Travel in time back to March of 2003. Jeweler, teacher and world-traveler Ronda Coryell had just won first place in the silver category of the 2002 Saul Bell Design Award competition. Her entry, a sterling silver bracelet, accented with 22-karat yellow gold granulation and blue sapphires, looked like it was intended for royalty. In preparation for the SBDA awards gala that year in Las Vegas during JCK, we interviewed Ronda to learn about what inspired her award-winning design.
“Silver was a bit of a departure; the bracelet, too,” she told us. “I was trying to get away from the ordinary.” As an instructor of anticlastic and granulation techniques at Revere Academy, she typically worked in gold; and the granulation technique she specializes in is typically used in traditional designs.
The piece was certainly a different direction: predominantly sterling, with contemporary lines (an outer triangle morphed into in inner oval). And as for the ancient look of gold granulation?
It found an intriguing new home on a sterling surface rather than on the traditional gold. “Take the traditional and make it nontraditional,” that was her goal, propelling the ancient look of granulation into the new millennium.
Soon after, I interviewed Ronda again in preparation for writing her space ad—this time to learn about what inspires her as an artist. “My life revolves around my passion for metals,” she explained. “When I work with metal, it speaks to me, it comes alive.” She accents her work with stones, like the royal blue sapphires she used in the bracelet, but it’s always obvious: the metal gets all the attention. All the love.
Little did Ronda know that a new silver alloy was just around the corner, eager to make her acquaintance and get every last minute of her attention.
Eight years after that interview, literally to the day as I write, I learn that Ronda’s love for what she does, both as a jeweler and a teacher, has gained even more momentum. And it’s all due to the courting of that new metal alloy: Argentium® Silver.
Shelby Chant: Tell me about the first time you worked with Argentium.
Ronda Coryell: I first saw Argentium® at Catalog In Motion® in Tucson. When I tried it in my studio, it was beyond my wildest expectations. I knew it would fuse, I just never imagined how easy it would be. My main metal was 22-karat gold (well that has certainly changed due to the price of gold!). And I used to teach granulation using fine silver as a way to leading into working with gold. But with only a few adaptations, I was able to switch to working with Argentium. Now I do very little gold-on-gold granulation; most of my work incorporates Argentium and 22-karat with diamonds and sapphires.
SC: What does Argentium allow you to do in your work?
RC: I’ve had the opportunity to test a number of other tarnish-resistant silver alloys on the market. Not one of them fused like Argentium. While a metal may be tarnish-resistant, that doesn’t mean it is firescale-free or fusable: Argentium is. The tarnish-resistant property was certainly a plus, but it was not the sole characteristic that drew me to use it. It was also its ability to fuse and how closely it related to 22-karat granulation that caught my attention. It moves like 22-karat in so many ways. When asked by my students, “What are the limitations?” my response is, “None yet!”
Argentium has expanded my world. And I should mention, it’s a dream to hammer!
SC: Talk to me about teaching: what you get out of it, what your students get out of it.
RC: I am definitely a rule breaker! I find that experimentation beyond the known limits makes metal exciting. It keeps me learning and seeking as many solutions to a problem as possible. By teaching I am challenged by the “why” and “how” of things happening. Teaching makes me examine every step and break it down into simple terms to translate to students. I think it’s the only way to truly become a Master at your craft.
SC: What’s the best piece of advice you would give a new jewelry student?
RC: I see Argentium as a way for someone’s work to stand out from the crowd. And the fact that it’s made from responsibly mined metals makes it a huge marketing tool in today’s world, where everyone has a responsibility to create and work in a manner that does not harm the planet.
SC: What have you been working on recently?
RC: Most of my custom work has been put on the back burner. I just finished the first of a new DVD series, Techniques in Argentium. This one begins with all the technical information to prove what I say about Argentium and explains more of its characteristics. (Check out Ronda’s other DVD series, Argentium.)
I’ve also just become the “Resident Expert” for the Argentium Guild. The Guild is a place for Argentium artisans and silversmiths to have a worldwide community to share their knowledge and experiences. I will be posting DVD clips and information about Argentium. Those who join now will be the founding members! I find it thrilling to be a part of something that I feel is so important.
SC: So what does the future hold?
RC: I will be working with Argentium International to develop a certification program for instructors worldwide. Education about the nuances of Argentium is crucial to its understanding and acceptance. We’re very excited about this!
In the meantime, Ronda continues to teach and design. Mastering control of the torch in her granulation work, “working on the edge between success and a fraction-of-a-second away from failure,” and challenging her beloved metal, bringing it to life with the “wave of a torch.”
Ronda Coryell is a Jewelers of America Certified Master Bench Jeweler and one of the world’s most well-regarded experts on the use of Argentium. Founder of the Northwest Chapter of the Florida Society of Goldsmiths, she now devotes her time to lecturing and teaching worldwide. Ronda has taught in such places as Bali, Switzerland, Italy, Germany and England. She won First Place in the prestigious Saul Bell Design Award and continues to gain recognition in competition and exhibition. Her work is included in several books on contemporary jewelry: 500 Earrings, 500 Bracelets, The Art and Craft of Making Jewelry.