Firing a bead with a stone in it wasn’t on my list of goals for 2018, but it was still an interesting one to try – although it might not sound like it from my story below!
I was stumped for a gift for my friend’s 40th birthday until I thought to look up what the traditional 40th anniversary gift was: rubies! A birthday is just a different kind of anniversary, right?
I thought of getting her a Katzenmaiers ruby, but she doesn’t wear her bracelets often. Then I remembered she mentioned that she does wear the silk wrap that I got her a few years ago and an idea was born. I would make something that she could wear on the silk wrap. And I would try my hand at firing metal clay with a stone already in it.
I found a pair of reasonably-priced rubies (great to have a spare in case I made a mistake!) and created a simple band around the stone and two loops at the back to run the silk wrap through. My final addition was a little kitty face to reflect her love of cats. With everything finished, I crossed my fingers and fired it. When it was done, instead of a lovely red stone, I had a pale, grey one. The rest of the stone came out completely unscathed; the colour just faded away.
Now, I knew that I didn’t buy super expensive gemstones, but in all of my worrying about what would go wrong (would the silver crack as it shrunk around the stone? Would the stone explode in the heat?) I never considered that the colour wouldn’t hold. At first I was disappointed, then resigned myself to plan B. Good thing that I had a second stone!
I couldn’t bring myself to completely recreate the original gift, though. So this time I went with a pendant design. More importantly, I designed it so that I could add the ruby after firing! As I was ready to add the final detail to the pendant frame, one of the kids knocked it off of the table and it broke into pieces. I was beginning to think that this present was cursed. After a few hours to get over the shock of being so close to finishing it (again!), I decided trying to piece it together was preferable to starting over for the third time. A few more days of fine-tuning to strengthen and smooth over the breaks and it was ready to fire (again).
I’d like to say that was the end of the drama (and my trauma). But it wasn’t.
I hadn’t calculated enough shrinkage space and, after firing, the ruby no longer fit. Close, but not close enough. While thinking through my options, I decided to burnish and polish the metal. And broke off the bail. At this point it felt like this gift was never going to be.
My diamond-tipped drill bits eventually came to the rescue. I carefully shaved off the sides of the ruby until it fit into the frame. And then drilled into the silver at the top to add a new bail. Glued them both in, and I was done.
Although I wish that I hadn’t encountered so many issues, in the end, I’m also sort of glad – I think that I like the remade gift even better than my first design! Hopefully my friend likes it, too. And, even though my first attempt at firing a bead with a stone in it certainly didn’t go as expected, it hasn’t completely put me off the idea. I’ve learned a thing (or five) during this project that can help me out on my next one.