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#TBT: From Night’s Cocoon

Andreas Onyx Barrette

In these hot hazy days of summer, magic happens at night.

At night, the air is cool but not cold, clear of the suffocating veil of smoke from the wildfires that smolder insistently nearby. At night, a crescent moon swings high in the sky, and the stars fall into formation to cast a soft silvery light upon the darkened earth.

At night, it is at last comfortable enough to sleep, to rest, to permit us, come dawn, to awaken renewed like a butterfly emerging from a chrysalis.

On this very hot and very hazy #ThrowbackThursday, we go back in time only a very short distance: no more than two weeks (more like one if marked from the moment the wearer received the piece).

Today’s featured work, From Night’s Cocoon, is a commissioned piece, one that grew out of a very specific design to fill a very specific need.

It began, in caterpillar form, with an earlier #ThrowbackThursday post, one from a year ago almost to the day (tomorrow, actually). In that post, I featured a work from what was then some eight, now nine years ago: a beautifully simple barrette that Wings has created out of sterling silver and Sleeping Beauty turquoise. The stone was positively luminous, unusual these days for contemporary Sleeping Beauty. But what made that visible was the setting, a pair of sterling silver butterfly wings that turned it into an eponymous Turquoise Butterfly.

A dear friend, one who was friend first and who subsequently became not merely a client, but a collector of sorts of Wings’s work, fell in love with the work featured in that post. Like me, she has very long, thick, heavy hair. Like me, she wears it back a great deal of the time. And like me, she has difficulty finding barrettes she likes that are strong and substantial enough to bear its weight.

Turquoise Butterfly had, of course, sold years before she ever saw the photo of it. It also was much smaller than what her hair would require. But it captivated her immediately, captured her heart and imagination simultaneously and completely. And nearly a year later, she decided to commission a version that would be unique to her. And she asked that her version be made with onyx.

But the caterpillar required an intermediate stage, a chrysalis or cocoon, before it could blossom, transformed, into just the right work for her.

Wings didn’t know that at the time, of course.

And so he began sketching out the design, freehand, broadening it a little to accommodate her hair, expanding its height range to accommodate a significantly larger cabochon. He added a new feature to it: a pair of the signature scalloped shapes that mark the edges of so many of his concha belts, above and below the center where the cabochon would sit.

Thus began the life of this work, which eventually found its way into our Accessories Gallery. Why did it not go to our friend, bearing an onyx center stone?

Because once cut and shaped, it was obvious that it was slightly too small. Now, for people with hair like hers and mine, “slightly too small” might as well be microscopically small; for us, barrettes need to be able to a large French clip on the back if they are going to hold all of our hair. The shaping required made the larger-size clip unworkable.

And so, Wings set it aside, eventually abandoning the clip idea for it altogether and instead drilling holes at either side and inserting a pick with a matched pair of malachite cabochons set back to back on one end. In the center, he placed a smaller stone, a beautifully stormy specimen of freeform Bisbee turquoise, part of what gave the work its name: A Radiant Storm.  But given what must occur inside a chrysalis, the process of metamorphosis by which caterpillar transforms into butterfly, one that results in a storm of internal motion before the once-humble creature emerges in radiant and colroful wingéd form.

Then he turned his attention back to the new design he already had solidly in the works.

In this instance, he expanded its length significantly, and its height, too. He retained the flared wings pattern that gave the pieces their butterfly-like shape, and he once again added his signature scalloped edges to top and bottom. Freehand, he scored the wings from center to edge on either side, opening outward into the scalloped ends edged with stamps that do dual duty as both sunrise and radiant crescent moon — a symbol he would use again to ring the center stone.

And at that center, he placed a smooth, impossibly glossy, nearly liquid-looking round onyx cabochon. It looked for all the world like the night sky, nestled safely within the moon’s glow — a bejeweled butterfly emerging from night’s cocoon, extending its reach outward upon rays and wings of silvery light to touch the dawn.

And that is, after all, what night does for us: It transforms us, renews us, allows us to emerge again each day.

Oh, and the barrette in chrysalis form, the smaller butterfly that holds only a few locks of hair at a time? That now resides with our friend, too. Wearing them, she can touch the light, even at night or in the storm.

~ Aji










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