I currently create silver jewelry as a hobby. Having started silversmithing in the early 70’s, I initially learned the craft from my brother, Jeff. He had taken several introductory classes, and when he got home and showed me what he had learned, I watched and did my best to glean what he had been taught and put that into practice as well.
The hobby continued through high school, and I even worked professionally for a short while in the late 70’s in Mesa, Arizona, creating southwestern-styled jewelry for a company there.
Eventually winding up in the IT industry, I neglected the hobby due to the numerous relocations made for a company I was with at the time (it’s hard to set up shop in apartments, especially when being moved to a new city or state every couple years or less), but I “rediscovered” my passion for silversmithing in 2014.
That was when my wife Kathy mentioned that back in the 80’s, when I had made her a sterling silver and opal ring (the only silver work I had done after leaving Arizona and landing in Texas), I had never created a pair of opal earrings that I had also promised to make for her mom at the time.
Opal is my mother-in-law’s birthstone, and she adored the ring I had made Kathy. I had actually totally forgot about that promise until Kathy mentioned it, but decided it was a promise long overdue which needed to be kept.
After finding those two opals I had slated for the earrings still tucked away in their their little box with cotton fluff, I proceeded to unpack my silversmithing tools and supplies kept in a metal toolbox and a heavy-duty cardboard box in the garage that we had been toting along with us over the years, cleared away an area on Kathy’s craft room desk and got to work.
The earrings turned out better than I had hoped, as having been away from the craft for well over two decades I certainly wasn’t expecting much. But, that was all the encouragement I needed and it wasn’t long before her nice clean room used for paper, polymer clay and beading crafts turned into a not-so-clean work room covered with a fine layer of polishing rouge dust from the many projects and tinkering that followed.
Silver Dimensions was the name of the sole-proprietorship I had to set up back in the late 70’s when I started doing contract piece-work silver jewelry for Circle JW in their shop in Mesa, AZ. They were a company that marketed southwestern jewelry in silver, turquoise, coral, mother of pearl, etc. (which had become very popular at the time). Even though I did piece-work for them for only a short time before moving to West Texas, I decided to keep the name alive in hope that it turns back into a profitable business someday.
Another craft that I enjoyed back in the 70’s right along with silversmithing was lapidary. I was taught basic lapidary skills by my math teacher. Our school used to have a program where teachers taught a craft or hobby they enjoyed to students the week before Christmas holiday breaks, and lapidary was one of the “mini-sessions” I took one year.
As I already had an interest in gems, minerals and rock collecting that began many years prior to taking the class (an interest passed down by my brother and sister), and knew much about the rocks and slabs brought in for the students to use in the class, it was a craft that I took to eagerly.
After learning to work a trim saw and cabbing machine, I used to borrow the use of lapidary equipment belonging to an artist-friend of my parents, tagging along when they visited him at his studio. He only had a trim saw and grinding/polishing wheels, so I wasn’t able to cut any slabs of my own, but used to cut, cab and polish various gems for use in my silver jewelry including turquoise, coral, jade, tiger eye and other smaller stones I had.
When I moved away from home I lost access to that lapidary equipment however, and much like silversmithing, the cutting, cabbing and polishing of rocks and gems faded into the background of life as well, waiting to be picked back up along with my resurgence in silversmithing.
Until I was able to afford a cabbing machine of my own, one of the things I discovered in Lapidary Journal Jewelry Artist magazine articles and online sites was using a flex shaft with diamond bits, homemade wheels fashioned from wooden dowels and hard felt wheels combined with various grits of diamond paste to cut, shape, carve and polish gems.
Having an inexpensive tile saw acquired when we tiled our front and back porches, I’m able to “slab” and rough-cut stones smaller than about 2″ in diameter, which I would then use my flex shaft and those diamond bits to finish the grinding, shaping and polishing processes. I found that using a flex shaft for cabbing works OK in a pinch, but can be extremely messy and slow-going when compared to a cabbing machine.
It’s a really good technique if you want to carve designs in your stones that just wouldn’t be possible with standard lapidary equipment, but really requires its own work-area and accessories to keep the spray of water laden with dust particles from the stones off you, your tools and the surrounding area, which quickly get covered in a layer of mud-dust before long. Besides, I had enough of that kind of mess with polishing rouge, so I decided to start saving up for a cabbing machine.
Since acquiring a CabKing cabbing machine I have been able to cut, grind and polish cabochons from some of the many stones I have collected over the years, and in a much more enjoyable and productive manner than using the flex shaft. Clean-up is far easier (usually limited to just the cabbing machine), and I don’t have to worry about tools rusting from muddy spray slung from the flex shaft into every nook and cranny, either!
It’s such a joy to create silver jewelry that includes stones I have also cut and polished. There’s just something about creating alloy and pouring ingots for fabricating jewelry that include stones that have also been cut and polished from rough rock (some of them even found by us when rock hounding or hiking) to present a piece that is completely handmade in just about every way.
Fast-forwarding to the present, I now enjoy working out of a small workshop, Kathy has her clean craft room back, and plans are to eventually offer items for sale online. In the meantime, thank you for dropping by and looking!