Will is our Goldsmith Company Apprentice. He is 3 years into his 5 year apprenticeship where he combines “on the job” training in our workshop with one day per fortnight learning at the Goldsmith Centre in Farringdon. This ancient tradition means that he is “bound over” to Harriet Kelsall who is his “master”. Harriet (and Richard our chief goldsmith) ensure he is properly trained in the craft as well as ensuring he remains an upright and sober member of society!
In addition to this Will also attends a week long block referred to as “Spring School” which has just been completed. The fortnightly session was split into two blocks of 6 or 7 days in total. Will has written an account of his time.....
For the first block this year, we were taught Chasing by Ray Walton, a Cartier Award winning Silversmith and Chaser. Chasing is the technique of using tools – various shaped punches – to form a piece of metal and give it shape and dimension. The images below are of a Silver vase that Ray made, which won Gold in the Senior categories for both Silversmithing and Chasing at the 2015 Craft and Design Council Awards. This is now in a private collection but gets loaned out to the Goldsmiths’ Company and the Craft and Design Council for exhibitions.
We were given a sheet with Victorian style guilding letters on, and used these as a template for chasing a letter out in a piece of copper. The image below on the left is my chasing of the letter W.
For our second block of days after Spring School, we are learning setting. I also did this last year. We are learning pave and then are able to progress onto anything that we want to learn i.e. rubover, invisible, claw, channel, castle.
Each day of this week was different, with a couple of days doing paperwork for the City & Guilds qualification that is a part of my apprenticeship.
We had three practical days. One was a day with Peter Johns, the chap that invented Argentium Silver, which is alloyed with Germanium and is tarnish and firestain resistant. We had a rather in depth chemistry lecture about the metal, and then spent the rest of the day playing around with some metal, making things, engraving it, drilling it, fusing it etc to see how it behaves.
We had another practical day where we were given a design and we were also given a circle of copper and a strip of copper. The circle was to the size of the drawing and the strip allowed for another circle if we needed it, plus spare metal for anything else. The piece had to look like the plan view once finished, and be to the dimensions specified. It had to feature the wiggly line in some way as well. These were the only details we were given, the rest was entirely up to us. Side view, heights, depths, details, finish etc were all to be done however we wanted to. We were split into groups and given 6 hours to make something. Each member of the group had to show their specialism as well, as much as possible. I was with another Mounter, plus an engraver and a Silversmith. The piece we produced was this:
On the Friday, we visited the HQ of a manufacturing firm. We had a tour of their facilities and were given an insight into how the world of mass production works. They have an output of around 150 – 200 rings a day, predominantly wedding rings. Their processes are fine tuned for efficiency, but as a result, something as simple as a cast wedding band can touch multiple sets of hands before it leaves the premises.
The set up is tool heaven – lathes, CNC machines, CAD, 3D printers, a lasering machine that was cutting holes for stones in rings, laser welders, laser engravers, microscopes, GRS Gravermax setting tools, an ultrasonic bigger than your bath – they invest heavily in equipment and tools.
The wedding bands come in as cast “donuts” that are probably 12 - 15mm across with a small hole in the middle. There is a man whose job it is to put these on an electric milling machine which rolls them out to ½ a size below the required size. This takes about 5 seconds at most. These then go out to assay, and when they come back, are stretched up the remaining ½ size by another man who also operates the laser engravers). They then go to the lathe room and have the sides lathed, as when they are milled out, they end up with a burred edge and over width. They will also add line detail at a later stage – they don’t do many saw cut lines by hand, these are lathed. They then get worked on by the mounters to remove the hallmarking dent on the profile of the band, then barrelled, then polished, then through to Quality Control, and then dispatched. The process will vary slightly for different pieces, but it will roughly follow this template.
My personal opinion from my visit is that it has a completely different feel to our environment and how we work – there is no personal “attachment” to a job, it’s just another one through the system. One of the things I really enjoy about our work is seeing a piece through from start to finish – I find this really satisfying. It was a very interesting place to go and see, and learn how they work.