'Avoid Rough Stone'!! I don't know how many people in the jewellery business have said this to me but would I listen? How could I? I just LOVE stone - and wood just as much. I love the sense of anticipation when looking for material, the knowledge and understanding you acquire, the thrill of discovering a hidden beauty within what appears outwardly to be a piece with no promise. The idea of what some printmakers and stone sculptors in the early 20th century called transmutation - of taking a plain block of natural stone and uncovering something within it. Avoid rough stone? Never!
So unlike many of the sensible pieces of advice that have come my way over the years I turned a (semi) blind eye to this one - however frustrating or time consuming it might sometimes be.
It’s not just about colour or patterning, neither of which are always easy to predict from a lump of ‘rough’ – nor the amount of waste material and the time it takes to find and extract the often small bits that might be of the required quality. It is the microscopic fractures, bubbles and impurities that are the real killer – sometimes evident only after you have started the finer work on small pieces, forming cabochons and the like. Imagine the frustration when one finds a flaw at an advanced stage in the work - or it breaks in your hand! It surprised me little to see that the gem workshops in Germany buy ready formed and flawless Moonstone cabochons from the Indian subcontinent. These they use as their ‘rough’ to ‘shim’ down to their final exact requirements.
Take an example from my workshop - six large egg sized nuggets of Chrysocolla – a material that is notoriously unstable and relatively soft on the Mohs scale. I was hoping to produce from them a small limited edition of the Bourn cufflinks. As it turned out all of the stones bar one were without any potential and in that one stone, the exception, the first cut slice (the single piece in the picture above - unpolished) revealed a coloration that I could only describe as looking like a Caribbean coral sea in a stone– blue greens and turquoise with shimmies of silvery white. Encouraged by this the remainder of the stone was carefully cut into sections. As you can see the remaining pieces yielded nothing – a myriad of fractures and colour patterning that suggested that mineral inclusions had penetrated along the fracture lines - presumably in water.
Did you know that flint can hold over 25% of its weight in water? Maybe it explains how the material can accept the tone of its terroir.
But I just had to try something with that first slice - perhaps a larger cabochon with hopefully less risk of it shattering from the vibrations that accompany the processes of grinding and polishing? Worth a try. The result you can see in the picture below and you may notice that the process has intensified the colour and darkened the material – it is not just the photograph. The stone becomes very hot during the diamond polishing process and this presumably causes some of the copper mineral elements present in the stone to oxidise. Another of nature's surprises!
Sometimes you never know what you are going to end up with - sometimes not a cufflink which is usually the original intention! But then that's part of the joy of working with natural materials.
Oh - and do you like Snoopy with his rectangular eye?