Have you ever wondered what actually goes into making jewelry? I’m not talking about the gemstones and the metal. That's obvious. I’m talking about the passion, the creativity, the hard work behind the scenes. There are many steps to the design process, from inspiration to fruition and all of the nitty gritty in between.
So much more goes into running a jewelry brand…this is just the beginners guide. When you purchase a piece of jewelry from a small business you aren’t just buying their product. You are supporting a dream. You are contributing to their livelihood, making all of the sleepless nights worth it, and giving them the chance to keep doing what they love.
First things first. You need inspiration. A collection is nothing without it; it’s like the backbone that connects all the pieces. I usually start with Pinterest. I’m a huge mood board nerd.I used to love cutting up magazines when I was younger, but Pinterest makes it so much easier to save ideas all in one place. So we’ll sub out the scissors for the Pin button here. My latest collection was inspired by lost treasure, an idea that has always been interesting to me. So I went with that and started putting together images that resonated with me. This helps when I begin to pick out stones and gives me ideas for shapes.
Once you get your mood board together, you can start sketching designs. Pull out some blank paper, lay out your stones and grab a pencil. This is my favorite part! I love playing with color, so for this collection I paired up opals with turquoise. I think they play off each other so nicely. It also reminded me of the colors of a sunset over the sea.
If you aren’t a gemstone hoarder like me, you’ll probably need to source some. I’ve done hours and hours of research to find the opal dealer I use. They are located in Australia and have been mining and cutting opals for decades. Plus, they have the finest quality I’ve seen so far. The best way to find gemstones is by searching through Instagram, Etsy, and a good ol’ Google search. This step takes time. It’s important you do a thorough scan through their website to make sure they are conflict free, legitimate, and knowledgeable. I’ve been scammed before, and trust me, it’s no fun. Anyway, after sketching out my designs (sometimes I can design a collection in a day, other times I go through pages of designs until I find the right one) and picking out stones, it’s time to put them into wax.
Depending on my design, I will either choose to work with melted or hard wax. There are a ton of options for wax. After trial and error, I’ve decided I like to work with melted wax for delicate designs and hard wax for rings that require more detail. If you go the melted wax route, you’ll need to heat up a wax pick over a flame, dip into a bowl of wax chips, and drip the melted wax to create your design. If you choose hard wax, you’ll need a wax file, various carving tools, and I personally like to use my flex shaft rotary tool to speed up the carving process.
After I make each wax ring and make all of my final touches, I package them up super carefully, and send them to a casting house. I currently work with two different casting houses; I learned the hard way not to rely on just one. The casting process is super cool, it's actually an ancient technique called lost wax casting. Let me walk you through the summed-up version.
wax trees - image courtesy of IJM
First the caster will take all of my wax rings and create a tree with them. Basically the rings are like the branches and the trunk is where the metal will be poured. Then they place this tree into a flask and pour investment all around it to create a mould. They heat up this mould in a kiln until the wax has burned out and you are left with a negative space where the wax once was. Molten metal is then poured into the mould. After it cools down, the rings are removed from the mould, clipped from the tree, and sent back to me!
molten metal poured into a flask - image courtesy of Intercast
When I get the raw castings back, I have to do some sanding and clean up the settings. Castings shrink a little bit in the process, so I will go in with my rotary tool and carefully remove some metal until the stone sits nicely in place. Remove too much and you’re screwed…so this process takes a while, there is a lot of grinding and checking, grinding and checking. Once the stone fits perfectly, it's time to set. Rule of thumb: never set stones at the end of the day, you’re likely going to be too tired and not as careful. Also learned this the hard way. When you’re self-taught, a lot of things go wrong before they go right.
I use a combination of hammer and punch, pliers, and a bezel pusher. Using a hammer and punch is scary at first but I have found it to be the most effective way to set stones. This technique is done by placing a punch tool against the wall of the setting, and gently hammering the punch tool to move the metal over the stone. Needless to say, at the end of a long day of setting, my bench is a complete disaster. When you’ve set all of your stones, it’s time to polish. I actually love this step; it always feels like the hard part is over and now it’s time to make everything shine. I’ve been using a variety of sanding discs and silicone discs with my rotary tool and finishing off with some polishing rouge.
You might think that was the last step…oh no, no, no. Everything that comes next all boils down to marketing the pieces you just made. People have to see it right? This is where you’ll price it all out, photograph everything for the listings, take flat lay photos for social media posts, and email blasts. Then you have to write all of the descriptions, plan out posts, and write out emails.
If you want to take a peek into my journey, head to my Instagram! I’m always taking you guys behind the scenes and sharing the process. Have any questions? Let me know below, I would love to chat with you!
Images of me in my studio are by Anita Zamini, check out her work here!