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#ThrowbackThursday: Of Light In the Dark

Moons Eye Cuff Bracelet

This week heralds the arrival as spring as we know it here: days bright beneath a warming sun, green grass and pollinating aspens, the call of the meadowlark . . . and the every-present, inescapable trickster wind. Two days ago, the weather service announced a high wind warning for today, and thus far, the elements are delivering on the forecast.

The wind patterns mean, too, that the appearance of the light follows a fairly predictable path. Today was unusual in that the dawn sky was banded in the fiery reds more associated with autumn, but those clouds cleared out soon enough to make way for the light veil of haze that moved in on its heels. Now, the winds are driving such clouds insistently overhead, where they and the attendant dust will filter the light into a pale yellowish-gray.

By sunset, the winds will have driven the clouds out and turned the twilight sky clear just in time for moonrise. By full dark, we will be able to see her, and her relatives the stars, with relative clarity. They will have an unobstructed view of us, too.

Today’s throwback work summons the spirit of such lights of the night sky: illumination, wisdom, guidance, and a faintly rainbow-like glow to light the dark hours.

This piece is from about five or six years ago, purchased by a friend who lives a state away. Wings used to create such dual-strand cuffs fairly frequently, but this was one of the last wrought in that style. It’s not that he has abandoned the form — far from it; he just hasn’t had occasion recently to return to the form. Like most of them, this design was simple in the extreme, accented chiefly by the cabochon at the center and a single repeating stamped pattern, but the resulting effect was complex.

It began with a single piece of silver.

Dual-strand (and even triple-strand) cuffs are not all the same. Some are actually made from multiple pieces of silver, soldered together at the ends and spread apart at even widths. Most often, such cuffs are wrought out of sterling silver “wire”: long strands of silver in round, half-round, square, or triangle forms that began as ingot poured into slender molds to create the narrow lengths. “Wire” is a technical term; some is fine enough to wear the label literally, but more often, they are fairly heavy-gauge strands that are solid and substantial, simply made easier to work with by virtue of their shape.

Other such cuffs are fashioned like this one: of a single piece of sheet silver of a fairly substantial gauge, cut to length, then split evenly down the middle, leaving a quarter- to a half-inch unsplit at either end. Eventually, Wings would gently separate the split portions of the band, hammering them from the top inside outward to create the gap. But first, the band’s stampwork would have to be completed.

For this particular cuff, Wings chose a diamond pattern known as the eye of Spirit. I’m no longer positive which came first, choosing the stampwork or choosing the stone. If memory serves, though, it was the latter: I believe he had decided to build the cuff around the fairly spectacular rainbow moonstone cabochon shown, and chose stampwork to complement it. In this instance, it proved to be an inspired choice.

I need to say a word about this particular stampwork design. Wings has a substantial collection of stamps and dies, and among those are a fair number of different Eyes of Spirit. Some are diamond-shaped; others are half-diamonds that, when matched on the silver, form a more complex version of the Eye. But in this instance, he chose to create the pattern vintage-style, taking a single short chisel that produced a plain fine line and forming each conjoined Eye with four separate strikes of hammer on chisel. In other words, every diamond shape, every Eye of Spirit chased down both strands of the band was evoked entirely freehand. It produces a variable look, one that testifies instantly to its identity as a hand-wrought work, and its very inconsistency is part of its beauty and value.

Once the stampwork was complete, he set about creating the bezel. The cabochon was rectangular, with a beveled dome and needed a substantial bezel to hold it securely. He settled on one with high scalloped edges to keep the stone safe. Once the bezel and backing were soldered together, he edged the bezel with a fine strand of twisted silver, then soldered the entire piece to the center of the top of the band, either end extending across both strands of the cuff. Then he oxidized both bezel and band, and buffed the entire thing to finish just slightly more shiny than Florentine.

Finally, it was time to set the stone. This was an unusual moonstone; I’ve never seen one like it before or since. White moonstones generally manifest in three standard forms. There is the plain classic chatoyant moonstone that resembles a white cat’s eye. Then there is a more quartz-like version that often shows matrix in bands that alternate between a misty white and nearly translucent shade. And then there’s rainbow moonstone.

Rainbow moonstone is not, strictly speaking, chatoyant; rather, its luminousness is a quality known as adularescence. It’s a form of light diffraction like that found in labradorite, in which the layers within the stone catch the light and send it radiating back outward in all directions. It’s what permits that light to capture the colors of the spectrum, showing hints of pink and blue and purple (and sometimes other hues), and what gives the stone its name: rainbow moonstone. [To be clear, there is a fourth variety of moonstone, one marked by what is known as asterism, a star-like effect within the stone itself, such as that found in star sapphires. It’s rare in moonstones, making such specimens especially costly.]

But most rainbow moonstones on the market are fairly consistent in appearance. They have a certain amount of adularescence, sometimes to a substantial degree, but their shapes and textures are uniform: smooth, glossy, perhaps fairly highly domed but with virtually no irregularity of form. This one was different. First, rectangular moonstone cabochons are not all that common; most cutters seem to choose circles and ovals, perhaps because of their association with the imagery of the moon itself. Second, while doming is fairly common, and conducive to producing a more spectacular array of refracted colors, the cabs are generally polished to a high gloss, the surface utterly smooth. In this particular cabochon, the “layers” within the stone formed bands, lightly aswirl, and the lapidarist who cut it elected not to smooth them out of the surface entirely. This meant that, if you traced your fingertip over the stone’s surface, you could feel, ever so slightly, the raised whorls of the bands that stretched through the stone’s width. It also, more oddly, gave the stone an almost gel-like texture: It was not soft, but it gave the impression that if you tried to dig a fingernail into it, the surface would give way, like clear rubberized plastic or a day-old gumdrop. It wouldn’t, of course; the surface was perfectly solid, and so was the cabochon itself. But it made for a remarkable feel to the stone, as though there were water present in it . . . or as though it were somehow alive. Once the stone was set, the cuff was complete.

Its name was Moon’s Eye, the light of visions and dreams from a powerful Grandmother spirit. Its vintage-style rendering was a fitting homage to such an ancient being: an honoring of the wisdom and power of illumination, of light in the dark.

~ Aji








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