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#ThrowbackThursday: Recalling the Dark

Hematite Solitaire Ring

The winter weather that has so recently surrounded us yesterday passed out through the peaks. Only the storm departed; the nighttime lows are seasonably cold now.

For the remainder of the week, highs are projected to reach near sixty, but today was forecast for full sun.

As of a couple of hours ago, the clouds have begun to move in again.

Autumn may be a threshold season, but we are now more on the far side than the near.  Now that the clocks match Father Sun’s trajectory, he rises at a more usual hour, but we are still unused to his swift and increasingly early descent. The earth is engaged in its annual rite of recalling the dark, in both day and night, and it is time to reorient ourselves toward graying skies and lower light.

These ruminations on the dimming of the light lead my thoughts back some nine years or so, to one of Wings’s simplest works, but one that always held unusual appeal for me in spite of that — or perhaps as much because of it. It was a ring, one that in the outside world would have been regarded as strictly a men’s ring, but that within the smaller, less confining world of indigenous ornamentation could just as easily be worn by anyone.

And simple it was indeed, spare, low-profile, and unostentatious, only two colors along the same subtle spectrum. Some no doubt thought it dull.

I found it elegant.

To me, it was a near-perfect representation of the color and light of the storms of winter.

It began, of course, with the band: a plain length of sterling silver of a relatively substantial gauge. It was, if memory serves, half-round wire, the “round” part of the descriptor more suggestion than fact, its breadth far greater than a height that barely arched above its ends. Using half-round wire of these dimensions made for a smoother fit, with the edges naturally beveled, the underside flat against the sin, and the surface raised just enough to provide a look and feel of substance and depth.

I’m not sure, at this late date, whether Wings had already chosen the cabochon for the ring when he fashioned the band. Sometimes, the work is built around the stone; sometimes, the stone is chosen to accent the work. In this case, I suspect he had already decided on it before he began work, given the fashioning of the bezel. It, too, was simple, spare, and low-profile, a plain elegant ring of silver. Once soldered into place, it would provide the perfect embrace for a round domed cabochon. He then buffed the entire ring to a soft, gentle finish, slightly Florentine.

Then it was time to set the stone. This one was an unusual choice: hematite. It’s a gem that looks like metal, and indeed, used to be known by its colloquial name, gunmetal, a reference to its combined color and sheen. It’s technically one form of iron oxide, albeit, as I put it in the linked post, “one distilled to mineral form.” And while it may be unusual, it’s not all that uncommon now to see it as an accent in Native jewelry, particularly of the Southwestern variety. Its relatively inexpensive price tag makes it convenient and accessible for Native silversmiths across the board.

However, these days, much of the hematite on the market is mass-produced . . . in a lab. It possesses the same shiny warm gray shine, but its color is more deeply saturated, and utterly uniform. The difference between lab hematite and naturally-occurring hematite is like that between lab and natural amber or opal; still possessed of the same physical properties, still beautiful in its way, but very clearly not the same. It is, after all, the natural differences that make each stone uniquely beautiful.

This stone was not laboratory hematite.

It was, however, exceptionally beautiful: a single round cabochon, relatively small but highly domed, possessed of a rich low sheen and a color resembling that of a black pearl. To me, it looked like the storm itself, captured and held within the gem, harnessed by the band to the wearer’s purpose. It was also very much a work the late-year light, silvers and grays that illuminate in a more subtle fashion.

It would take some effort for Wings to recreate such a work today — not because of any complexity with regard to the silverwork, but because of the difficulty of finding such a beautiful natural hematite specimen now. It could be done, but it would take some time and persistence to locate such an example of the darkening winter light.

It would be worth it.

There is value in recalling the dark.

~ Aji







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