Behind the scenes: designing a jewellery collection from first sketch to final piece…
Posted on August 17 2018
The jewellery design process is a complex one, often involving many detailed changes in order to get every piece just right. In this feature, we go behind the scenes with Manja’s designers to discover how the process unfolds from the very first flashes of inspiration to the final polished piece…
The first sketch
The art of jewellery making is one that dates back thousands of years to the ancient civilizations. Developments over the centuries, such as the discovery of new and precious gems, have contributed to what was already an intricate and beautiful process.
At the early conceptual design stages, we are constantly taking inspiration from the world around us for new ideas. There is by no means a typical process – we put out heart, soul and unique ideas into each piece. Inspiration can come from anywhere and we might simply see someone or something that catches our eye and holds our attention. At other times, we find ourselves with a clear idea in mind that we are itching to get down on paper.
This is an exciting, challenging stage when ideas start to form, slowly but surely taking a three-dimensional shape in our minds. We fuse our ideas with a deep understanding of shape and structure to consider how our design visions can be translated into jewellery.
Mood boards and refinement
Next, we begin sketching concepts on a mood board, naturally gravitating towards the ideas that evoke passion and fire inside us. Our team then sits down to consider the complexity of each piece to ascertain which design concepts are feasible and will be sent to production.
The transition from paper to 3D is often tricky, which is why the original sketches need to be refined over and over again, eventually producing an intricate technical drawing that consider aspects such as material, design technique, comfort and practicality. Refinement is one of the most important steps and our sketches often go through a number of changes before the final images are ready.
Sometimes, the softness of the metal or difficulties of particular stone setting methods may mean that we must reject certain ideas before they reach the production stage. At other times, we tweak our designs slightly in order to overcome such problems.
Time to focus
In the design world, it’s far too easy to let your imagination run wild with all the creative possibilities. It’s all about striking a great balance between making stunning, unique jewellery that is also comfortable and wearable. With this in mind, we hold regular focus groups for a sample of people from our target market.
This allows potential customers to have an up close and personal look at our designs, and offer feedback on the size, colour, material, texture and pricing. Often we find that observing these groups gives us some further valuable visions and insights into the women we are creating for and provides wonderful inspiration for our work.
Making a model
Once the final designs have been chosen, a master model will be created to give a more realistic idea of how the final piece will look. This will be handmade or shaved from a single block of wax using sharp blades and files – an artisan process that is used by many of the world’s high-end jewellers.
At this point, a cast will also be made. We form a tree-shaped rubber base onto which the waxes are fused, with a metal flask placed over the base to hold it in place. A plaster-style, slurry substance called investment is then poured into the flask and the entire structure placed into the kiln and heated at scorching temperatures – sometimes up to 870 degrees Centigrade for up to 16 hours. Known as the burn out process, this is designed to destroy the surrounding material and leave an impression of the piece.
Jewellery casting also dates back thousands of years to when man first discovered how to melt metal and the process today still takes inspiration from ancient techniques.
The empty space is then filled with molten precious metal and, after this has cooled, we put the plaster in water and it melts away. This is the last stage at which we will make any tweaks – we will also hand finish the piece by filing, using sand paper and giving it a polish. After this, we make a rubber mold of the model and cast as many pieces of jewellery as we need. We will then be left with rough precious metal castings and ready for the final flourish.
Cut and polish
At the final stage, we file and use sandpaper to remove any rough surface and impurities, as well as ensure that no visible trace is left where the cast connected to the sprue base. Polishing the metal is the final part of this process, where we use a polishing wheel or a handheld device for finer details or smaller spaces. This will create smooth, contoured surfaces and evoke the natural shine and design lines of the precious metal.
We choose the design finish to complement each piece – some will require a matte or satin finish, others might be sandblasted. Part of the design skill is being able to bring out the piece’s natural luster, and align it with high quality design properties. The piece is then cleaned before we conduct a comprehensive quality control inspection.
Set in stone
Once the piece has been approved, our stonesetters – who are real perfectionists – will set each piece so that there is no slant and the stone fits securely. When there is more than one stone, these must be set as close as possible. The prongs of the claws that secure the stones will be trimmed to ensure they are entirely straight and firmly placed onto the stone. This part requires a very steady hand to ensure there are no marks from the tools. In the case that there are any scratches, we will re-polish the part where the stones are set to remove any blemishes.
Finally, we apply plating to each piece – our silver jewellery is rhodium plated for a perfect, polished finish while our Gold Vermeil jewellery is given either gold or rose gold plating. All plating is durable, lustrous and dense to provide the best protection, as well as visually beautiful in terms of colour and luster. Every final piece of work is a carefully crafted piece of art and it is a truly rewarding feeling to display our jewellery for all to see and watch as our customers find their perfect piece.