Let’s take a moment to consider repairs. So, you’ve attended the beginner’s weekend, started weekly classes and now you are proudly wearing your initial masterpieces. Pretty soon your friends and family will start to coo and adore your creations, handing out praise and asking “ooh will you make one for me?” Flattered and feeling you’ve ‘arrived’ as a bonafide silversmith you dutifully trot off and make numerous duplications of your initial pieces. Each one being gladly and admiringly received, you feel proud and accomplished.
But then – be warned! Every one of us (yes me included) often falls foul to the next steps along this path – the repairs! After being bowled over by your ability – the next step for your friends and family is naturally to search through their jewellery boxes and find out all those broken pieces of jewellery that were once worn with love, now broken and discarded. Light bulbs will be going on all over the land in the minds of your nearest and dearest. These items that they never ‘got around’ to taking to the jeweller’s will be handed over to you accompanied by a beaming smile. They will after all, be doing you a favour – providing you with new challenges and practise that you would otherwise miss out on. Again, you feel recognition and more flattered than ever that you are being trusted with such prize possessions.
Sadly this is where the thrill of the repair ends and often the struggle begins, especially for beginners. Obviously – some repairs are relatively simple – a blob of solder here, a wire tweak there…. But on the whole I have found that repairs are more often than not littered with problems which are not always apparent at the start.
I often feel like I am being a real kill-joy at this stage when trying to advise learners within the subject of repairs. However, before you judge too harshly, I have fallen foul to all the following repair pitfalls and feel that sharing my experiences are important for helping others with this subject.
Ultimately it is your decision as to whether to take on these tasks or not. I have no doubt at all that to be successful in jewellery repair you will actually need to be more skilled and accomplished as a jewellery maker than if you were to make a similar piece from scratch.
Firstly – think about how you make your own pieces. Do you cut corners; – use one grade of solder throughout – or forget which solder is which and just wing it? Do you ever ‘patch’ holes – fill holes or gaps with solder or tiny pieces of wire / sheet and file them flush? Do you glue in your stones prior to finally setting them? Do you ever cut something short and join a bit on? Do you end up with joins where you didn’t intend them to be? No doubt you’ve answered yes to at least a couple of these questions. So bear this in mind, if you’ve done it – the chances are that something for repair may have had similar treatment.
Secondly – stone set items can be a revelation for a beginner. Stones cannot be heated so, to be on the safe side, if a piece is going to be heated – stones ideally should come out if possible and any jeweller worth their salt will set a stone intending it to be in for keeps. Insulating medium can be used to protect stones from heat, this is readily available now from jeweller’s suppliers. A slit can be put in to a potato to serve the same purpose, the area needing protection is put in to the potato and the water content of the potato keeps the vulnerable area cold whilst soldering. Diamonds are the only stone that can withstand the heat of soldering but I have to admit that I have always been too ‘chicken’ to test this out! (Especially with someone else’s diamond.)
Sadly, one of the commonest ‘repair’ mistakes I see is where someone has attempted a repair on a stone set item. This has usually been done at home or without asking for help first. The result is normally a completely destroyed stone. Either burned in to a blackened lump, cracked or totally shattered.
Additionally – what is the item made of? The material used for the construction of the piece has to be identified; is it hallmarked? Is it silver / gold plated? Is it pewter? Is it steel? These last two metals can cause problems in the pickle. Is it ‘monkey metal’? There is an enormous amount of different materials used in jewellery making. Fashion and costume jewellery may have sentimental value but be made of materials hardly resembling metal at all – I affectionately call these metals ‘monkey metal’
One of the final considerations has to be time. Let’s be fair to our nearest and dearest who hand over their jewellery accompanied by the words “Can you just….” How many of us have started this new pastime and been absolutely staggered at how long the processes involved in jewellery making take to do in terms of time. “No wonder jewellery is so expensive….” Must be one of the phrases I hear most from beginners after their initial attempts. Our friends and family will not have any idea just what can be involved.
What should you charge? Is your customer expecting to be charged at all? A skilled craftsperson should be paid approximately £20 per hour. So is a coffee or a bunch of flowers going to be OK for you? Probably the answer to this is yes, of course it is otherwise you would feel mean. But beware! You may become someone’s ‘personal’ jeweller. Several repairs (and hours) down the line you may be kicking yourself for taking these (initial) repairs on and also feel that it is too late to start saying no to repairs or to start charging properly for them.
So – to repair or not? Ask yourself if you will further the skills you actually want to develop by taking on the job. What else could you have been learning during your time spent at the studio instead of the repair work. In other words will your time be well spent? – don’t forget that you are paying for your time in the studio. If you are making jewellery to sell, then time spent in your own home studio may be ‘free’ but may have been more worthwhile spent on making your own designs from scratch. Past experience has taught me that in the time it takes to unravel and repair an item I could have made 20 rings or 10 pairs of earrings. Only when I’d looked at it this way, I realised what a mistake I’d made by doing a repair and charging a small nominal fee.
Of course, take on repairs if you wish. It can be a very informative experience that can teach skills and techniques that you may otherwise never encounter. It may also take you down a career path that you had not previously considered. However, don’t be afraid to say no right from the start if that is what you feel is right for you. Without any doubt at all, you will need to have a lot of skills under your belt and confidence to match. Good luck.
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