I took home with me that had me literally dancing with happiness that I finally found one:

imageTo the untrained eye, this may not look like much, but to me this is the crown jewel of my turquoise collection. In the many years that I’ve studied the American mines, I’ve known that the Carico Lake mine was discovered in a dried up lake bed, and that because of its location, an amazing phenomenon occurred. In select clam fossils, turquoise formed in the place of the clam, creating what is referred to as a pseudomorph fossil. These Carico Lake clams are remarkably rare, I’ve only ever read about them and never even seen one before Tucson. The best part is, the turquoise miner who had this clam was so excited that I knew what it was that he gifted it to me. I couldn’t believe it then, and I still don’t believe it now. I’ve carved out a spot in my studio for it on my shelf of most valued treasures, and it brings a smile to my face every time I look at it.

So, if you couldn’t tell, my Tucson trip was incredible. There’s so much more to say, and so many more photos to share, but this post is already LONG, so here it must end. If you made it this far, I commend you! Use the code TUCSONTEN for 10% off a future purchase (one use only). ‘Til next time!

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White Hot and Passionate is the Only Thing to Be.

“I began to realize how important it was to be an enthusiast in life…. if you are interested in something, no matter what it is, go at it at full speed ahead. Embrace it with both arms, hug it, love it and above all become passionate about it. Lukewarm is no good. Hot is no good either. White hot and passionate is the only thing to be.” – Roald Dahl

As a bookworm/English major/literature nut, I have a quote for everything. The aforementioned words penned by renowned writer Roald Dahl, who is known and loved for works such as The Witches and Matilda so concisely sums up what 2014 has been for me and for my art business. Before I resigned from my education position, Soliloquy Jewelry was cramped in the corners of my life. I would sketch pieces on my lunch break, rush home from work to catch the last of natural light for photos, and spend nights and weekends in the studio. I knew I had to go full time. I had so many ideas, such an urge to create, and so little time. Now, full speed ahead, I can wholly embrace my love affair with the craft of metalsmithing, with the white hot passion necessary for happiness and success.

Moving into 2015, I look forward to increasing my production. I’ve experienced a sharp rise in demand in the past year that I was neither expecting nor prepared for, but I am excited to meet this challenge. I will reopen for custom orders beginning on January 15th, a move which I hope will help to satisfy those who desire a piece but haven’t been able to purchase one from my shop updates. Please see my new Custom Orders section for more information.

New designs for this year are in the works, many conceptualized last year but never completed. I plan to place more focus on two of my collections in particular: the Coven Collection, inspired by witchcraft and the occult, and the Ex Libris Collection (previously the Bound & Forged Collection), of literature, poetry, and mythology inspired pieces. I am especially excited for my new palmistry inspired pendants for the Coven Collection, which I mentioned on Instagram and began sketching 3 months ago, but am just getting around to making now. Talk about being busy!

imageThese pendants incorporate symbolism from the ancient art of palm reading, with associations for each finger and area of the hand. Some of the symbolic representations are based in traditional ideas surrounding palmistry, and some are my own interpretations of various elements of this art. Watch out for these and other big stamped pendants on my Instagram, Tumblr, and Facebook soon!

Lastly, and most importantly, I want to say THANK YOU to everyone involved in my success. From my amazing customers and followers, to my friends and family, and the other wonderful metalsmiths I’ve met along the way, I endlessly appreciate your input, support, and encouragement. A big giveaway is in the works, coming within the next two weeks. Keep your eyes peeled for that, more frequent blog posts, and new items soon!

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I will spread myself like wings.

I can’t believe it finally happened…

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I hit 10K on Instagram last week! I remember when I first started my jewelry account, just 1,000 followers felt a lifetime away. But as I refined my skills and built my brand, I steadily grew. Here I am, a little over a year and a half later, with ten thousand of you viewing my posts. It is, honestly, one of the best feelings in the world. I work hard to show my interests through my photos and my pieces, to interact with my followers, and to create art that resonates with others. To some, follower count may just be a meaningless number, but to me it is proof that what I’m doing is worthwhile, that I’m building the connections through my art that I’ve always wanted to build.

To celebrate, my ever-supportive boyfriend and I went to our favorite restaurant, Abe & Louie’s, to indulge in filet mignon and single malt scotch.

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Okay, and maybe some beers and crème brûlée, too. A perfect celebration, followed by a 3 mile walk back home, along the river.

So, I got to celebrate for myself, but I also want to celebrate with all of you! I’m planning a giveaway, bigger than any I’ve ever had before. It will include not one, but TWO handmade pieces, crystals, a bouquet of lavender, some vintage beauties, and possibly more. All of these prizes will go to one lucky winner. I’m fresh out of most of my silver supplies and waiting on a shipment. Once it’s here, the items will be made and the giveaway will be posted. Can’t wait!

In other news, a handful of new items are hitting the shop later today.

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Plus this ring, which has been reserved, but I still want to share it with you all:

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The Ocean Ring, featuring a stunning slice of Nacozari turquoise with manganese inclusions. This one, inspired by a quote from Dave Egger’s short story collection “How We are Hungry”, is an ode to the exaltation I feel at this part of my journey. Flight. Transformation. Lucidity.

“THE OCEAN: I will spread myself like wings. I am a billion tiny feathers. You have no idea what’s happened to me.”

And finally, a super sneak peek of a ring that has been on my bench for weeks now.

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Cannot WAIT to see this one finished up. Almost there.

That’s all for now, but coming soon is a look inside my newer, bigger studio space!

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A Whirlwind of News

Hello, my beautiful souls. I have many things to tell you! First things first: beginning today, my shop is temporarily closed. For the next 2 1/2 to 3 weeks, I am employing what Etsy refers to as “vacation mode”, which allows sellers to temporarily close their shops while on, you guessed it, vacation. I, however, won’t be on vacation during this time, besides a 3 day stint in a tent on a lake. During the rest of these precious numbered days I will be sawing, hammering, and soldering like a madwoman to build up new stock for my grand re-opening! What makes it so grand, you ask? It will be the beginning of a new era for Soliloquy Jewelry. New tagline, new business cards, new item listing format, AND… I will be completely self-employed.

That’s right! I’ve rejected my continued employment offer for the coming school year, and will venture into full time jewelry at the end of this month. I am so excited, and so beyond grateful for all of the support that has propelled me toward this point. I have wonderful customers, a supportive family, an amazing boyfriend, and the best friends in the world. Not to mention a fantastic network of super talented, crazy awesome jeweler friends (I’m looking at you, Torched by an Angel ladies!). All I want is to show my thanks, and a giveaway and/or sale are on the horizon, but first I need to prepare. This is new territory riddled with obstacles, but I’ve never been one to let obstacles stop me.

So, my shop is officially closed until the beginning of July. In the meantime, I will be posting new items as they come to life on Instagram, Facebook, and Tumblr, and I plan to host a giveaway on one (if not both) of those platforms as well. Stay tuned!

And in case you’re interested, here are some of my newest items to be included in my grand re-opening.

The Chambers of the Sea Ring // sterling silver radiate setting & natural abalone. Inspired by my favorite poem, “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock” by T. S. Eliot.

20140614-095557.jpgSky God Ring // blackened sterling silver & natural ombre Ajax turquoise. I may be keeping this one for myself. This stone and I have a complex history.

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Treasures of a Dried Up Lake Ring // hand patterned sterling silver & natural old stock Carico Lake turquoise.

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Many more pieces like these and more brand new designs are in the works for July. I cannot wait to reveal them to you all, and to pursue my dream full time. My deepest thanks to each and every one of you for accompanying me on this journey. Your support is endlessly appreciated.

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A Rock & A Hard Place

Copying. This is an issue I’ve seen arise again and again in the jewelry community. I’ve seen it handled well, but I’ve also seen it confronted in the most combative and immature of ways for reasons seemingly grounded in arrogance and projections. I’ve seen the worst offenders point the finger. I am not one to believe that something like using the same chain, or patina, or type of stone is copying, and frankly I think these kinds of accusations can turn into nothing but witch hunts. For these reasons, I’ve generally hesitated to comment on the matter.

However, lately I have noticed some of those with access to my body of work coming eerily close to my designs. Too close to be coincidental. Even with the understanding that I am not the first person to do certain things and that I am not the only person operating within a particular aesthetic, these incidences have been so blatant that I haven’t been the only one to notice. This has been occurring for months, maybe longer. I’ve seen many designs ripped off by other jewelers (jewelers who see my work – I am not searching the depths of the internet for this and pointing the finger at those who have probably never even seen my designs, on the contrary I am sure they have seen them), paragraphs of my writing reproduced elsewhere, and concepts from my mission statements and artistic process taken from my Etsy Personal Profile and Shop About sections and posted almost word for word in another’s Shop About. It seems that this feeling that a corner of the jewelry world is closing in on me isn’t all in my head as I was hoping it was. The justification of “someone at some point in history at some geographical location has also done this” just doesn’t cut it anymore. Not when these people are viewing my work and it clearly came from me and not some specter of someone else in history who happened to design the same piece. I’m done with this kind of “reasoning”. It just enables.

So, I find myself between a rock and a hard place. What to do about this problem? I acknowledge that most of this probably is not malicious or intentional, which is why I try to refrain from anger. But the point remains that if this is going to happen with my designs, I do not want most other jewelers to have access to my art, regardless of their intentions. Quite some time ago I began unfollowing jewelers unless I had a personal relationship with them, not because I dislike anyone, but to minimize my own exposure to the work of others. I stopped posting to popular jeweler tags on Instagram (which seems to be the major platform enabling all of this copying) like #instajewelrygroup and #instasmithy a long time ago as well to minimize the exposure of my designs. But with time and as my followers grow it seems only to get worse.

I write this now with a feeling of emptiness as opposed to anger. I struggled through all kinds of adversity to reach where I am today, and jewelry has been my salvation. To have this happen to my work is to have my altar desecrated.

The only thing I can do to redeem it is cut ties with those who have engaged in this.

-o-

Wounded though I am, Soliloquy Jewelry plows forth. New things lay ahead, and each day I work my hands raw climbing toward them. I am considering another tagline/motto change, which is annoying to admit, but also freeing to embrace the ever-shifting, ever-growing nature of art and business creation. I have other news coming as well, but as this post was a heavy one I’d rather end it here with a photo of some gorgeous new turquoise to lighten the mood.

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Nacozari with a fleck of manganese, old stock Bisbee Lavender Pit, old stock Damele, Royston, and 0ld stock Stormy Mountain all natural turquoise.

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So, You Want to Be a Jewelry Maker?

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From the moment I began posting my pieces on social media like Facebook, Instagram, and Tumblr, I’ve been overwhelmed by the number of people wanting to know how I taught myself to make jewelry. Requests for lists of tools, books, and videos have piled up in my various inboxes from day one. Unfortunately, I’ve rarely responded to these kinds of inquiries.

It isn’t that I don’t want to help. The reality is, I do not have the time to answer those questions. I just don’t. I work two full time jobs while trying to maintain my writing, reading, relationship, and social life. Most days my feet carry me from my first job, to my studio, to the kitchen for dinner, and then to my bed. There is not a spare minute. When I do have a spare minute, the first thing to occur to me isn’t to go answer those messages. It is to sit down with a book, a beer, and a home-cooked meal, and relax for once.

So, I got to thinking about how I could solve this issue of the many questions that I have no time to answer. I will answer them here, in one blog post, with some basic information and resources about metalsmithing. That way, I can send this link to those with questions. I am not a metalsmithing teacher; my goal here is not to teach, but to provide a basic list of what is needed to start out. I will provide some of the foundation, and the rest is up to you.

This is going to be a long one, continue if you dare.

TOOLS

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There are TONS of tools out there. Tons. A lot of them you do not need, especially in the beginning. Certain ones, like sandpaper, basic files, snips, center punches, etc. are available at Home Depot for much cheaper than jewelry tool shops, and are more appropriate for beginners (eventually you will want to upgrade these items, especially files, if you decide to stick with it). The basic workbench mainly needs a saw frame and saw blades, beeswax or synthetic lubricant for the saw blades, a bench pin, a rawhide mallet, a ball-peen hammer, files, sandpaper, a steel bench block, pliers, snips, a millimeter ruler, a ring mandrel, dividers, and a center punch. You may also need certain household items like a standard hammer, scissors, sharpies, and glue. Safety items like dust masks, a heavy canvas apron, and goggles are also a good call.

If you plan to solder, this will first require a torch. I cannot specify which type is appropriate for your space and commitment level, but I hear that a handheld butane torch sometimes works for “kitchen table jewelers” or small scale hobbyists (I’ve never tried one, though), and the Smith Little Torch with disposable propane/oxygen set up is perfect for work in smaller spaces as well. Please make sure to do your own research into what torch is appropriate for your circumstances. Soldering also requires solder (no way!). Hard, medium, and easy solder all flow at different temperatures. You will most likely need all three types, along with a soldering surface, like a solderite board or charcoal block, on ceramic tile. Soldering tweezers, a third hand, soldering picks, a striker to light your torch, flux, and a paintbrush to apply the flux are also necessary. You will need pickle (the acid that cleans metal after it has been heated) or an alternative (there are many natural mixtures to use for this purpose) and a pickle pot in which to heat it (a crock pot works just fine).

Many of these tools and information about them can be found on websites like Rio Grande, Otto Frei, and Beaducation.

BOOKS

If you couldn’t tell already, I am an enormous bookworm. I read all the time, carry books in my bag everywhere I go, and can always find an excuse to buy more books. However, when it came to learning the basics of metalsmithing, I did not rely heavily on books. Most smithing books you find nowadays are less instructional and more oriented toward outlining projects for those who already know the basics. Those books are great if that is what you’re looking for, but they provide almost no help to the beginner. With that said, I did find The Complete Jewelry Making Course by Jinks McGrath to be extremely helpful, along with Soldering Made Simple by Joe Silvera. Both of these books are available on Amazon.

VIDEOS

Videos are what helped me the most in terms of basic instruction, but I didn’t learn everything from them. I kind of just obsessively watched one series on creating a bezel set stone ring by Art Jewelry Magazine until I had the damn thing memorized, and then I hit the bench and figured out the rest as I went along. You can find the first video of that series here. There are a handful of other videos on their YouTube channel that helped me with various other aspects of jewelry making as well, including clasp making and setting a cabochon in a bezel.

Rio Grande also has an extensive YouTube channel.

MATERIALS

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To make jewelry, you obviously need metals and stones. There are many suppliers for these materials, the most accessible probably being Rio Grande. I recommend starting with base metals like brass and copper, and then moving on to sterling and fine silver when you feel ready. Stones can be found all over the internet and at gem shows, and depending on the specific types your looking for, can be found in abundance. Avoid softer stones at first (turquoise, opal, malachite, coral, etc.), since they scratch and chip more easily than other materials.

-o-

As you can see, this is a ton of information and I’ve only skimmed the surface of the surface. As I said before, this post is meant to be foundational. I can’t possibly take the time to list what all of these tools are for, or get into talking about techniques. That is the work left up to you, if metalwork is something you still want to pursue. It takes time, money, commitment, and passion. There will be blood. You will saw through your fingertips, inhale metal dust, and file your knuckles. You will spend all of your money on tools and materials. You will spew profanities at rates you never thought possible. If it sounds appealing to you regardless, and if you persevere through the aforementioned shitstorms, you just might find yourself with an incredible outlet for artistic expression, or even a lifelong career.

Good luck!

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Quick Update.

(I swear, this will be the last time I jump the Salem post to talk about something else!)

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A little snippet of the studio. Tools, torch, supplies, and my prized map of Southwest turquoise mines.

I am excited to announce that the Etsy Shop About is finally posted! This piece of writing has been in the works for a long time, so I’m very happy to finally have it finished. In it, you can read about the forces that brought me to where I am today, the inspiration and concepts behind Soliloquy Jewelry, and the details of my handmade process.

When I first opened my shop many moons ago, Etsy hadn’t revealed the Shop About section, so I wrote about some of my inspirations and concepts in my personal profile, as many sellers did since this was the only space available at the time to do so. This section, along with the “About the Artist” section here that contains the same information, will be changed in the following weeks to contain less overlap with the Shop About.

I’m glad to now have a larger space solely dedicated to my creative process and the origins of my shop. It was difficult to choose what to include and what to leave out, but I think I’ve done my story justice, and I hope you all enjoy reading it.

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