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#ThrowbackThursday: Hope Abroad In the Blue

Lapis Butterfly Earrings Resized

The wind returned today, the cold stark spirit of the north neutralizing all of the sun’s nascent warmth. It makes the world seem colder than it is, the brilliant light harsh and mocking.

Fortunately, the smaller spirits seem unbothered by it, and that gives us a reprieve of sorts — a reminder that, however chill the current air, if the hummingbirds and butterflies remain, much warmer winds cannot be far behind. On the tiniest of wings is hope abroad in the blue.

On this day, it reminded me of one of Wings’s older works, a pair of earrings that sold in 2010 or ’11 but were created long before. They had spent time nestled in one of the cases that held his private collection, only being released for sale sometime in 2008. They were also very much one of a kind: He has not repeated this pattern since, and to my knowledge, never before, either.

As I’ve pointed out before in these #ThrowbackThursday posts, such pieces very often begin with the silver — in other words, the creative driver is the overall design, and any stones are chosen during the process. However, that is not always the case, and I suspect that this pair of earrings was one such, where he seized on the stones first and then built the design around them.

The execution, though, necessarily began with the silver.

These were cut freehand out of sterling sheet silver of a relatively substantial gauge: not so heavy as to weigh down the ear, but thick enough to have some unusual solidity to them. Wings created outlines that would be, ultimately, clearly those of a pair of butterflies, but if you look closely at them side by side, as shown in the photo, you can see easily that they were cut independently of each other — no tracing of one to create an identical other. However, there was a caveat to the shape: Because he planned to place the cabochons at the top of each, he extended the top of each “butterfly” sufficiently to accommodate the oval bezels. What this means is that, had anyone been watching him create the earrings at this particular point, their shapes would not have been especially recognizeable as butterflies; they would instead have vaguely resembled a pair of unusually squat, wide hourglasses with vaguely pointed tops. For the moment, however, that was enough; he then filed the edges smooth, but not finely so, the better to produce the vintage-style effect he wanted to evoke.

Next, he set about creating the bezels for the upper cabochons that would serve as the focal stones. These were, in relative terms, large ovals, to be set on their sides, horizontally. They were also fairly high-domed cabs, and thus would already be set above the surface of the earrings, so he gave them plain, low-profile bezels fashioned out of smooth and slender lengths of sterling silver, polished to a Florentine finish. Then, at the lower point of each earring, where the base of each “wing” met in the middle, he created small round saw-toothed bezels to hold single tiny round cabochons.

Once the bezels were set, he turned his attention to the “wings” themselves. He could have simply stamped them and been done with it; it would have been far easier. Instead, he melted sterling silver ingot into tiny round balls to create some seventy individual sterling silver beads. He placed each on an anvil, and struck them with a convex stamp in floral pattern, a center circle surrounded by “petals.” This transformed each plain bead into a tiny three-dimensional “cactus blossom.” He then painstakingly soldered each individual blossom onto the surface of the earrings, creating paired looping patterns on either set of “wings” that would make their outlines unmistakably clear. By the time he was finished, he had soldered some thirty-five separate blossoms on each earring.

Then he turned the earrings over and soldered a small jump ring to the reverse of each upper bezel. Once complete, these would hold the earring wires. He then oxidized both earrings thoroughly, darkening the spaces between the cactus-blossom pattern on the wings, and buffed the earrings to a low-shone Florentine finish. The effect it produced was one of aged silver, wrought in vintage style.

Then it was time to set the stones. The pair of smaller stones that would accent the base of each butterfly’s body were beautiful, deep blue and highly domed, but they were too small for their color to be especially prominent. This was not the case with the larger cabochons. They were a matched pair of ovals of deep-blue lapis lazuli, some of the most beautiful I’ve ever seen: a blue that was darker than cobalt but just as bright, somewhere between royal blue and blue violet. They were truly spectacular, and turned what might otherwise have been simple summer spirits into songs for water and sky.

Once the stones were set, all that remained were to attach the wires and bless the work. He chose the kind of French wires with a tiny sterling silver ball at the front and an extended back; they are fed through the jump rings from the back end, and the ball at the front, turned up, is crimped against the base of the wire to hold the earrings securely in place. Strung through the ear, they danced just like their real-life counterparts.

On a day as chilly as this, precious few butterflies have braved the winds, but the hummingbirds are out in force. Nonetheless, a few of their more fragile cousins are abroad today, too — spreading hope and the promise of summer.

~ Aji












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