2.25 x 0.5 x 0.5 in
photo by Pat Vasquez-Cunningham
18k rose gold framed Russian filigree pendant with fine (pure) silver and a natural Koroit opal set in a 22k yellow gold bezel; Roman chain is chain 20″ long, handmade of fine silver and 18k rose gold links with 18k yellow gold clasp
Since early in the 20th Century, beauty and ornamentation have gotten a bad rap as being mere distractions from reality. Far from the fear that beauty distracts us from facing the ills of the world, we need beauty more than ever as a balm to cope with them. We are all too aware of how cruel, unjust, and polluted the world is, and sometimes we need a respite to inspire us to keep going and keep dealing with it. When life is tough, do you put on a song you hate or one that soothes your soul?
A few years ago I bought an Orion 150s Micro-TIG Welder with the wild faith that I could pull off the crazy ideas forming in my head as I’d watched my friend and colleague Sessin Durgham demonstrate the machine I didn’t know I couldn’t live without. The Orion’s ability to heat metal upwards of 7000º has been a design game changer, allowing me to create seamlessly joined shapes in different alloys of gold and wrap Russian filigree right next to or around stones.
Now comes another ripple in the Orion’s tiny but intense wake: Ribbon Lace.
My concept was to form an undulating textile like structure that, though strong and unbending, would appear as ephemeral as the folds of fabric.
First I alloyed a deep 18k rose gold from pure 24k gold and milled it into square wire. I imagined how this pendant would look unfurled so I could sketch its framework into a template that would accommodate its future ripple. All the framework is welded with the Orion rather than soldered (brazed) so that the sheen of the rose gold would be continuous as the light travels across the undulating metal. I twisted and milled the fine (pure) silver wire for the interior then formed, snipped, and tension fit each wire individually to create the perfect balance of positive and negative shapes.
Once all the filigree was secure, I began the careful process of bending the structure into its undulating ripple. Since I first came up with this way of shaping Russian filigree, my work has been a complex combination of careful planing and unexpected experimentation.
The Koroit (a type of Boulder opal) is exceptional in its flash so it and the metal reflect their brilliance into each other. I set it in 22k yellow gold for contrast. I fused, shaped, and wove the very delicate Roman chain links to create a pattern with both the matching, deep 18k rose gold and fine silver.
I’ll own that I’m an all out tech nerd, but my nerdiness, my reason d’être to make art, is all in service of making the world a more beautiful place. Far from “skin deep,” beauty is complex. It can be sudden and natural, but it is never simple.
If there is power in beauty it’s not merely the bias and privilege unconsciously awarded to those deemed young and attractive. The solace beauty gives helps us persist to make things better for those around us. Rather than leaving us staring at only the surfaces of “skin deep,’” its complexity invites us to delve deeper, to briefly get lost in its wonder and feel the connection of admiration.