I just finished my first big silver clay commission, and it was an ambitious project that taught me a lot. A gentleman liked my Thought and Memory ring, but needed it in a size 15. We got to chatting through emails and he wondered if I could do raven feathers and Thor’s hammer instead of the ginkgo leaves, because he was very into Norse mythology and Odin’s ravens Hugin and Mugin. And so, a commission was born…
While I waited for the materials to arrive, I sculpted a collection of tiny feathers in polymer clay and made probably the smallest Mjolnir in existence. I did research into the hammer’s design based on ancient artifacts and went with a shape that is called the X type. It is one of the more ornate representations, but also more recognizable. We selected a bold 6 mm rose cut melanite garnet for the stone because it could be fired permanently in place.
I made lots of tiny silicone molds of the additions and also altered my original mold to remove the ginkgo leaves from the band. The original mold made up to a size 11 ring, meaning I had to add a centimeter-long strip of clay to the backside for a size 15. Joining flat edges is tricky in silver clay, because a joint that looks solid before firing can actually split in the kiln as the clay shrinks.
With around $40 of silver and several hours of work invested in this ring, a crack would have been particularly sad. So I was meticulous with the band: sanding it, adding more clay, and sanding it some more, until the circle seemed whole and the edges smooth. I left the ring to dry and pressed tiny amounts of silver clay into the tiny molds. Each piece was allowed to dry, then removed, trimmed, and adhered to the band with water and clay slip. I don’t have pictures of this process simply because my hands were covered in clay. Here is the back, and the seams were once on either side of the hammer.
Here is the ring in my hand after final sanding and just before going into the kiln. Keep in mind the clay shrinks around 12% in the firing process and I have tiny hands, but it was still an impressive ring. The recipient also requested the names of the ravens be carved on the inside of the band in Nordic runes, and I was happy to oblige.
After a nervous hour of waiting by the kiln, I discovered a complete ring inside. From there it needed a polishing with a wire brush and a couple of hours in a tumbler full of stainless steel shot. To bring out the details and compliment the black gemstone, I added a liver of sulfur patina, which adds years of tarnish in minutes and eventually turns the silver an inky black.
It takes several rounds of silver polishing to remove the excess patina and reveal the original design, but in my opinion there is no better way to see the fine details.
I informed my commissioner his ring was on its way, and here is what he sent me after receiving his order:
“I got my ring today. Wow just wow. I love it. I’m wearing it with my wedding band right now. Looks like an engagement ring. Lol. My and my wife’s wedding bands have “My soul friend” in Gaelic around the outside of the band. So I’m mixing cultures by wearing them together but they look good together. Seriously though it is an amazing work of art. I used to work in a jewelry store and designed several pieces for my wife, but that was just picking settings and stones and making adjustments and writing it up. The true work was done by the smiths. I could not do what you do especially on the small scale that you work on. You are a true artist. Thank you so much for sharing your work with me. It is an honor to wear it.”
It is the nicest compliment I have ever received on my artwork, and the extra effort was definitely worth it for the kind words. I hope the ring brings him many years of happiness.