Jewelry School – Lapidary

Genie lapidary machine - the one I used most in class and the one that came home with me

Genie lapidary machine – the one I used most in class and the one that came home with me

I’ve done a lot of time in jewelry school, hundreds of hours. Learning to solder and fuse, saw and hammer, sand and polish. I always used stones produced by others – from tiny machine cut faceted stones to large specialty cabochons cut by lapidary experts. Cutting my own stones always seemed like just too much work, another distraction to keep me from bringing my designs to life. However, I’ve noticed that sometimes I just can’t get exactly what I want, stone-wise, for a particular piece of jewelry. I have a necklace in mind, just a hint from the muse so far, that would need a set of graduated cabs, at least five or seven. Try finding that! Even wandering around at the Tucson Gem Shows, that’s not something easy to spot. It’s enough to drive a person to learn to do it themselves!

 

Michael Boyd Jewelry

Michael Boyd Jewelry

Last year, I went to the evening slide show by master jewelry artist Michael Boyd when he came to teach a week-long lapidary workshop at Creative Side Jewelry Academy of Austin (I’m so lucky to have this jewelry school right here in my backyard!). His way of designing, using the stones as the main event of his work rather than as accents, was very intriguing. His background as a painter means that color is really important to him. I struggle with wanting more color in my own work – after all those years of thread painting and brilliant glass, metal is a bit monochromatic! That evening’s presentation left me wanting to take his workshop when he returned.

Vickie Hallmark with giant amethyst geode at Tucson Gem Shows 2016

Vickie Hallmark with giant amethyst geode at Tucson Gem Shows 2016

So this year, I did it. I got sucked into the lapidary world. I’d hoped to buy a bunch of rough stones in Tucson, but the combination of lack of knowledge and early illness meant I really didn’t buy much there. Still, I headed into class knowing that I could experiment with something and decide if this was for me.

lapidary saw used in Michael Boyd workshop

lapidary saw used in Michael Boyd workshop

The first day of class was spent learning to cut rough cabochons (cabs) from stone. From slicing lump stones with a lapidary saw to “dropping” the stones with super glue or wax onto nails to hold them while we shaped them with six grits of grinding wheels and a final cerium oxide polish takes all of about 10 minutes for an experienced stone cutter. What a revelation! All the students in class went wild with working. In the afternoon, we had design discussions with hands-on inspections of a large variety of Michael’s jewelry to see all his specialized tricks.

my very first experiments in lapidary - two days of class - the lightest triangle agate in the middle is where it all started, then I ventured into labradorite and druzy

my very first experiments in lapidary – two days of class – the lightest triangle agate in the middle is where it all started, then I ventured into labradorite and druzy

On Tuesday, we started exploring some of those concepts. We had demonstrations of making bezels and drilling holes through stones.

roller printed metal laminated onto stone via tube rivet

roller printed metal laminated onto stone via tube rivet

For the third day, we discussed selecting materials and design. We learned to mount metal on top of a stone, either a textured sheet or a bezel/tube setting. Bezel-set stone on top of bezel-set stone is a Michael Boyd trademark. Lamination was one of my favorite processes – using an archival epoxy to layer stones, metal, and/or natural objects that can then be cut as one into a cab. We also remounted stones to finish their bottoms and discussed different polishing compounds, including loose diamond powders.

Michael Boyd workshop rough stone for sale

Michael Boyd workshop rough stone for sale

Thursday morning found us on a field trip to the local rock shop, Nature’s Treasures, shopping with experts in tow to answer questions. This was in addition to all the stones that Michael brought for us to purchase from him in class, if desired. Laden with small but heavy bags of stones, we headed back to the classroom to learn to carve stone with diamond bits in the flex shaft.

stones piling up from the week long lapidary workshop

stones piling up from the week long lapidary workshop

On the final day, we learned to make our own custom bezel wire and watched another trademark mount – a saddle with drilled holes and rivets. An epiphany for me was watching Michael polish up a riveting hammer in about two minutes on the same lapidary wheels, which don’t become cross contaminated. The last demo of the workshop was hammer inlay, where wire was pounded into channels cut in the top of a thick piece of jade.

The workshop was so inspiring that I bought one of the demo lapidary machines for my own studio. I’m looking forward to seeing how this ability to customize stones impacts my design work going forward. If you ever get a chance to take a class with Michael Boyd and his oh-so-helpful assistant, Ryan Gardner, do it!

 

4 thoughts on “Jewelry School – Lapidary

    1. vichall Post author

      Great to meet you too, Patti! Can’t wait to see what you do with all those gorgeous stones.

      Reply
  1. Catherine Witherell

    What fun! I’ve met those guys. It IS great to get to inspect their work. I love that machine you got! After I was exposed to Michael Boyd’s work – he was teaching a class at the Revere Academy in SF and I was taking a different class – I joined the nearest mineral and gem club and went every week for almost a year. It was a great learning experience. I love all the things you’re doing! I was just checking up on you on facebook because I realized that I hadn’t heard anything from you in awhile. I’m glad I did. I hope you have a fun summer.
    xo Cath

    Reply

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