• Kate Seow

Diploma in Fine Jewellery: Term 1

Updated: Jan 28

Back in September, I embarked on an exciting new course to take my technical skills to the next level. I've now finished all my pieces for the first term, packed them up and sent them for marking, and I'm delighted to share them with you here.

Week 1 - Reticulation and Keum Boo

The brief: to create two items of silver jewellery, one of which must be a ring with at least one solder join. Both pieces must demonstrate the techniques of reticulation and Keum Boo.

What is reticulation?

Reticulation is a technique where the metal is heated to the point where the surface just starts to melt. As it cools, the surface develops a crinkly, organic texture. The heating process is repeated a number of times to develop the texture further.

What is Keum Boo?

Keum Boo is an ancient gilding technique originating from Korea, where 24k gold leaf is adhered to a silver surface using heat and pressure. It can be as simple or elaborate as the designer chooses.

Trickiest bit: getting the gold leaf to stick to the surface and stay stuck!

What I love most: the infinite design possibilities that these two techniques lend themselves to!

Week 2 - Claw Setting Practice Week

The brief: create four claw settings for four different stone shapes: round, oval, pear-shaped and cushion.

What is a claw setting?

A claw setting (also called a prong setting) is a way of securing a gemstone using metal "fingers" that hold on to the sides and top of the stone. It is a very popular style of setting as it allows a lot more of the gemstone to be seen.

Trickiest bit: aligning the wire components before soldering to ensure the piece is symmetrical and well balanced.

What I love most: all that soldering!

Week 3 - A Pair of Claw-Set Earrings

The brief: create a matching pair of earrings featuring two oval and two pear-shaped stones. They must also have earring posts on the back and an articulated joint between the top and bottom settings.

What do you mean by an articulated joint?

An articulated joint in jewellery terms is a free moving connection. In this case, there are jump rings attached to the top and bottom claw settings and a jump ring looping between them.

Trickiest bit: soldering closed the middle jump ring once everything else is soldered together!

What I love most: the feeling of accomplishment on finishing these earrings!

Week 4 - Collet Setting Practice Week

The brief: create either a pendant or a ring featuring a pear-shaped stone in a collet setting. This was also an opportunity to work with 9k gold.

What is a collet setting?

A collet setting is a way of securing a faceted gemstone by surrounding it with metal and pushing a "lip" over the stone to hold it in place. The stone is also supported underneath by a seat. It is another popular style of setting as it is very secure for the stone.

Trickiest bit: getting the seat right! It can be tricky to get it level and fit inside the outer collet setting. Then it needs to be shaped to fit the stone perfectly.

What I love most: the sleek, elegant appearance of this setting style.

Weeks 5-6 - Collet-Set Totem Pendant

The brief: create a three-stone, collet-set pendant featuring square, oval and pear-shaped stones. The joints between each setting needed to be free-moving, and this provided another opportunity to work with 9k gold.

Why work with 9k gold?

Most jewellers (me included) start our soldering journeys with silver - it's relatively inexpensive and easy to work with. However, at some point we are likely to move on to gold. Whilst the principles of soldering gold are the same, there are some subtle differences. It's good to start with 9k gold as it's less expensive when we make mistakes (such as melting the metal!), plus it's the most difficult gold alloy to work with - if we can work with 9K gold, we will be fine with 18k and 22k.

Trickiest bit: linking the collet settings together without a jump ring in the middle.

What I love most: what's not to love? This was a tricky project, but I'm delighted with the result and to have challenged myself with it.

Weeks 7-8 - Jewellery Rendering

The brief: using pre-drawn templates, render a necklace and three views of a ring in gouache paint.

What is jewellery rendering?

Jewellery rendering is essentially creating a picture of the jewellery I intend to make using paper and pencil, gouache or other paint, or digitally. It is a combination of artwork and scale drawing that gives a good impression of the finished, 3D piece.

Trickiest bit: learning to paint with gouache. It's been a very long time since I last picked up a paintbrush for anything other than a coat of emulsion on the walls!

What I love most: the melee diamonds on the ring shank! I'm amazed at how effective they are.

Week 9 - Findings

The brief: make a toggle and ring clasp, pearl cups and scroll backs and a pair of cufflinks with chain and bar back.

What are findings?

Jewellery findings are things such as clasps, earring posts and backs, adjustment chains etc. They are the necessary parts of a piece of jewellery to make it wearable and secure - although they are not the main design feature, they can still be highly decorative and even a feature in themselves.

Trickiest bit: making the scrolls backs look neat!

What I love most: being able to make my own findings means that I have control over the design of the whole piece. I can make a clasp that compliments the main feature, or adjust a fastening design so that it can be done up easily by arthritic fingers.

Week 10 - Gemstone Masterclass

The brief: demonstrate an understanding of the parts of a faceted gemstone and a cabochon. Gain a working knowledge of diamonds and coloured gemstones from the point of view of a jewellery designer-maker. There was no making this week, but instead I had to complete a quiz.

Why do I need to know about gemstones?

Quite simply, I work with them everyday, so it's important to know which ones are hard/soft, which ones can be cleaned in an ultrasonic bath, which ones might chip easily during setting etc. It helps me to advise clients on suitable gemstones and jewellery designs, as well as select the best stones for the design and budget.

Trickiest bit: not booking onto as many gemstone classes as soon as I'd finished this one (I have two more terms of this diploma to complete first!)

What I love most: gemstones, lots and lots of gemstones!

After this, I had two more weeks for a business masterclass and finishing pieces off. Throughout the course, I've also had Q&A sessions twice a week with the tutors, a 1-2-1 session with my mentor and access to a dedicated Facebook group where students can ask questions, share progress and generally support each other. I've really enjoyed this first term - I already have some experience with some of the techniques, but some have been completely new to me. This first term has also been an excellent foundation for the technically challenging projects that are coming up in terms 2 & 3.

Thank you so much for joining me on this journey. Do you have a favourite project? Let me know in the comments. If any of these projects have sparked some ideas for you, please get in touch - I always love to have a chat about jewellery!

Until next time, take care!

Kate xxx

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