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The Making of the Wisteria Fairy

The masterpiece of my career, the Wisteria Fairy took over a year and 350 hours to make. Engraved, chased, repousséd, enameled, pierced, soldered, riveted, and carved, this solid 18k gold masterwork taxed all my skills as a jeweler. She symbolizes the passion of creation and the eternal dance of the artistic Muse.

Carving the Statuette

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The first step in this ambitious project was to carve the statuette from a recycled piano key.  It proved a daunting task: I’d never done reductive carving before, so I went very slowly and used a small diamond burr on my Foredom Flexishaft.

Finer Carving

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It ultimately took six months to get her form correct.  My fingers would go numb after more than two hours with the Flexishaft, so I had to break up my carving sessions.  Slowly, she evolved into a tiny person before my eyes.

Forming the Hair

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Now I had my statuette, the next step was fitting her hair perfectly around her.  I created a wax model first to use as a template for the metal and chose a very thick 18 gage sheet of 18k gold for the job. I sunk the hair into a bowl of pitch and hammered it with tiny punch tools to raise the flat sheet into a three-dimensional form.

Hair Raising

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The hair needed to rise to cup her head, and it took two weeks of 8 hour days to successfully achieve that.  I must have annealed, sunk her into the pitch, and hammered over 50 times.  This was by far the hardest part of the entire necklace, and my hands won’t forget the experience any time soon.

Tiny Jewelry

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At last I had my hair: I engraved the entire surface inside and out, and I was ready to complete her tiny necklace and tiara.  I used a custom punch that Jonas Mace of the Cass Faculty of Art in London helped me create for the sole purpose of making the wisteria clusters.

Golden Plinth

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I next fabricated a small plinth on which my fairy could stand.  It’s essentially a tiny box, made from six sheets of gold soldered together with a gold wire used to emulate the scroll look.  Hollow on the inside, this was later soldered onto the foundation piece of 18k gold.

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I moved onto hammering out the wisteria bower.  I first hammered the wisteria bulbs then sawed the entire piece out of a sheet of 20 gage solid 18k gold.  I spent over a week engraving this part: using sharp gravers to hollow out the leaves, a skill I learned with Wayne Parrot in rural England’s West Dean College programme.

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I sawed out her foundational frame, making sure everything fit properly, then soldered her hair onto the frame.  It was the sort of moment that makes your hands shake: I’d invested so much time already that everything had to go perfectly.  Well, nothing ever goes perfectly, but I’m happy to say it worked!  Now I had my basic pieces ready, I had to consider how I would join them together.  Enameling pieces generally means no solder allowed, so I created a system of gold pins I would later use to rivet the wisteria bower onto the frame.

Enameling

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It was time to enamel at last!  I took my pieces down to celebrated cloisonné artist Merry Lee Rae of Santa Cruz, who helped me find the perfect colors for my wisteria and leaves.  We decided on transparent greens and yellows for the leaves, with a layer of opaque white followed by transparent purples and blues for the flowers.  We spend multiple days in trial and error to get the perfect shade.

Side View of Necklace

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The final step was the riveting of the wisteria to the foundational frame.  Naturally in the final stretch, my hands shook so I ended up breaking every single pin and had to remake them all.  Finally, I set the last pin, folded her hair over her necklace, polished the metalwork to a satin finish, and went into shock over the fact that I was actually done.

The Completed Wisteria Fairy

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Here she is, completed in a little over a year, and professionally photographed by Ralph Gabriner of New York.

Back of Completed Necklace

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A view of the back of the necklace, where you can see the detailed punching of the wisteria, as well as her adorable rear.

The wisteria flower can live for hundreds of years, its delicate flowers enduring the passage of time and expanding beyond boundaries.  The Wisteria Fairy is a symbol of our ability to live beyond ourselves: the passion and love we build our world from, remembered long after we are gone. She is the great work of my heart; my creative passion made incarnate, and I hope she kindles your Muse as she has inspired mine.

~ Kelly Morgen