After a busy summer season and having had lots of visitors through the workshop we were left with one question that we unable to fulfil – do you have any Christmas decorations?
So here at the workshop we decided why not branch out (literally) and start making Christmas tree decorations. The designing process was open to all of us jewellers to create a piece we thought would be a perfect fit on your Christmas tree, the only catch was a lack of time. With Christmas approaching a bit too quick and everyone keeping very busy it was a challenge to get a chance to design.
Choosing the design
I (Tenneka) had a few ideas but like everyone else just needed to find time to sketch, eventually one night I decided to just sit down and sketch… I wasn’t going to stop until I had 2 fully formed designs.
I wanted to create a piece that could instantly be recognisable as Shetland jewellery – especially as it was potentially going to be the first ever Christmas decoration. That’s why I settled on making a modern festive twist on our classic Three Nornes design. Not only is the Three Nornes one of Shetland jewellery’s first ranges but it still remains on of our most popular, it even features in our logo!
When designing I make very rough sketches on paper first, my initial Christmas decoration sketches only took me around 2 minutes. The only problem… the sketches look like peerie squiggles and are definitely not what anybody would like to purchase.
I then took my two favourite “squiggles” and started to create a more refined drawing of each on my tablet. This part took a peerie while longer, around an hour or two each as I wanted to make sure they were perfect. The next day I took my designs into the workshop to show Sophie and the rest of the team. We had a vote on which of the 2 designs we preferred – and that’s how we decided on the first Christmas tree decoration design!
Making the Master
The first step was to create the master pattern, we create this piece out of silver and have to make sure it is absolutely perfect as each piece afterwards is identical.
To start I had a sheet of sterling sliver which we machine engraved the design on to. I then cut around the design releasing it from the silver plate. The next step was to drill around 40 tiny holes that were just big enough for my saw blade to fit through, once all the holes were drilled I could start to pierce out the details.
Piercing out is a fiddly job as you have to be very carful and not cut too much (or little) of the metal away or you lose the shape design. I then used my files and even my saw blade to adjust the edges and shapes until I was happy.
The next step was adding the engravings on the front by hand as each line has to be nice and deep before it will be visible after the moulding and casting process.
I then had to make small silver plates to go being the areas that would be filled with enamel and then solder them all on. I also stamped one of the plates with “Shetland Jewellery Christmas 2023” as we wanted each piece to have the year it was made on the back.
The final step of creating the master was to polish the piece and then solder a silver sprue (a feeder for the metal during the casting process) on to the edge.
At this point my master was ready to make the rubber mould.
Making a mould and casting
To make a mould we take the master pattern and encase it in layers of rubber, which we melt around the piece. Once cooled we carefully cut open the mould using a scalpel.
The next step is to make wax replicas of the decoration which we make by injecting the mould with hot wax. Once the waxes were made we decided that we wanted a bit more definition to the decoration and also wanted it to feel more 3D. To do this I took one of the waxes and carved in more details, deepened the engraved lines and shaped the edges of the piece.
We then cast the carved wax using our lost wax casting process (we have a separate blog on our casting process). Once cast I took the updated decoration and polished it to make it the new master pattern, I then made a new mould and cut it open to start making waxes. At this point we were finally ready to go as the design looked perfect!
Finishing the piece
Once the tree decorations were cast we had to send them to hallmarking as they are quite a lump of silver. Once back I was able to start making them which is always the most exciting bit. I polished up the decorations and then I had to decide which enamel colour to put within the piece. I love adding the enamel as it adds a peerie pop of colour and a whole new detail to each piece.
The final decision was the colour/ stone used in the small bauble that dangles from one of the beaks – after a bit of a debate I decided on green malachite as it naturally has stirpes making the baubles look patterned.
To finish each decoration we engrave its edition number on the back and lastly add a Shetland jewellery ribbon in a bow at the top.
After a few alterations and plenty of hard work the first ever Shetland Jewellery Christmas decoration is hanging on lots of lovely Christmas trees all around the world.
I am so delighted with the final design and it was 100% worth the late nights at the workshop and all the stress getting it finished in time for the Shetland arts and Crafts Christmas Craft Fair… or I think so anyway! (we will not talk about how little time we left ourselves though – haha oops – let’s just say we will be a lot more organised for 2024)