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#ThrowbackThursday: Sage Green and Chamisa Gold

Yesterday, first thing on a cold wet dawn, I had to chase our hound out to the very edge of the land. The fields were muddy, the overgrowth wet, and pretty soon, the legs of my pants were soaked, too. But the air smelled impossibly clean, felt just as impossibly clear, and while she bounded like a gazelle, stopping only to bay now and then, I made my way through a fragrant world of sage green and chamisa gold.

Under the low clouds that succeed the dawn, the colors are muted; they will intensify later in the day, as the sun burns off the haze. But at this early hour, the shapes and shades of our world have a softer silhouette and a gentler feel, bright tones that manage somehow to be both earthy and ethereal at once.

And they reminded me of today’s featured throwback work, one in Wings’s informal series of layered-bezel from some thirteen years. This one, if memory serves, sold about this time of year in 2008, and it was well-suited to place and season, a world still green but colors fading now, the golds newly ascendant against a turquoise sky filled with shimmering light.

This one began with the stones, at least insofar as choosing them, and their arrangement within it, was necessary to the design itself. And these were unusual stones by any measure, but we’ll get to their substance in a moment. What mattered at this stage was size, shape, and placement.

None of the works in this series were intended to symbolize any particular thing; Wings made his creative choices as a matter of artistic and aesthetic preference. But when completed, they all held in common a figurative geometry, one whose parts added up to a sum that very much resembled a human (and by extension, a spirit) figure. It’s all abstract, of course, the suggestion of a human silhouette in the outlines of each piece, but it’s there. Still, these were brought together as they were for the ways in which the stones, and their arcing and angular outlines, complemented and contrasted with each other to form a harmonious whole.

The pendant itself was formed of two layers of silver. The upper layer followed the lines of the lower one, but, as with most of the others, did not completely overlay it — a consideration both practical and aesthetic. It’s fairly easy to layer the settings around larger stones and keep the various sections proportional to each other, as well as accommodate the space needed for the bezels that will hold the cabochons. With smaller stones, it can be done, the result risks looking cramped. And so, in this instance, Wings set the stones upon the silver and traced a broader outline first: one that would appear to be the same around all three at first glance, but in fact would leave extra room around the two larger stones to accommodate a second layer. And so the bottom layer was sized to provide a border of perhaps an eighth of an inch all the way around . . . but at the top, the bezel of the small round cabochon would be set directly onto it, while the middle and bottom stones would be set into a second, upper layer, beyond which the lower one would extend.

It’s delicate work, requiring a steady hand and a great deal of patience and meticulous attention to detail. Cut to fast, and the top and bottom arcs may not be even on both sides; the straight sides may extend too far out or not enough. And since Wings does all his saw-work freehand, no laser cutters or power tools here, it’s a close, labor-intensive process.

Once the cutting of the two layers was complete, he filed all of their edges smooth, rounding the corners imperceptibly. Then he placed the upper layer atop the lower one, setting it just below the point where the small round “head” met the wide shoulders, so to speak. He tapped it carefully into place, making sure it remained centered at all times, then soldered it securely. Then, he fashioned three separate bezels on its surface, all three plain and low in profile: a tiny round one at the very top, its lower edge extending just below the flanged straight angles at the upper center; a large-ish rectangular one in the middle, placed on the vertical, centered both vertically and horizontally; and medium-sized round one at the bottom, its upper arc extending above the notches at the base of the rectangular middle to ensure sufficient visibility of both layers’ borders at the bottom.

Bezels complete, Wings cut a flat, slender piece of silver, bent it double, and gently filed it into a smooth shape, every so slightly beveled at the edges. This wold form the bail that would hold the pendant. Once at the proper arc, he soldered it to the very top of the pendant’s bottom layer, that layer clamped between the two sides of the bail. Then he buffed the entire setting to a soft Florentine finish.

Now, it was time to set the stones. The bottom cabochon, round and highly domed, was a deep, opaque green that looked the exact color of fine jade.

It was turquoise.

Yes, I know, most folks are accustomed to thinking of turquoise as more blue than green, and more variable in color, too. A solid piece of bright green doesn’t seem much like a Skystone. But in point of fact, there is a lot of green turquoise out there:; Royston and Fox from Nevada, Manassa from Colorado, a few others. And it’s important to remember that, one, depending on the minerals that have included into a given deposit, what might otherwise have been bright or pale blue can easily turn green; and, two, smaller cabs are ultimately cut from much larger stones, and there may well have been others from this same piece of host rock that manifest in bluer tones, or were webbed and marbled with plenty of matrix. This one, however, was a dark sage green, the color of chamisa and desert grasses in the middle of summer.

The middle cabochon seems, at a glance, nearly unidentifiable — perhaps a found rock in a yellowish shade that was susceptible to a decent polish.

It, too, was turquoise.

There are turquoise deposits that contain so much zinc that much of the stone becomes a mineral known as faustite. Turquoise that contains a significant amount of faustite manifests in shades of electric lime green and chartreuse — the latter, in effect, a yellow turquoise. And this pale gold cabochon, less chartreuse than the light of an early-autumn dawn, was webbed with the faintest traces of matrix — hints of ivory, copper, blue-black no more than faint shadows beneath its opaque surface.

And the top stone . . . the top was unusual in its way, too. This tiny round cabochon was listed as citrine, translucent and yet with a misty center, refracting pale yellow light.

Too pale, I think, to be citrine. Too colorful, too, and no, that’s not a contradiction in terms; what I mean is that it refracted more than one color when held to the light. Palest yellow, a luminous silvery-white, even the faintest hints of pink, all appeared in this stone when you looked at it from precisely the right angle in the right kind of light. I think it was, in actuality, a pale yellow quartz, one that perhaps had held inclusions of pink and white rutile that the polish mostly obscured, and at point of sale it had simply been mislabeled. It was, in fact, perfect for this piece: a bit of light filtered through the morning dew atop the chamisa, now fast turning gold, and the sage.

Once the stones were set, Wings turned his attention to the hanging of the pendant. He kept this series diverse, hanging some from chain and others from beads, and not worrying overmuch about matching bead stones to pendant stones. In this instance, he chose a strand that perhaps seemed counterintuitive, certainly not a match to any of the stones in the pendant . . . but it worked.

At the time, he had a number of strands of heishi-style beads in turquoise: not actual heishi, which is formed of actual shell and usually impossibly thin, but turquoise beads in a vvariety of colors cut and drilled in rondels that assumed a similar shape and size. These were slightly thicker than heishi beads tend to be, but still very small and compact, cut from turquoise in a brilliant sky blue with a black chert spiderweb matrix.

The effect was very much like that of autumn earth and light floating from a strand of desert sky. And, as it happens, it looked very like our own early-autumn world here yesterday, a cloud-webbed turquoise sky and pale light above sage green and chamisa gold.

There will be more of it today, but the cold now has the colors fading fast. Once winter’s scouts arrive, our world will turn pale indeed. But the wearer of this work holds the colors of this season year-round.

~ Aji








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