Production date: 8/29/2011 and 9/2013
Materials used: Olmec Blue Guatemalan Jadeite, Moonstone, Silver
In late 2011 Corey, one of our local Richmond, Virginia customers, came to us wanting a pair of our four petal "Maya Flower" plugs from a rare pale blue Guatemalan jadeite. We carved those pieces for him in 8mm (0g) and he happily wore them until he started stretching again and they would no longer fit.
While in the studio one day he mentioned in passing that he would like to be able to use them again at some point, so we started brainstorming ways that we could make that work for him. Fast forward to 2013 and Corey has reached 13mm (1/2") and brought in his flowers so that we could work on creating a new project for him. Because we do not use glue in any of our mixed-media constructions or inlays, it was necessary to come up with a way to attach the two pieces together.
After some discussion we decide that a gem setting in the center would look amazing. We sometimes follow design concepts in line with the agricultural principles of "Permaculture," which among other things dictates that all parts of a system should have multiple functions to ensure simplicity, account for the needs of each component, and eliminate extraneous details. Thus, very perceptive fans of ours may have noticed that we very frequently design our gem settings and sometimes the natural materials themselves to be a key connective component in mixed-media work. The gem setting for this project serves two purposes - it holds the gemstone, but it also serves as the method that connects a new jade plug to the cut-off faces of his original jade flowers.
The final specs for the project involved creating a standard double flared plug from the same jadeite at Corey's current size with the front modified to accept his original flowers, not just as inlays but as a continuation of the front flares of his pieces. Corey and our staff all agreed that Moonstone would be a gorgeous addition to these plugs, with the milky color wonderfully complementing the pale blue jadeite.
The first step in production was to cut the faces off of Corey's old jade flower plugs. We cut them at the middle of the wearing surface to give enough room on the backs of the flowers to carve a 'post' or 'foot' onto the bottom which would snap into the front of the new plugs. The backs were perfect for beads so we finished those off and handed them over at the end of the project.
We generally do mock-ups and illustrations prior to beginning a project, but because this project involved hands-on reuse of preexisting components that needed to be modified, this was more of a design as we go project. Test fitting the faceted moonstone into the pre-existing hole in the flowers gave us a good starting point for how we were going to need to carve the flowers to accept the gems and connective hardware.
We decided that a four prong setting that followed the pre-existing lines would work best, so the next step was to build the setting itself so we would have a component to work around while modifying the flower. The prong setting is a simple basket style setting built from silver wire using a wonderfully simple method. Pieces of wire are bent and soldered into X shapes and two tiny rings are made to serve as the basket. The rings are soldered to the top and bottom of the X at center (the smaller ring surrounds the point at the bottom of the stone and the girdle sits atop the larger), the middle X is cut away and the arms bent up and soldered to form the prongs. Unfortunately, I neglected to take photos of the construction steps so please use your imagination.
With the setting built, the next step was to do some design thinking and modify the flower to accept it. We can't just have settings poking willy-nilly out of the faces of jewelry, because it's inelegant and it's poor design. Things that protrude get caught, bumped, and inevitably damaged. Moonstone is soft and it needed some protection. You can see from the photos that as it sits, it would be unacceptable.
We very carefully hollowed the interior of the flowers so the settings would sink down and deepened the dividing lines between the petals so the prongs would seat nicely and look like they'd always been there. The result is shown below.
Note also in the above photo the 13mm (1/2") plug that has already been created, but the front has not been modified to accept the "foot" from the flower and that is why it appears to be floating above. The size of the front flare on the 8mm (0g) "Maya Flower" design was about 6mm making it around 14mm (9/16") in size, which happens to be exactly the size of a standard ~1.5mm double flare on our pieces, so in the end these plugs ended up shaped just like standard double flares.
Because we were rolling on getting these finished, we did not snap any photos of the connective hardware or the making of the base plug itself (we need to be more mindful of that in the future), but there are many photos of grinding stone in our other Production Stories, so take a peek at those for more info. The finished shot of these pieces is shown below, with all components set and the prongs shortened and polished. This project was a great success - our customer got a gorgeous new pair of plugs using his old pieces and we had a lot of fun utilizing one of our greatest strengths: problem solving with natural materials.