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#TBT: An Amulet Made of Sky

We went from turquoise skies to funnel clouds yesterday, a spiraling, whirling storm that danced around us on all sides, battering us with high winds before spinning out. Despite the heavy gray mass of clouds stalled overhead, the storm refused to deliver so much as a drop of rain.

Today, we have blue skies once again, albeit a blue diluted by the haze of various wildfires. There’s little chance of rain, but the extended forecast currently insists that there is a 100% chance of rain on Saturday. In the calm following yesterday’s tornadic activity, we hang onto the prospect of atmospheric salvation as though air and sky themselves hold talismanic properties.

And, in their way, they do.

I was reminded of this truth when I came across today’s featured work, a pendant-turned-necklace from nearly eight years ago. I say “-turned-” because Wings created it, initially, as a simple pendant, standing alone. Hanging it on a chain did nothing more for it, either. But when he transferred it to the multi-strand necklace of beads shown in the photo, it found its home in short order.

Even before then, when it stood by itself, it always reminded me of an amulet.

I’m not sure why my brain has always processed the word “amulet,” first, as something triangular in shape. Perhaps the first representation of one that I encountered as a child happened to look like a triangle. At any rate, the geometry of it has always stuck with me at some deep and visceral level. “Talisman” can also be triangular, although I know that both words are likely to represent other shapes and forms. In our way, they’re at least as likely to be three-dimensional: bags, such as medicine bags, that can be opened and closed to hold something else safely within.

But for whatever reason, this piece resonated with my spirit in such a way even before it became a piece, when it was still nothing more than a teardrop-shaped turquoise cabochon sitting alone, still in the conceptualization phase of the creative process on Wings’s workbench.

It was an exceptional piece of Kingman turquoise in its own right. It was not one that was terribly valuable as such things go: Expensive, yes, thanks to its large size, but the sky-blue stone flecked with tiny clouds of white, however perfect and beautiful, has never held the spectacularly outsized monetary value assigned by collectors that the tightly matrixed black-web stone from the same mine commands. It was not a cheap cabochon; far from it. But on the spectrum that is the relative value of turquoise from any given mine, a spectrum whose points are influenced by many factors, this one fell somewhere in the middle.

What it was was large — big and bold and wonderfully blue, with a thick cut and a highly polished, nearly glassine surface. Wings chose to let the stone do most of the talking, creating a simple, low-profile setting for it cut freehand to adhere to its triangular teardrop shape with only one form of adornment: the five small ingot bead “blossoms” that trace its base. To accomplish this, he cut the backing to include a each of the five ingot blossoms, so that the base of the setting was all of a piece; in other words, the backing looked vaguely like a teardrop with five rounded scallops along its bottom edge. There is a purpose to doing it this way: Soldering the ingot beads directly to the base of the bezel holding the stone is unreliable; through use and wear, it’s too easy for them to get cracked, broken, or knocked off the pendant entirely. Soldering them to the end of the bezel and to their own dedicated backing prevents such an occurrence.

Once the backing was cut, he fashioned the bezel to hold the stone. He chose to craft a saw-toothed bezel (sometimes called a “serrated” bezel for its teeth-like edge), to hold it securely even as he kept its profile low, the better to allow the stone to stand out on its own. Once the bezel (still empty) was in place, he melted ingot silver, separating and fashioning it into five tiny round beads. Once cool and hard, he soldered each one into place on its own small round section of the setting, adhering it both to the backing and to the bezel above it. Then he chose a single stamp, one in a flowering “blossom” design, and struck each bead once with it, hard and deep, to create what would become the image of five tiny flowers suspended from a single great raindrop. Turning it over, he fashioned a bail from a plain hand-formed “slider” loop of sterling silver and soldered it into place on the center of the upper back point. Then he oxidized the entire bezel and buffed it to a soft polish slightly brighter than a Florentine finish.

Once the silverwork was complete, it was time to set the stone. This was an unusually thick cabochon, and he had designed the piece with that in mind, allowing it to stand up and out from the setting. It gave the piece a bold look, and also a three-dimensional one: a small medicine bag of rain and flowers, an amulet made of sky.

As I noted above, he initially offered it for sale simply as a pendant, no chain, thong, or beads attached. It garnered quite a bit of attention, but no takers; even hanging it from sterling silver snake chain seemed to have no effect. Then, one day, he noticed a particular multi-strand rope of beads in his inventory: three intertwined strands of tiny scarlet branch coral beads interspersed with slightly larger bright blue turquoise beads, a length slightly longer than a choker. He clamped the slider over the upper of the three strands, so that the weight of the pendant would not pull it below the other two.

And suddenly, what perhaps qualified as a talisman became a full-fledged amulet, something to hang around the neck, to wear as a protective device, to hold the power of the sky itself.

As I also noted above, it sold in short order.

~ Aji










All content, including photos and text, are copyright Wings and Aji, 2018; all rights reserved. Nothing herein may used or reproduced in any form without the express written permission of the owner.

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