How I became interested in making jewellery


I was asked the other day how I came to be so interested in making jewellery.

In 1970 I was helping my father in his Mont Albert licensed grocery shop. Across the road I saw a sign on a private house advertising ’Jewellery Lessons’ and in my usually dilettante way I thought ‘that’d be fun,’ enrolled for a couple of weeks and was shown the rudiments of soldering silver jewellery. I was hooked! I bought some basic tools and started producing silver things, very much by trial-and-error. I mostly made rings, still do actually, and some people seemed to like them.

I went on like this for some years, making presents for people and selling the odd one or two, but being an actor who, like Michael Cain (I wish) never turned any work down, it was very much a part-time thing.

Fast forward to 1982 – the first year of my year off from the MTC –
and I was cast in the film ‘Buddies.’ This was set in Rubyvale, centre of the sapphire-mining fields of Queensland. It was a fabulous six weeks experience of central Australian life, one which was so foreign to this simple Melbourne boy that it is never very distant in my memory and day-dreams. I fell in love with Australian Rough Sapphires, worn chunks of unpreposessing rock, second in hardness only to diamond.

I learned how to look for the various colours by squinting through them held in the crook of my little finger against the light, I saw someone carving them on wooden wheels set on an arbor, using diamond dust and pressure, and I saw magic happen as the grade of diamond became finer and finer until -the ‘Bielby’ effect – which results in the ultimate magic transformation – a flawless brilliant polish.

There are differing opinions on how this transformation occurs; some say that the surface texture becomes so fine that naturally there is just no further to go, others say that the surface melts, spreading into a gleaming layer. I personally believe the latter is true, I’m sure that I’ve seen it, but no matter what is true, I find the result spell-binding.

When I wasn’t filming I was glued to the work of the sapphire carver. I discussed what equipment I should look for, what tricks and techniques I might follow, I picked his brains for information and shamelessly exploited his considerable generosity.
When I returned to my Melbourne ‘civilised’ way of life I was armed with a handful of precious pieces of romance to play with, to dream over, to bend to my fantasy, and finally to complete the journey that I commenced with my earlier silver jewellery adventures – I could set my own sapphires into my own silver jewellery.

Of course typically, I had chosen to teach myself lapidary on the hardest-to-work stones other than diamond. Trial-and-error, is there any other way?

When I’d made a few successful attempts I felt that I could look into the other precious and semi-precious stones – the aquamarines, the topazes, opals, jade, peridots, chrysoprase, all the quartzes and agates and amethysts and ametrines and citrines and ……..

But that’ll be another story…later on.

Posted By Simon Chilvers on March 1, 2016 at 9:33 am
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