Jewelers who create every piece by hand often struggle with increasing production while still achieving the attention to detail and handcrafted quality of their work. How can you scale your designs and expand your business without hiring extra hands?
This age-old problem plagued award-winning jeweler and teacher Jayne Redman early on in her career.
After finishing school at the Maine College of Art, she designed a simple line of lightweight yet voluminous earrings that was affordable and had broad appeal. A local gallery bought the line on consignment, and the earrings, much to her surprise, flew out the door.
Jayne then found herself faced with an enviable but still vexing problem: “I had to find a way to fill all those orders!” she says.
Jayne’s pieces are simple and intuitive, mimicking the geometric, repeated forms found in nature. Multiples of the same shape are sawed from sheet metal and then layered together to create patterns and forms that recall the petals on a flower or the play of shadow in the branches of a tree. They are miniature wearable sculptures formed of simple sheet metal and little else.
Because her work involves layering the same shape, Jayne was spending a lot of time with her jeweler’s saw, cutting out the same shape over and over.
“I had taken a workshop with Lee Marshall, the originator of the Bonny Doon Hydraulic Press system,” she says. “One of the techniques I learned was making blanking dies. I would not have been able to produce my jewelry in such volume without that knowledge. That was in 1995, and I am still using the dies I designed back then.”
The ability to quickly create multiples of a single form transformed the way she worked.
“Having multiples of a shape allows me to experiment freely,” she says. “I can manipulate the shapes in a variety of ways to discover which form or combination of forms is most appropriate for my design concept. In the process of experimentation I often develop new ways of engineering.”
Since then, she has continued to refine her process and to teach fellow jewelers the art of making multiples.
A blanking die is simply a self-registering tool made from flat stock tool steel that is used to cut out duplicate shapes in metal. The pattern is sawed out of the middle of the die on an angle, which creates a shearing action. Metal to be blanked is inserted under the pattern. The die is then placed in a hydraulic press or bench vise, which pushes the steel pattern through the metal, blanking out the shape.
Her pieces often involve curving shapes that fit together almost like origami, but any shape that starts out flat can be used. That simple shape can then be manipulated in any way: formed, folded, bent, or chased and repousséd. The possibilities are endless.
“When many multiples can be cut out so quickly it opens up the design process to many possibilities,” Jayne says. “A spontaneous, intuitive, workflow results.”
A born tinkerer with a mind that intuitively thinks in three-dimensions, Jayne has developed several jewelry-making tools over the years. Her latest invention is an innovative rotational bench pin that makes it easy to achieve the correct angle when sawing out a blanking die.
“My father was the master tool and die maker for the machine tool company he worked for,” she says. “I inherited his inventive nature. I love engineering—creating wearable objects that are visually intriguing and where form and function combine. I find that working with nature gives me both references. Many of my ideas start as observing how a leaf attaches to a branch or how slight variations of line in the swirl of petals can be visually dynamic.”
Jayne’s latest design project is a custom necklace. She doesn’t often make one-off pieces, and so for this one, the inveterate teacher and engineer mapped out her entire process.
“I am taking the opportunity to document the process step by step,” she says. “As I developed the toggle clasp, and assembled the first multiples of the shape, I came up with the answer to an engineering question I have been thinking about for years. It has led to a new group of designs I am really excited about!”
After a long and successful career in the jewelry industry, Jayne has five tips for jewelers who are just starting out.
- Study with teachers whose work you respect.
- Give yourself a wide range of knowledge starting with the very basics.
- Allow yourself to play and get lost in the process.
- Don’t start selling until you take some classes in business for jewelers.
- Develop your own unique design voice that becomes recognizable as yours and no one else’s.