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#ThrowbackThursday: New Moons and Blue Moons

Rectangular Belt Buckle Turquoise Oval B

Title notwithstanding, we have no new moon just yet; it’s just shy of two weeks off. But the more colloquial use of “new moon” to refer to a sense of turning over, of a new leaf, a new life, a new world with new opportunities . . . that is more than apt in this first week of the new calendar year.

And we are exactly four weeks out from the first blue moon of the year, at least as that term is defined in technical terms.

For us, new moons and blue moons carry other definitions, too, other aspects that inform their identity. We have always reckoned our months by the moon in more literal terms, and what the outside world considers a blue moon may be simply a recalculation of time or a rare gift (or both).

For now, though, the first moon of this new world of 2018 is already on the wane — not yet a crescent, but soon. I saw her in semi-profile this morning, right at dawn, still high in the western sky even as Father Sun reached for the craggy cliffs of the peaks, his golden glow turning what a moment ago were midnight skies suddenly turquoise.

And it reminded me of one of Wings’s works from a decade and more ago, a small simple piece that was always one of my favorites. It was one in a series of small rectangular belt buckles he created from around 2006 through 2009 or ’10. If memory serves, this one dated to 2006, but only sold two years later. It was a work of new moons and blue moons, yes, but also of dawn desert skies — a spare, classic, traditional piece suitable for any gender.

The buckles Wings made for this casual series were relatively small, most no more than two or three inches in width. A couple of the earlier ones, however, were a bit longer: perhaps three and a half to four inches across. This was one of those. I don’t know whether the size differential was driven by the size of the cabochon, or whether he simply always intended to make those few buckles slightly larger; I suspect it might have been a little of both. But in this particular instance, I believe the design began with the stone.

It was an exceptional stone, too: classic blue Royston turquoise from Nevada, that mining district long haven been one of the sources of traditional “Indian” turquoise, that with colors and patterns and quality most sought-after for Native jewelry. Royston is not the most expensive American turquoise — indeed, far from it — but some specimens are of such a high grade and exceptional clarity of color and matrix (to say nothing of size) that, in relative terms, they are valuable. This was one such, about an inch and a half to an inch and three quarters in overall length, unusually large for a Royston specimen with such perfect color and only a trace of its telltale golden-brown matrix. The cabochon was not especially high-domed, but it was very smooth and even, and its color sat on the spectrum between the morning desert sky and a robin’s egg. It also rather resembled an egg, not quite a perfect oval, and to me, all the more beautiful for that: It looked, much as an egg does, like a whole new world within a world, entirely self-contained, accented rather than marred by a bit of golden light.

And because of how perfectly it suits the buckle’s size, I’m fairly confident that Wings crafted the setting to fit the stone, rather than choosing a stone to fit the setting.

He began with a simple rectangle, cut freehand from a fairly substantial gauge of sterling silver. Such buckles need to be lightweight and flexible enough to shape slightly, but also need to be sturdy enough to withstand daily wear. Once the dimensions were set, he scored a border around the inner edge, stamping a straight line between a third and a half an inch inward from the edge. He scored the line freehand, and connected each edge up at the corners to form the border.

Next he chose a stamp that does double duty, and it fit perfectly for what would be the spirit of the finished piece: It’s one that functions both as a sunrise symbol, and as a crescent moon. It’s a very simple dual arc, each arc connected at either end into a plain crescent, with “rays” of light emanating from the outer edges of the crescent.  These he stamped in a chased pattern all the way around the border: a full even row, edge to edge, on the bottom; the other three sides each nested in the one preceding it at one corner. The variation provided both a sense of stability at first glance, and sense of motion, of orbit, upon a closer look. Then he linked each “connecting” crescent to its companion with a single small hoop, repeating this design all the way around, as well.

The scoring and the two repeating stamps were all the ornamentation the silverwork itself needed. At this point, he turned to the stone. Very often, particularly with piece like cuff bracelets and belt buckles that require shaping, he will elevate a larger stone slightly above the surface of the silver, so that there will be no worry that use will cause the solder to separate the bezel from the background setting. In this instance, however, he made the buckle itself wide enough to accommodate such a large stone; instead of doming the entire buckle, repoussé-fashion, all that it required was a very slight shaping from the reverse at either end. This left the plain inner surface flat enough to accommodate the bezel for the cabochon.

He formed the bezel by hand, choosing a saw-toothed design to hold the stone securely in place. This was a fairly low-profile bezel even with the saw-toothed edge; the cabochon was thick enough that a narrower bezel would function properly, and also set off the stone’s natural depth and beauty. Once the bezel was soldered into place, he edged the whole thing with a delicate strand of twisted silver, then oxidized bezel edges and stampwork, and buffed it to a high polish. Lastly, he set the stone, an oval turned horizontal.

And still, it reminded me of a robin’s egg . . . indeed, of an egg that represented a whole small self-contained world, orbiting in its own cosmos of suns and moons and silver light.

In our world, we are granted only one sun and one moon; for us, they are enough. But while Father Sun remains much the same year-round, if more readily perceived by mortal eyes at dawn and dusk, more vulnerable and less present in winter than in summer, our Grandmother Moon shows us many faces and identities. Four days ago, she granted us the brilliant light of her full gaze, and four weeks hence, she will don her (metaphorical) blue blanket and do the same for us again.

In cold deep winter’s dark, that is a rare gift indeed.

~ Aji








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