A gem of a course

Soldering, hallmarking ... Sally Staples learns the art of jewellery making
Click to follow
The Independent Online
One of the attractive aspects of jewellery making is the range of materials on offer. Some of the most stunning designs are worked in copper and brass, so there is no need to spend a fortune stocking up on silver, gold and precious stones to learn the basic techniques.

In a bustling jewellery workshop at a West London Adult Education College, students were working on everything from copper wire to sea and freshwater pearls. In one corner Valerie Woodlock had carefully crocheted red and gold wire into a traditional neck choker and then made a small cap to match. The cap, she explained, could be lined with material and turned into an elegant evening bag.

Across the bench from Valerie, Kaori Whalley displayed a necklace made from more than 100 natural pearls hanging from a silver chain. Her friend Mimi Antoine was patiently working at a pyrex bangle on which she intended to rivet 96 tiny seed pearls.

One student was polishing a tiny gold heart while another was labouring over a simple Cabochon ring. This jewellery-making course runs for three terms in 10-week blocks and accepts both experienced students and complete beginners who are able to work at their own pace.

Tutor Jenny Gilchrist starts the beginners off with a lesson in how to make a band ring. They will learn how to anneal metal to make it soft enough to shape and are taught how metal should be cut. Half-round pliers are used to bend the strip of metal until the two ends overlap and the band can then be adjusted to fit and cut accordingly. Finally the band is soldered.

Valerie, a housewife, is now working on Cabochon ring which has involved setting a stone into a tiny gold circle which will then be soldered on to the silver band. "I love jewellery and I'm really here to make some pieces for myself, Some of the students give them as presents and some produce work that is good enough to sell," she says.

One of these is Christine Holmes, who works part-time for an antique dealer threading ancient beads and re-stringing pearls and spends the rest of her time designing ornamental pieces in precious metals, such as the silver bowls inlaid with pearls which she sells for between pounds 200 and pounds 300. On the course, she has just completed some one-off rings in silver and moonstone and freshwater black pearls.

Annissa Hajjai is passionate about her jewellery, and although it is now only a hobby, she has ambitions to set up a shop and sell her work one day. She is working on a silver bangle around which she wants to twist a gold thread and attach coloured stones.

"I like the work so much," she says. "It's very challenging and quite technical. There is a chance to be artistic but there is much more to making jewellery than having a nice idea. I can't draw so I design things in my head and then see if they will work, but I often change my ideas as I go along."

As the course progresses, students will learn about working with sheet metal as well as covering piercing, drillling, embossing, mark-making with hammers and heat-treated surface textures. They will be taught how to work with wire and make basic chains and links.

Next come traditional soldering techniques; students will learn how to size and fit ring shanks and cover techniques relevant to settings for Cabochon stones and very basic gemology. There is also a lesson on sterling silver, some precious metal theory and the practicalities of hallmarking, as well as wire work, demonstrating knitting and crocheting techniques.

Tutor Jenny Gilchrist provides students with a comprehensive list of what jewellers need in their tool kit and they are encouraged to start building up a basic collection of clamps, saw-frames, a selection of pliers, reverse-action tweezers, a tapered handfile, needle files, a torch and a bench peg. Most of these items are less than pounds 10 each.

"Jewellery offers something for everyone," says Jenny. "And I think a lot of the people who come on the course use it as a form of therapy. You don't have to be a perfectionist to make a good piece, but the perfectionists do tend to go for small and intricate designs."

Students can continue to work through three levels of jewellery making over a series of 10-week blocks until they have achieved enough credits for a London Open College Federation Certificate. But for those who just want to have fun, a 10-week course involving three hours a week costs pounds 50. Jenny's course is run by Kensington and Chelsea College (017l-573 3600). For information on similar courses, contact local education authorities and colleges of further and adult education.