Friday, March 2, 2012

Pinching Pennies Leads to Inspiration!

I don't need to tell you how crazy the precious metals market is right now.  The cost of silver and gold is CRAZY, more volitle than a roller-coaster ride, and no where near as fun.  I made the decision to forgoe precious metals a long time ago, to save my pocket book and my soul.  Mining for gold is one step from slavery--costing human life as well as the almighty dollar.  I am not interested, and will not support this.  EVER.

So, lucky for me I love working with reclaimed materials and metals like copper, brass and nickel silver.  A personal favorite bezel material for me is copper and brass tube.  Comes in all sorts of sizes, available at most hardware stores and is extremely cost effective.  Plus the possibliities are ENDLESS with how you can patina, age, color and work these metals!  Nickel silver is also a wonderful sterling alternative--polishes, solders and behaves just like the "real" stuff.  All are available in wire, sheet, tube, and pre-cut shapes of all sizes and gauges.

The sticking point is that many folks are allergic to nickel and also have skin types that may react poorly to copper and brass.  Since jewelry is mostly worn close to the skin (especially bracelets, rings and pendants), this can be a real problem for designers.  Well, I have some suggestions I'd like to share.

First, let's talk about a new love of mine--aluminum.  I've recently begun working with aluminum wire and I love it.  Lightweight, hypoallergenic and looks just like silver.  It's great for accents and ring shanks--hammers fantastically and is great for drilling.  Because it is so soft I don't suggest using it in any really structural way, but for cold-connected accents, bagles, and rings it's great!  You can't solder aluminum to anything but aluminum, and even then it's tricky.  You have to use specific aluminum solders (also available at most home improvement stores), but it just doesn't like to be soldered!  So, for cold connection fools like me, that's not a problem.  I do love my micro-screws and rivets.  The image here is of a boulder opal pendant and brass cuff bracelet accented with aluminum.  Looks just like sterling, right??????  I just ordered some aluminum sheet and cuff blanks on Etsy...I'll let you know what I think when I get it.  Aluminum is now also available in wire, sheet and shapes of all sizes and gauges.  Google it!

Now, back to the nickel, brass, copper dilema.  Brass and copper, no matter what you do to them, will change color over time.  Even if you patina them, polish them and seal with the world's best metal sealant, they will still color change if worn on skin over time.  These metals react to heat, and body heat is enough to change them eventually.  I don't have a problem with this, since I think the aging of these metals is gorgeous.  Blues, greens, purples, amazing.  Sealing them with acrylics will slow this down, but nothing is permanant and I tell my clients this up front.  But what about the allergy issue??? What about  the client who's skin turns green at the touch of brass or copper???  Well, I have a couple tricks that have worked extremely well for me.

Number one--transparency films.  I back my copper, brass and nickel rings and cuffs with transparency film, resin set in place with Ice Resin.  You can get wonderful transparencies all over the web, I get mine from ArtChix Studios.  This adds another design element to your ring or cuff, giving the inside of the band a whole new look!  Text is great can personalize this in so many ways, and when finished the metal never touches the skin.  I also coat the entire thing with 4 coats of metal sealer as well.  You an also use resin set papers and fabric (silk and tissue paper are really cool).  Go nuts!

Next--back pendants with found objects.  Buttons, pictures, watch faces, transparencies, fabric, polymer clay, images behind mica, whatever you can think of!  Again, you have a whole new element to add to the overall design.  I make the backs of my pendants as interesting as the front!  Clock and watch faces are my go-to (many are porcelain...nice).  I rivet or microscrew them in place first thing, then work on the front design.  The goal is a protective barrier between the metal and skin.  Mica is really fun, over dried flowers, paper, feathers, whatever!!!  Set in place with resins or cold connections. 

So, don't be intimidated by "base" metals and convince your clients of the same.  With a little creativity and time, you can create some amazing jewelry that has layers (litterally) of design.  If you give this a try, please let me know what you think!  And, as always, I love to see pictures of your work!  Have fun!!