Carvings and Curios - Thoughts and Musings
The following are some reflections on gem carving that I want to share.
I'm realising that working with gems in this way as opposed to the more traditional mode of faceting has a subtle and quite definite affect on how I am relating to these gems. If faceting gems is yang, with it's sharp crisp straight lines and edges, points and flat surfaces, strong startling points of light and brilliance, then carving is it's opposite, yin, with smooth flowing curves, softer more gentle lines, the light and colour moving more like liquid honey. With faceting one generally works to a very precise design, with prescribed angles and index wheel settings and a more or less ordained end point and finished result.
Carving very much works with the intuition and one tends more to go-with-the-flow and work with the natural shape of the rough stone, and whilst you might have a general idea on how the piece will turn out, you really don't know until it is finished just what it will be. I found that faceting tends to be quicker to achieve the finished result whereas carving is slower and more thoughtful and introspective. They really are two different modes of interacting with gemstones and now that I've begun carving gems I've discovered an internal point of balance that I never really thought about or realised before.
I'm really enjoying the carving of hard stone but I'm realising how much more commitment and time it takes to achieve a highly polished result. To give you some idea, let's say that with a regular faceted gem I might take 3 to 6 hours to finish it from rough to polished during which I'll usually go through four stages : 260 rough cut > 600 fine cut > 3k prepolish and finally 100k polish. With carving a decent sized stone I could take something like 15 to 20 hours or more and I'll have to progress through 13 or 14 stages! It begins with roughing the shape in, removing all the rubbish and flaws and gradually defining the shape the carving will take. This is done with diamond sintered and plated burs in a lathe usually with grits 70 coarse > 170 > 325 to 600 fine.
Then I move onto the fine shaping using hand held sanding boards and wet/dry sandpaper. This is a slow and laborious hand cramping process but essential for getting the beautiful smooth flowing curves. Here I go with 180 > 280 > 400 > 600 grits. Once there are absolutely no marks and scratches on the surface I can finally move onto the messy polishing stage. This involves using various grit pastes that I have made up and wooden burs in various shapes. I begin with the 600 grit paste and progress through 1200 > 3K > 8K > 14K and finally cerium oxide with felt burs.
There are alot of steps to work through and I've found that you simply can't skip any because of the importance of removing the marks and scratches from each of the preceding grits. As you move forward the marks and grits get finer and finer until you achieve a highly polished finish. Discipline and consistency !
The other day when I posted pics of the carving on another platform, a friend commented, "Considering the many hours it takes, do you think it is a paying proposition? And how much would something like this cost?". I thought I would share my reply here:
I've been chewing on questions like this quite a bit and they touch deeper then might appear on the surface. Is it a paying proposition, well I would hope so, if not right now then hopefully in the future. But one thing I have come to realise is that it can't all be about the money.
As you've probably noticed, over the last year I've been exploring new ways of working gems - engraving, carving, putting bubbles and grooves in them. Think of these as my "early-days" pieces. With these I'm exploring a new way, figuring out techniques, trialing-and-erroring, learning how it feels to lovingly caress curves onto gems, and above all discovering. I am feeling out and learning to believe in this new path. I've learnt MUCH over the past year but it's come at a price. Considerable time and finances sacrificed, regular gemcutting that would reliably pay bills forgone, etc. But I'm playing the long game, if I don't risk and learn new skills and grow, then the alternative is stagnation.
Each piece is an incredibly valuable learning opportunity. Of course it would be great if folks wanted to buy these pieces and they are most certainly are for sale. But as I work them in my hands I am also working them in my mind's eye seeing how they could be made into jewels and objets d'art, perhaps the centre piece of a beautiful brooch or pendant, maybe the handle of a carved essence bottle, possiblities limited only by imagination. The considerable number of man-hours that goes into each piece also provides much time for thinking and imagining new creative horizons and many ideas do come knocking whilst in that meditative mind-space.
I'm learning to walk before I run. I also realise these carvings cannot be looked at and valued like regular faceted gems. Like an oil painting, price is not ascribed solely on the value of canvas and oils alone. They challenge the viewer and buyer to see deeper, to appreciate the previously unrealised.
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