Friday, 26 May 2017

Something Old. Something New.

This is a story of a very, very special recent custom order.

If you're familiar with my jewellery you'll know that what makes me tick, creatively, is giving antiques and vintage materials a new life.  Mostly I work with found materials; various bits and pieces I find on my travels.  Occasionally I have the privilege of being able to work with other people's precious heirlooms.  That's when things get really interesting.

C is a good friend of mine.  We've known each other since our babies were tiny and we've leaned on each other for support many times over the years.  I was delighted, and slightly daunted, when she asked me to make her wedding jewellery.  Particularly as she was entrusting me to work with some treasured family jewellery.

She had inherited from her paternal Grandmother a lovely string of pearls, and a stunning necklace of Aurora Borealis crystals.  Both necklaces were utterly beautiful, but broken and unwearable.  My mission was to turn them into a necklace, and earrings, for her big day.  It would be both her 'something old' and her 'something new'.  The pressure was on!

Vintage pearls and a crystal necklace.

We started back in February by sitting down in my kitchen with some tea and biscuits, to talk through some ideas.  C showed me a photo of her wedding dress, so I got sketching and took lots of measurements as she described her tiara and veil.  The dress incorporated Swarowski crystals, so something sparkly was a must.  It also had a strapless bodice and full skirt with train, so the necklace had to balance the dress by being suitably substantial.  I suggested incorporating some of my antique chandelier crystals to bring her own pieces together, and create a focal point for the finished necklace.  

Notes and initial necklace designs from my sketchbook

Next I had to take the plunge and take apart the old necklaces.  This is always the unnerving part when working with family heirlooms.  What if I loose vital beads?  What if they break?  I began by carefully cutting each individually knotted pearl from their strings.  Once bagged up, I set to work on the crystals.  These were cleaned, sorted into size order and bagged up.  The tiny glass spacer beads had a bag to themselves.  What stunning beads and what beautiful clasps!  This is why I love vintage materials so much... the quality is so high.  

The treasures are dismantled. No turning back now!  

With the beads carefully graded I could start setting out the necklace on my beading board.  I don't usually work with so many beads, and I don't usually work with beading string.  I'm more of a pliers, glue, and screwdriver kind of jewellery-maker!  I chose a high-quality silk chord, in two thicknesses, which would be strong but fine enough to pass through the tiniest pearls.  The next challenge was sourcing the right sized pendant bail, to fit the big chandelier crystal centrepiece.

Setting out the design on my untidy bead board.  

The three strands of beads were gathered together at the middle of the necklace, passing through the large crystal drop, to create a loose swagged effect.  The strands then wound round each other, coming together and connecting up to a smaller chandelier crystal at each end.  The remaining length was made up of the smallest pearls.   
Work in progress. Lots of loose strings still, but it's starting to take shape.

Before I could fit the clasp and complete the piece, I invited C over for a fitting.  She arrived, on the bus, with her impressive dress wrapped in a double duvet cover!  I was able to adjust the length, making it slightly shorter than the original measurements, so that it would sit nicely on her collarbones.  Finally she tried on the earrings, which were simple drops made with two of the largest Aurora Borealis crystals and some remaining pearls.  Mission accomplished and big smiles all round!

Final necklace fitting, with The Dress

It was a technically challenging and emotional project to work on, but I'm enormously proud of what we created together, and both humbled and thankful for being trusting with this project.  The necklace is destined to become a future heirloom, which will be passed down through the family, adding an extra layer of history and emotional resonance to the original necklaces from which it grew. 

Knowing that my much loved friend would be wearing such a personal and completely bespoke set of jewellery at her wedding to N, made me quite emotional.  Particularly as I was unable to be there on their special day, due to prior family commitments.  At least I knew that a little bit of me was there in spirit on the day..... 

Photo reproduced with kind permission and copyright of Ollievision Photography  

The bride, of course, looked utterly radiant and the groom happy and handsome.  Congratulations, you truly marvellous pair!  Wishing you both many more smiles and so much joy in the years to come.