I was kindly invited to visit Christopher Ness‘s studio workshop in Edinburgh last week. Chris was apprentice trained in London so has a vast amount of trade knowledge. He moved back to Scotland to work for himself specialising in repairs and complex stone setting rings.
So I was delighted to have the opportunity to visit his studio for the day to see how he makes pieces, learn stone setting tricks as well as brush up on my own skills.
The timing was right as I had been working on a few commissions one of which was ready to have stones set in it. I needed advice on the best way to flush set diamonds and do rub over settings. Although I had done these before it was great to get the opportunity to see how a trade stone setter does it.
He showed me all the different types of burrs you get for stone setting and which ones work best for the flush settings and rub over (tube settings). Then gave demonstrations of how to do these. It took him less than 20 minutes to flush set 2 stones and 1 rub over setting! It would have taken me most of a day! But hopefully it won’t take me that long how!
Then he went on to tube set 3 stones into another ring. But this one was tricky and it made me feel better that not everything goes right first time, even for an experienced trade jeweller! You need to keep at it and try again until it goes right.
Once this was done he planned to show me how to make one of his claw setting rings with 3 stones (2 pear shaped and 1 round) from start to finish and set the stones.
However when you have a shop you also need to deal with customers enquiries so he showed me partly how to do this throughout the day and dealt with customer enquiries in-between. It was a fun, inspiring day and I came away with a head full of knowledge and a few pages of notes and tips.
I was very grateful that he took the time out to show me demonstrations during trading hours. We discussed the fact that it’s better to pass on the knowledge, rather than keeping it to yourself and letting the trade die. He said that when he was an apprentice there were a few older folk in the trade who were bitter and didn’t want to pass on knowledge to the next generation.
The jewellery trade is a complex trade with many people who specialise in different areas. For instance
the big boys (large brand jewellers who have everything mass produced abroad) have a kind of production line with specific people who make the jewellery (fabricating, soldering, etc) a different group of people to polish the pieces and setters to set the stones. There are also stone cutters, silversmiths, turners, enamellers…the list goes on.
But when you come to a small independent artisan jeweller it is a different process as the artisan tends to make the pieces from start to finish. In some cases they send pieces off to a full-time stone setter but in my case I do all the work myself. In some complex commission pieces – i.e. with lots of stone settings in one piece, I might send off to a setter.
So support the independent British jewellery designers and commission/purchase a piece from their collection.