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How I Work: Making Lotus Fold Opal Earrings for Fire & Forge

design process show news

Gazing into the shifting colors of an opal can be mesmerizing: they seem to glow from the inside, emanating a ghostly and unearthly light. These gems—made when water and silica mix and solidify—are some of the most gorgeous and amazing raw materials available to designers like me. Which is why I was absolutely thrilled when I was invited to participate in Fire & Forge, an opal-centric exhibit by A Thousand Facets and Vincents Fine Jewelry! Along with 13 other independent jewelry designers, I was asked to create a custom piece using opals cut by Loren Gurche, a paleontology student with a passion for opal cutting.

I’d love to see you at
opening night for the exhibit, but in case you're not in New York, I thought I’d share another step-by-step peek into my process. Here’s how I created this dazzling pair of Lotus Fold Earrings for Fire & Forge.

Imagining the design

I love the unfettered creative process of designing new pieces, but also love setting my mind to a specific challenge. In this case, I was sent a pair of gorgeous opals to work with, and asked to design around them. The minute they arrived, my brain started whirring. I began to sketch, and soon had a pair of earrings envisioned that included my distinctive origami folds in oxidized silver plus a few sparkly accent gems.

sketch of opal origami earrings for Fire and Forge
 First sketch of the opal earrings.

 I pored over my stash, and decided to use these 3mm faceted peachy-pink Malaya garnets, which drew out the splashes of peach, pink, and orange in the opals. And I knew they’d look spectacular in a set of 18K yellow gold bezels.

malaya garnets with coober pedy opals for Origami Lotus earrings with opals
 Peachy Malaya garnets really make the peachy-pinks in the opals *pop*!

With my vision for the design clear, it was time to start creating the components.

Creating the origami lotus folds

Many of my best-selling designs include folded oxidized silver elements. I love incorporating these origami- and flower-inspired pieces because they lend volume and movement to my jewelry without adding bulk or weight. They’re all handmade by me, so all slightly different in subtle, unique ways.

To create the lotus for this particular pair of earrings, I began as I often do with a flat cutout of a flower-like form. The shape is originally cut from a sheet of sterling silver using a tiny saw, and then is molded so I can create more than one identical piece. Once I had two matching flat pieces, I used various specialized pliers to twist the shape into an elegant fold. Then I could lay out the main elements and see the basic shape of the earring!

cutting and folding origami shapes for Origami Lotus Earrings with opals
Cutting and folding origami shapes.

Next I set the tiny diamonds in 18k gold tubing, and soldered them into the main fold of the origami elements. Since this design includes several dangling elements, I also needed to add connecting jump rings, which I cast from my own handmade prototypes. Once those were soldered in place, I was ready to work on the other components.

setting and soldering diamonds for Origami Lotus Earrings with opals
 Setting the diamonds in 18K gold and soldering them to the Origami parts.

Crafting the earring hooks

The Malaya garnets sit just above the origami folds, which means they’re part of the handmade 18k gold French hooks that I created for this pair of earrings. I used a length of gold wire, a handmade gold bezel, and a gold jump ring to make this component. The bezel needed to be reamed out a bit before I could set the gem, then I attached the wire and ring.

Assembling french wires for Lotus Fold Origami earrings with opals
 Assembling French wires and setting Malaya garnets.

Working with the opals

Since the opals were irregular in shape, they required custom bezels. The 22k bezel wire I used is incredibly soft, so I just bent it by hand to fit the curves of the stones! Once formed, I soldered the ends of the bezel wire together, then soldered them onto a sterling sheet to create a backing for the whole setting. I very carefully cut the bezels off of the silver sheet, and then filed and sanded off the excess silver.

making bezels for Origami Lotus Earrings with Opals.jpg
Making 22k gold bezels for the opals.

The bezels are a dangling element, too, so they needed a handmade jump ring soldered on. And before I set the opals, I used liver of sulphur to oxidize the silver behind them to help their vibrant colors pop! (While I was in oxidization mode, I also dipped the origami lotus parts into the liver of sulphur bath.) Almost ready!

Setting opals and final assembly of Origami Lotus Earrings with Opals
Just about ready for final assembly!

I don't use a hammer to set opals: opals are delicate, and a hammer might crack or chip it. Instead I gently pressed the soft 22k yellow gold around the opal with a burnisher.

With all of the elements complete, I just needed to assemble them, bend the ear wires, and make any final tweaks.

Finished Origami Lotus Earrings with Opals
Finished Origami Lotus Earrings with Opals

Join me at Vincents!

Wanna see these babies in person? I’ll introduce you myself if you’re able to make it to the opening night celebration. I’ll be celebrating there with the other featured designers at Vincents Fine Jewelry!

Fire & Forge Opening Reception
Thursday, November 9, 2017
6 p.m. - 9 p.m. EST
Vincents Fine Jewelry
227 5th Avenue
Pelham, NY 10803

If you can’t make it on November 9, the exhibit will run through the end of the year. And if you’re not in that neck of the woods at all, I hope you enjoyed learning how I created these one-of-a-kind opal lovelies for this fantastic show!


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