Tuesday, 1 March 2016

An Importance of Photos

Last year I promised myself that I would have some good photos taken of my jewellery. I've made do, so far, with the snaps I take for my own records and, as I am not a very good photographer at the best of times, any that turn out well is more by happy accident than plan. 

I know some excellent photographers through being involved in my local art and craft scene, and all of them have a different approach to their work, but the one I felt could create the atmosphere I wanted - of my jewellery as part of the local landscape - was artist photographer Heather Marlow Stephenson, who suggested photographing my jewellery as if it is wildlife. 

It might seem like an odd choice to want my jewellery to appear as part of its environment rather than to stand out well lit against a monochrome background or on a model, as is traditional in jewellery photography. I've seen a lot of excellent studio photography commissioned by other jewellers, but I wanted a more casual style of photo that reflects my approach that precious metals and gems are a natural part of the environment, and so are the people who wear my work.

What inspires me to create is living in an area of natural beauty where many people come to escape the noise and pressures of urban life. I wanted photos of my work that grasp the feel of blowing away mental cobwebs on a windy walk, or being able to just stop and listen to birdsong, or the excitement of peering into rock pools. I would like people to wear my jewellery for all
occasions in their lives, and take it on their own adventures, but each time they wear it to also still feel that breath of fresh coastal air attached to it. 

So, after weather watching for several days, Heather gave the word and we set off on a blustery but sunny day to search the cliffs and beaches for suitable locations for our shoot. We chose limestone outcrops, gorse twigs, precarious wire fences, rivulets and rock pools for our photos.

Seeing my jewellery through a nature photographer's eyes and lenses was a revelation. I had said that I wanted my jewellery to be part of the landscape, and that's what I got! I was used to focusing on the clarity and detail of each piece to try to convey the design skills and technical processes involved, but Heather's perspective was completely different focusing instead on how the jewellery affected the natural surroundings and the photo as a whole. 

I worried that my work would disappear, while Heather was pleased with the tossing and ripples it created. 

Nonetheless, we appreciated each other's approaches and had a very thrilling day outdoors. This page shows some of our work, and I'm delighted with the outcome. 

Monday, 16 November 2015

The best Festive gift ever!

Trying to think of the ideal Festive gift? 

There is still time, just about, to commission a piece of jewellery from me - so long as the design isn't too complicated!
You could do a last minute dash to my studio in Grange over Sands for a whisky and mince pie and to see what I have left on my bench. 

OR - ta dah dah dah!

What about a gift that keeps on giving - the present of a day learning how to make silver jewellery in my studio? 

A nice glossy postcard-sized studio voucher in a silver envelope

Many people now enjoy receiving the gift of a new experience, and learning a new skill in a day is very satisfying in itself. It can also lead to a lifelong interest, with the possibility of regularly making their own silver jewellery 
and special gifts for friends and family. 
All from your one original Christmas present. 

A day in my studio involves learning about the different tools and working with precious metals during the step-by-step process of making a ring, pendant, bangle, bracelet or earrings. It's grubby, physical, mentally challenging, good fun, and the end result is always better than expected. 
(See "Tuition" page for more info).

Prices for the day per person are: 

£90 (incl silver to make a ring, pendant, slim bangle or earrings) 

Thank you

Wishing you and everyone you know 
a fabulous Festive Season.

Monday, 2 March 2015



I love the sound of the jewellery term "Findings". It sounds a bit mysterious, like something we might accidentally come across on an unexpected jewellers' adventure. But you might be surprised to know that it is the trade term used for the components of a piece of jewellery - the parts like the clasp, ear wires, cuff link backs, brooch pins, jump rings and spacers that are often overlooked, but make the finished item wearable. 

So where can we find Findings?

They can be bought from a wide range of manufacturers and vary in quality and price in the same way as everything else in life. However, it is also possible to make your own findings to suit the piece of jewellery you are making. To me, as someone who both makes jewellery and buys from other designers, a test for the quality of the piece depends on the findings as much as the jewellery. It makes sense to me that if I have gone to the trouble of making a piece of jewellery from scratch that the final part of the finished piece should blend in with it or even add a different, unique element to the design. 

There's also the matter of security - a handcrafted piece of jewellery in precious metal is, at least, a special gift or treat and quite often also an investment. Therefore, a secure means of fixing the piece onto the body is essential and if you make your own you know exactly how safe and workable it is. 

Many jewellery makers don't make their own findings. The arguments against it are that it is too time consuming, adds to the cost, and that precious metals are soft and a handmade finding can never be as hard and secure as a machine made one. But mass produced findings can be tricky to attach as they are often made of very thin metal, they can devalue a piece of jewellery if the same findings are recognisable from cheaper high street pieces and, while it isn't possible to make a finding that is as hard and springy as one that has been molded and repeatedly bashed by a machine, it is possible to create findings that are designed in such a way that they don't have to be and they still function perfectly well, and look good too.  

Making your own findings is also a creative challenge in its own right, as you consider which style of 'fixing' will work best with what you have created. Sometimes you can end up creating a new type of finding in response to a problem - as I did with ear wires for people who don't have pierced ears! Often the traditional mechanisms of fastenings work best, like the toggle clasp, but they can also be improved upon to better suit their function. In the photo above I created a magnetic and slide catch combo for a cherished bracelet when the clasp would usually just have one or the other. 

So, making your own findings is worth a try if you want your jewellery to stand out even from that of other makers. Something as simple as a stud ear wire made to the most usable length of 12mm, and well smoothed at the end, will be noticeably different to the short, rougher ones you just buy and solder on. And heating metal always softens it anyway, so the resulting finding will only be as robust as the hands of the person who finished it!

Happy Finding!

Sunday, 13 April 2014

Make your own wedding rings

Just the Two of Us!

Passion Flower Studio is proud to announce that couples are now able to make their own wedding rings in my cosy studio in Grange over Sands, Cumbria. This service, called "Just the Two of Us", is an opportunity to come to the studio for the extra special experience of making your own weddings rings for each other in silver or gold.

Just the Two of Us session can be arranged on any day of the week, Monday to Sunday, and comprises of a day of tuition from 10am - 4pm, the silver or gold used, a picnic lunch using local produce, and a glass of bubbly to celebrate your rings. By the end of the day you will each have made a unique ring for one another, based around your own design ideas. 

Prices for the day are: 

£350 for two silver rings 
£750 for two 9ct gold rings (yellow or rose gold)
Higher carat metals and very broad or elaborate designs will be priced individually, depending on the cost of the metal. 

Silver rings over 7.78g in weight, and gold rings over 1g in weight will have to be sent off to the Assay Office for hallmarking, and then collected from me or posted out to you. This process takes about 6 -10 days, so please bear this in mind when booking your session to allow yourselves enough time before you need them!

Sessions to make jewellery as gifts can also be arranged for one or two people. 

Please email or phone me to book. 

Tuesday, 27 August 2013

The time it takes...

I am frequently asked how long it takes me to make a piece of jewellery. Sometimes this question is asked out of curiosity about the technical differences between factory-made and handcrafted work. Sometimes by people who want to learn to make silver jewellery and are wondering about the level of commitment required. And sometimes I am asked it to justify my prices. The answer is: "it depends..." - on the complexity of the piece.

Time isn't always about size. A plain, chunky bangle takes less time to make than a detailed ring. An asymmetrical pair of earrings takes more design time than a matching pair. Stone setting can be quick, but a piece with different polished surfaces can seem to take forever to get just right. But a large piece of work, such as a necklace, that contains lots of detail and embellishment will take the longest time of all, as it is made stage by stage in individual sections and then put together. 

It may seem obvious that a pair of earrings takes double the time spent on making a pendant, and often longer. Many people assume that once the first earring is made it is just a matter of quickly copying it for the next one. It's easy to make this mistake when first starting to make jewellery too, until you end up with a set of earrings that just don't look right because they both point in the same direction! Designing and making an earring, and then making its partner, exercises both sides of the brain in terms of design and the technicalities of making, as the earrings have to mirror one another to make sure they look like a pair when they are worn. The difference between a factory-made pair and a handcrafted pair can usually be seen in the attention paid to this subtle mirroring. Keeping in mind as you make earring no 2 that it has to be the opposite of earring no 1 in every way requires steady work and lots of concentration, as it's all too easy to forget to position two stones so that their textures reflect one another or to turn a loop in the opposite direction. Any deviation can ruin the earring, and require an adjustment or remake. In a way, earrings are made for one another as much as their wearer. 

The 'boring' aspects of making can take a considerable amount of time, and that's if nothing goes wrong in the process! Some aspects can be quick, some take longer than you ever imagined, while others are worth taking plenty of time over - no matter how tedious. The soldering process can be slow, with different elements of the piece having to be set up correctly on the soldering block or wig and soldered together piece by piece using different strengths of solder. I regularly spend up to an hour just setting up a complex piece to be soldered. The soldering stage is when the components of the piece are permanently 'committed' together and, if not set up securely, movement, slippage and even explosions can all take place when the metal is heated, and spoil the piece. Likewise, finishing and polishing can take up to 60% of the amount of time spent on making the piece of jewellery, with different types of filing, cleaning and polishing having to be carried out at different points in the process.

With handcrafted work the final price of the jewellery doesn't usually reflect every day, hour and minute it took to make. If it did, then the items would have to be priced out of the reach of most people who enjoy buying and wearing unique jewellery. There is a theoretical argument that the price should reflect every minute spent on the piece, including all design, making, cleaning and packaging time, and the advised going rate is £10 per hour. (much less than the hourly rate of a plumber or mechanic!). However, in reality the whole time spent is usually compressed to just take account of the actual time spent carrying out the hands-on processes to come up with a fair price that reflects the work and skill involved and to suit most pockets. 

Tuesday, 12 March 2013


This month on my workbench is a very special necklace for a 40th wedding anniversary, incorporating a large ruby. It's a commission, and the client brief is quite complex. He wants a pendant for his wife that distils their love for each other and, in discussion, it developed into also encapsulating her interest in plants and a shared enjoyment of visiting Thailand. We've settled on a waterlily design that will both show off and protect the ruby.

With a design as complex as this I prefer to create some 3D paper models for the client to look at, known as maquettes. My choice is to use the low-tech option of heavy, artist quality paper, and cutting it by hand, rather than modeling clay, wax, laser cutting, or a CAD computer design package. My main reason is that during the process of creating the paper models I can work out what will work and what won't from my drawn designs, and also how easy or difficult it will be to add embellishments once the basic design is created in metal. Really, it is a trial run for creating the real piece in silver or gold without any wasted expense.

Having maquettes available, rather than only drawings or computer images, also makes it easier for the client to both see and feel what the finished piece will be like. The client can also choose which elements they do and don't like, and swap the pieces until they can clearly show me which look they prefer. This can be a very useful exercise, as many people, understandibly, find it difficult to describe the idea in their head in terms that make sense to the person who is making the item, or visualise what the designer is telling them in return! A scale model of the piece gives you both something to talk around. 

Not all designs need a model. Some are much more straightforward and easy to describe, and some clients have a very good idea of what they want and examples to show me. But with more complicated designs, having maquettes available means that the client goes away reassured that s/he has seen and felt, and perhaps even tried out on a 'flesh and blood' model, a reasonable facsimile of what their finished piece of jewellery will be like. I suppose, in this way, being a jewellery designer can be a bit like being an architect!

Finished waterlily necklace with ruby

Thursday, 14 February 2013


Hi there and welcome to my blog, where I plan to give you an insight into what's going on in and around Passion Flower Studio. Each month I'll update you on what's hot on my workbench at the moment, what I've learnt while making it, and any other related 'findings' of info and news that may be useful.

This week I've made two pairs of earrings based on one of my most popular designs - cornflowers. I've made eight pairs of these earrings in total, changing the length, centres and stamens to make each pair unique. These two are a long pair with long, symmetrical stamens, and a shorter pair with wavy stamens to look as if they are just unfolding. These earrings will also become a feature article in American jewellery journal Art Jewelry. As a keen gardener and plant watcher, I love to make jewellery in floral designs. Even my new workshop is called Passion Flower Studio after a flower that I love for its sculptural shapes. So expect a big bouquet of different native UK and exotic inspired species-pieces as we jump into Spring.

I am also currently working on a commission for a pair of 9ct gold asymmetrical earrings based on a pebble design, for a client who lives near the beach. I can't show a photo of them in progress, as it's only fair that the client is the first person to see their finished piece of jewellery, but I am certainly learning a lot in making these. One thing I've learnt is never to hold your breath when engaged in a tricky piece of soldering, as when you eventually exhale you blow out not only the flame on your torch but the candle under the pickle-bath too!

I'd like to thank artist printmaker Hugh Bryden who created the logo and lettering for my studio as my Christmas present from Andy. It feels great to have an identifiable 'brand' for my work at last, instead of my usual ad hoc mix of photos and fonts for my home made business cards. I'm celebrating the launch of my Passion Flower Studio by sponsoring a piece of public artwork for display at Grange over Sands Station. I'll keep you posted as to which piece of Art it will be.  

Listening to the radio or music while I work helps me to concentrate. This week my favourite has been Born To Die by Lana Del Rey. I'm enjoying the retro 50s vibe and the edgy stories in the tracks.

All jewellery featured on these pages is also available to buy or order, and I always have a number of other items for sale too. Please contact me if you are interested in any of the pieces, want to seemore, or if you would like to place a commission.