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#ThrowbackThursday: A Flower of the Late Summer Fire

Clear skies and air, fall riding the edge of the wind, and still we are granted the gift of passing nighttime storms. Two, in fact, last night, complete with thunder and lightning, but it was mostly light and sound, little fury. Today, we awakened to coral-colored skies, pale and entirely free of clouds, at the moment, the world is crisp and newly bright with the flame-like petals that are the hallmark of wildflower season.

It was, perhaps, the deciding factor in choosing among various options for today’s throwback, this brilliance and fire that mark the latter half of this season, alive and defiant before colder winds begin to blow.

This work is a throwback to some six years ago, in 2013. It was one in a small informal series of three, four, maybe five rings that bore a family resemblance to each other in style and substance, each adorned with a very different cabochon. Each featured a single bezel-set stop atop a band formed of twinned strands of sterling silver half-round wire. Each featured unique stampwork on both strands of the band, and a colorful gem to give voice to its particular spirit. I know that there were, at a minimum, one with a square lapis lazuli cabochon and another with a square green turquoise cab turned at angles to form a diamond shape. I believe there was also one with a round turquoise cabochon, but it would take trawling through endless external files to find it now. There may also have been a fourth that escapes me now.

And then there was this one.

Its design was startlingly simple: twinned stamped band beneath a crimson oval. And yet it seemed an expression of of joy, of life — again, defiantly so: a flower of the late summer fire, rising above all prospects of cold to glow with an inner warmth.

If memory serves, Wings had already chosen the stone and set it aside on his workbench, but the execution began with the band. As with all of the pieces in this small informal series, he created the band out of slender sterling silver half-round wire, cutting two pieces of identical lengths. These he set out on his workbench, flat and arranged side by side, edges touching; then he soldered them together at the join, taking care to render the seam smooth and invisible. Once fused together, they appeared to be a single piece, as though he had somehow managed to find dual half-round wire already melted and molded as a single piece, but in fact, he did the work by hand himself.

Once the basic band was formed and filed smooth, his hallmark placed in the inner band, he turned it rounded side up. I don’t know whether he had already chosen the stamp, nor, indeed, whether he had already matched it to this particular cabochon. If not, his instincts would prove inspired. He has a stamp that consists of three small vertical lines, close together — the shorter one at the center is perfectly straight, flanked by a pair of slightly longer ones that each curve upward and outward slightly. It produces an effect not unlike a blossom, a flower or flowering plant, and that is typically how he uses it. In this instance, he chased it in a repeating patten up and down each rounded half of the band, aligning the stamps directly across from each other.

Stampwork complete, he turned it over and placed it against a mandrel. Using a special jeweler’s mallet, he gently hammered it into the proper arc. On a band such as this, it takes patience and care, because the silver is not so thick and heavy that it is immune to the imprint of the hammer’s blows, and striking it at the wrong angle or with too much force above the stampwork risks obliterating the design. It’s the sort of process that it very basic to silversmithing, but one that, in particular circumstances such as these, requires the skill that comes with experience.

Arc formed and soldered together, the ring had already taken basic shape. Now, it was time for the stone, requiring creation of a bezel. In this instance, given the small size and elongated shape of the stone, he elected to keep it simple: a backing flush with the edges of the bezel, no extension and no addition of twisted silver to take up additional space around it. Once the backing was cut to size, he crafted a scalloped bezel, relatively low-profile, yet still high enough to hold the cabochon securely. This he soldered into place atop the band. Then he oxidized it, paying special attention to the stampwork and the joins, and buffed it to a Florentine finish so soft as to turn the silver nearly white.

The last step was the setting of the stone. It was not, of course, a “stone” at all, strictly speaking; it was a small but spectacular oval of old blood-red Mediterranean coral, its surface still lightly textured and pitted. The reds were a marvel of crimson verging on scarlet, with hints of burgundy undertones in its lines and whorls. despite its diminutive stature, it was a powerful cabochon. Set into the scalloped bezel, above a band chased with flowering lines? It looked for all the world like a flower of the late summer fire, the scallops its silver petals, light radiating from a central oval of pure flame.

It’s a color, of course, that works year-round: fiery autumn maples, winter holiday reds, the scarlet of the February heart season, the first brilliant buds of spring. But for this day, it captures the look and feel of this place, the pure joyous defiance of the late summer wildflower season.

~ Aji








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