Daggers and Flame Throwing
When it comes to my artwork, nothing makes it out of the studio and out into the world if it doesn’t make me wildly happy. That said, I do have some all time favorites, and the ones pictured above definitely make it into that list.
The first time I came in contact with granulation was seeing images of the gold, ceremonial daggers that were kept pristine in Tutahnkhamun’s Tomb for over three thousand years. – Apparently there was some controversy over whether the Egyptians actually did granulation such as on the hilts or whether such surface embellishments were soldered. Metalsmiths won the argument in 1924, though once I’d learned the technique, to me it was obviously fused on. Granulation, be it tiny spheres or wire of any shape, means that the elements are fused on at a super high temperature rather than attached with solder at a lower one. A pro can spot the difference.
The first time I saw the technique demonstrated, it was with fine (pure) silver, and it didn’t take long for me to discover what a nightmare granulation with fine silver really is. In antiquity it was always done with alloys of gold, not a terribly practical material for beginners, so some people use fine silver as a logical, although messy, problematic, and very disappointing substitute. Back in the 1990s, learning to fuse fine silver was fantastic for chain links, but most of my fine silver granulation projects ended up in a box of things I only opened if I wanted to feel super depressed.
In the mid 90s I watched John Cogswell demonstrate granulation with chips of sterling silver. This was revolutionary! One of those things supposedly smart metalsmiths and jewelers said couldn’t be done…It was like magic watching the surface go molten as the chips became one with their sterling sheet background but still retained their shapes and textures.
I had to try it!
…But 6 months went by before I had a chance to experiment with what I’d seen.
…And I forgot most of what I thought John said…about what would and wouldn’t work…
So I tried things that weren’t supposed to work anyway…
And I successfully made work the things that shouldn’t have worked…
And made a bunch of cool pieces in sterling silver often combined with 18k gold…
A couple of years later, I watched John do another demo of the same technique and heard him discuss things that wouldn’t work with the technique and why…like all the stuff I’d been pulling off – multiple fusings, adding more elements, forming the fused metal without the wire, chips, or spheres popping off, and more.
When I asked John, in short, WTF(?), he asked me to describe what I’d been doing, then he replied, “Congratulations, you’ve come up with another technique!”
Since then I’ve kept pushing that envelope with my own artwork, and I’ve been on a mission to spread it, demystify my process, dispel myths about what you can, can’t, or have to do, and help people make really (really really) cool pieces that range from ancient looking to wildly contemporary.
What I love most about sterling and 18k granulation is the immediacy of the technique. Ok, sure, applying 1 mm balls of metal to a sheet isn’t exactly speed jewelry, but unlike other methods, mine has little prep and even less clean up. It also levels up torch control to ninja level. After students move past the fear of accidentally melting their metal, they learn just how much heat it can take, and forever after, mere soldering is a piece of cake.
Lately I’ve gone back to a variation of the technique I pioneered in the late 90s and early 2000s: granulation beads and chokers made from seamless tubing. These beads can be further embellished with kum boo, patinas, engraving, ornamental line chasing, stamping, or texturing. I’ll be offering a class in granulation beads in September, 2022 through Silvera Jewelry School, but it’s an advanced class. Students must have learned the basics of my technique through my workshops (past in-person, or now online) before they can take the Granulation Beads workshop. If you’re into flame throwing, don’t miss out!!!