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#TBT: A Storm-Lit Cascade

Rain is predicted for Sunday, but between now and then, it’s all dry hot air.

The winds have yet to give way to softer summer breezes here. We can’t complain; despite the twister that tore off our stable’s roof, we have had far less wind consistently than is usual for spring here. Unfortunately, we’ve had far less precipitation for much longer, and things have reached a dangerous pass. The surrounding national forests and other so-called “public lands” are reportedly scheduled to begin closures tomorrow, in an attempt to stave off the threat of wildfire as much as possible.

Meanwhile, the sun shine with neon brilliance; the now-not-quite-full moon seems powered by its own cold fire. And the blue of today’s perfectly clear skies is positively electric: not quite the cobalt of high-grade lapis lazuli, but certainly an unusually intense shade of cornflower.

In other words, it’s the perfect day for today’s featured work, a throwback to the end of June two years ago. It’s the pair of earrings shown above, commissioned by one of our dearest friends. She is slowly amassing a collection of Wings’s work in various stones, not for display but for everyday wear and use: sets that include necklace, cuff, ring, barrette, and earrings all made in matching stones. At the time these were made, she was building her collection of lapis pieces, and she had a few pieces toward the set already. [Being a woman after my own heart, she also has additional pieces, particularly when it comes to dangling earrings, but at this point, she did not have a lapis pair that I can recall.]

One day she contacted me about the possibility of having Wings make her a pair of earrings to go with her existing lapis jewelry. This would be a bit different from her usual commissions, she explained: She had seen the earrings, very specifically and very clearly, in a dream the night before. They consisted of intensely blue lapis cabochons as anchor stones, from which hung a few dangling bits of silver, like fringe. She hoped that, with that description as a guide, Wings could create a pair for her that would match up with her vision.

There was no question, of course, that he could do it; it was simply a matter of the right stones and the mechanics making the silver pieces work together. I happened to know that the right stones were present in his inventory already: a matched pair of ovals of ultra-high-grade Afghan lapis, impossibly, archetypally blue, aswirl with delicate threads of matrix that gave the cabochons not-quite-fully-hidden depths.

They were stupendous stones, and I freely admit that I coveted them myself.

I sent our friend a photo of the cabochons to see whether she agreed; she did, and, satisfied that the anchor of the pair was settled, Wings got down to work on the earrings themselves.

Our friend’s taste in earrings is very much like my own. She wears all sorts of shapes and styles and lengths, but she has a particular affinity for those that dangle and dance. Wings wanted to create a pair that would appear exceptionally long and mobile, but not so long as to be disproportionate to the stones, or to irritate her neck or drag upon her collar. There were multiple ways to create the “fringe” effect, but few that would properly fit these parameters. So he embarked upon a little experimentation with different designs for the settings and different materials for the fringe, until he found the one that satisfied all requirements.

As always, of course, it began with the silver. Once he had settled on the mechanics of it, he sketched a quick outline of the cabochons for size, then cut the settings freehand. They were relatively small, but unusually shaped: The oval backing for each stone extended upward into a tiny tab that would serve as the bail for the wires, and downward into a flared “skirt” that would perform the same function for the “fringe.” He then chose a single stamp, a tiny round hoop, and struck it repeatedly in random but tight, overlapping fashion across the surface of the flange below the backing for the stones. It created a hammered effect, but it also resembled water drops, as though the rain were being birthed from the stones, thence to fall earthward.

Once the settings were stamped, he turned his attention to the fringe. [No, he wasn’t done with the settings yet, but he first needed to ensure that his conceptualization of the fringe would work properly.] He chose an incredibly slender, yet solid length of fine sterling silver wire, measured it against the flange, and, convinced of the fit, cut it into eight separate pieces of identical length. He then double-checked them against the “skirt” of the setting to ensure that four would fit on each earring. Then, he carefully drilled four tiny round holes in a horizontal line at the base of the “skirt,” following up with a single identical round hole through the tab at the top of each earring.

Wings fashioned a saw-toothed bezel atop the oval backing of each setting and soldered them securely into place. He then oxidized the entire settings and buffed them to a medium polish, slightly brighter than Florentine. This task complete, he set the stones, both relatively high-domed and shown to brilliant effect by the serrations of the bezel.

Then it was time to create the fringe. He took each length of sterling silver wire, filed the ends smooth, and then fed one end of each strand through one of the open holes in the setting’s “skirt,” inserting each strand from the front just far enough to permit him to bend the top end over and clamp it around the flange. This created a cascading fringe that looked like rain falling from cobalt pools in the sky. Wings had chosen the number four for proportion’s sake, of course, but also as a sign of the Four Sacred Directions: There’s little more powerful than rain as a sign of abundance, or of the light as a signifier of wisdom, but when they come together from all directions in a storm-lit cascade, they’re infused with a special kind of force. Lastly, he attached sterling silver wires, blessed the work, and we sent them to their dreamer.

As I said above, I coveted the stones. The same was true of the earrings, which will come as no shock to anyone who knows either me or our friend (she already knows this, of course). Wings promised that he would make me a [unique] pair.

I’m still waiting for that rain.

~ Aji








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