Sunday, 4 November 2012

Yes, I buy jewellery too!

Now you may think that as someone who makes jewellery, I could have all I could possibly want and wouldn’t buy someone else’s jewellery .... well, WRONG!

Most artisans tend to specialise in a few different mediums and so when they find something that they don’t have the specialist knowledge of but greatly admire it (to the point of salivating LOL) then they can either teach themselves how to make something like it after months of practice, or they do what I do and just buy it!

Since I’ve been making jewellery I have specialised in gems and pearls.  Gems because they’re what I studied all those years ago when I did my Diploma of Gemmology.  I feel an affinity for them and my knowledge on formation and structure helps me to appreciate them even more.  I’ve always had a “thing” for pearls and as a organic gem, I love them too. 

However my knowledge of metalsmithing is limited.  I often make clasps and components for necklaces and earrings, but I’ve never practiced filigree, fine piercing, stone setting and so on, as my emphasis has always been about the gems in a piece, rather than the metal that may surround them – in fact many of my pieces have only a sprinkling of silver, goldfill or carat gold.

There are many artisans out there who are far more skilled in those areas and sometimes I just can’t resist owning some of these little works of art!

I often look in jewellery store windows and I’m afraid most don’t excite me as most is production jewellery, rather than artisan made.  But when I was in Venice last year, I found a number of wonderful establishments with truly stunning jewellery.

Most of these  were near the Piazza San Marco but we found one on our side of the Grand Canal, in San Polo.   While exploring and getting lost (I read that it’s one thing you HAVE to do if you go to Venice, is to let yourself get lost and it’s not that hard to achieve!) in the little byways of San Polo, we stumbled upon it -  2 big windows literally stuffed with jewels!   They were so ”me” – multistrands of scintillating fine gems, big sparkly gemstone pendants, ropes of pearls and more.   I had to be dragged away from the shop by the children, but one daughter took some photos of the windows – and here is me , just in the photo, peering at the wonderful pieces.

 Now a large majority of these pieces I could make myself (of course affording the gems in the first place might be a slight problem in achieving this aim), but I also saw a ring.  Not flashy, but different. There was no gem,  it was the design – one that gave me the impression of columns  - and after seeing all the fabulous old buildings throughout Italy this resonated with me.  I knew I'd never have the patience to make something like it.  However I resisted going in and trying it on, or even enquiring about the price.  

The next day an old schoolfriend of my husband, and his wife, had arranged to meet us for a few hours.  The wife had grown up, would you believe it, two hours drive from where we live in the central tablelands of NSW, although she looked very comfortable in her Venetian surroundings, and speaking fluent Italian.   As someone who rarely gets to a shop most of the time, I’m always up for more shopping, and so she and I wandered off window shopping. ( OK, it wasn’t  JUST “window” shopping!)   I told her about the fabulous jewellery store I had seen the day before and before I knew it, there we were!   She found a pair of earrings she loved which she bought.  I kept looking at the ring but still resisted.  

That night I tossed and turned, thinking about the ring.  Could I find my way back there?  Would we have time, before we left?   In the  morning, there was no time.  With the notoriously late opening times (given they stay open so late at night), plus with packing,  I just couldn’t imagine 5 of us dragging our suitcases with their little wheels over the bumpy paths when I wasn’t 100% how to get there.   “Oh well”, I sighed, "maybe it wasn’t meant to be".

But it was!

I repeatedly mentioned the ring to my husband as one of those “should have” moments.   After a few months, he asked if I knew the name of the store etc., and perhaps he could get the friend we had met who visited Venice regularly to get it for me.  Jumping on this possibility, I gave him all the information I could – my ring size, what it looked like from memory and so on.  

And last week it arrived ….  It took a few months since we discussed it and over a year since I’d seen it, but I’m thrilled.   

So you see, every girl needs to buy jewellery sometimes – even those of us who make it!

Oh, and if you're ever in Venice, go and see the store... Ganesha on the Ruga Rialto, San Polo.

Thursday, 23 August 2012

What happens if you land on my bench...

The weeks are rolling by so fast and I sometimes  feel I’m swimming upstream – all my good intentions for this season haven’t  quite making it into reality!

Nevertheless there have been some bright points. 

On the family front, after almost a year of no piano teacher (since our last, fantastic and irreplaceable teacher left to move to the coast) we’ve secured the services of a highly regarded teacher from a nearby town who is willing to come and teach in our little town.  The children had their first lesson with her last night and everyone survived even to the point of being a little bit excited.

On the farm front, the very last heifer had her calf this morning – 6 days overdue, but hey, she got there in the end and all by herself! Yay!  No more checking heifers 4x day!  

And on the jewellery front, I’ve been creating a few things and definitely enjoying the process.  It’s so hard, of course, to work with such gorgeous stones and pearls day in and day out (as if!).

I have been hoarding some gorgeous pearls that I received quite a few months ago.   The dye master where I have been buying my pearls the last couple of years was willing to experiment with some brighter colours and I managed to obtain a few drop pairs and a couple of strands in magnificent colours – specifically fuschia and violet and a couple in softer tones of lilac and rose.  I pulled them out earlier this week - here is a pic of some of the pairs…

And hey presto now they’re earrings! 

I added gems to all the drops, as they are such lustrous pearls they deserved a little sparkle!   The lilac have some pale lavender-pink sapphires, the rose have pink topaz, the fuschia - bright pink sapphire and the violet (you can just see them around the edge) have amethyst.   (There is another pair of pearls that snuck in here to the left – a natural pink matched with pale pink sapphires).

So that’s what happens when  you’re on my bench.  You get sparkles added and go off into the world to make the world prettier for one special woman!

Have a good week - go out and sparkle! :)

Wednesday, 8 August 2012

A little about Rock Crystal Quartz

I just love rock crystal!   The colourless variety of quartz, high grade rock crystal can easily glitter like the harder (and more costly) white topaz, lower grades look like shaped ice cubes and occasionally pieces have internal fractures that can create colorful refractions.

Here is a bit of information on this pretty stone - technical, historical and metaphysical: 

Crystals forms when minerals in magma cools beneath the Earth's surface.  If the minerals happen to be silicon dioxide and it cools to a temperature below 573 degrees Celsius it will begin to crystallize into rock crystal.   If there are significant concentrations of other minerals within the silicon dioxide, different types of quartz will form.

Rock crystal is found worldwide and  huge crystals weighing tons have been found - although they're rarely of cuttable material.     Rock crystal can have inclusions of goethite, gold, pyrite, rutile and tourmaline.  

Rock crystal can be confused with other colourless gems as well as glass imitations.  A useful test is to look for birefrigence or double refraction, which whilst low, is often still discernable in a transparent stone.   A quick way to test for it is to place the gem on a white piece of paper with a clear and straight black line drawn on it.   When looking through the top, you may be able to see a slight doubling of the line.   Note that you may have to turn the gem in different ways to test for this as it is dependent on the crystal structure not the cut. 

The name crystal comes from the Greek word for ‘ice’.  Pliny the Elder believed that rock crystal was eternally frozen water ice and it certainly can look like it. Japanese myth says that quartz formed from the breath of the revered white dragon. As such, rock crystal was regarded as the perfect jewel and came to symbolize perfection or the pursuit thereof.  In first century Rome, a mystic named Apollinus of Tyana used quartz to "transport" himself. Apparently he dematerialized and materialized in the presence of Caesar Domitian and used the gem to disappear and reappear at the foot of Mt. Vesuvius!

Many cultures used rock crystal for mystical purposes.   It is found regularly in burials in passage tomb cemeteries in Europe and the Irish word for quartz grian cloch, means 'stone of the sun'.  An ancient Celtic practicewas to place nine small Quartz crystals in water, boil it, cool it, and then drink the enhanced water for nine consecutive days - apparently it would restore and maintain health.

Modern metaphysical beliefs ascribe certain benefits too -  as a powerful healing and energy amplifier.  For healing it is considered a master healer, stimulating the immune system and bringing the body into balance.  Natural rainbows are found within many quartz crystals (caused by internal fractures) and these stone draws off negativity and disperse healing energy to the body and environment.

So there you have it.  Rock crystal 101!    

Photo above is of a gorgeous pair of rock crystal and sterling silver earrings.  The gems are a fascinating cut - half cabachon and half highly faceted.  The result is a beautiful white flash amongst the sparkle! They'll be on my site soon :)

Tuesday, 24 July 2012

The Joy of Serendipity

I’ve settled into a routine now the kids are back at school.   There’s too much housework in there for my liking.   And cooking.   But there is the healthy addition of regular exercise (and I’m feeling better for it) and barring multiple long phone calls each day I’m even managing to make some jewellery!

It feels like it’s been a long time  since I’ve had time to play at my bench.  The only times I’ve sat there in the last couple of months has been to do a specific piece – a  special order or a client’s repair.   Playing is far more fun. 

I get to go through my boxes (and boxes!) of gems, looking for something that ‘speaks’ to me, often finding in the process a special stone or two that I’ve been meaning to do something with.  All these end up on my bench and I start to move the stones that inspired me to pick them out of the box.   

Sometimes inspiration strikes quickly and I act on it immediately.  It doesn’t always work, so I take the layout apart and start moving things around again.   Serendipitously, the unrelated thing that I pull out as well, often ends up as part of the end design.

Here’s a case in point.  

I was going through my “browns” box (yes, I keep the majority of my stones in a very unglamorous system by general colour, so that when I need that colour for a project I know where to look), and saw some flat caramel brown slabs of carnelian.  They’re smooth and lie flat, their colour is rich and warm.   

 As I looked at them my muse (or inspiration) said, “oh yes, those ones”.   So they ended up on my bench.   Earlier I had been putting away some small stones and saw a little packet of vermeil rimmed pearls.   “Ahh”, I thought, “I wanted to make some earrings with them”, so they had stayed on the bench to one side.    I had received some big red jasper hearts from a supplier a couple of days before and felt like I needed to do something with them too.  So they too were on the bench.

I decided to start work on the carnelian before I got off track (so easy for me to do) and firstly they really wanted to be with gold to complement the warm tones.   I did this, but the effect was, well,  to be truthful, a bit boring.  “Hmmm”.  I looked at them more.   I glanced at the hearts.  “Ahhhh”, I thought,” I could use a heart as a feature”.  I went through them and found a heart in the same caramel brown tone and placed it in position. “ Hmmm, yes, I like that” was my first impression.     Then I happened to glance over and see the little vermeil rimmed coin pearls…. “white could give it a lift” popped into my head.   I picked them up and placed them, immediately , one on either side of the layout and straight away I knew this was how it was supposed to be.  This was what the carnelian (and perhaps even the pearls) wanted.       

I made it up and yes, it was perfect.   

So yes, I talk to myself.   I “hhhmmmm” a lot and “ahhhh” a lot.  But the end result usually works and pieces that are the result of these happy little accidents are often, I feel, my best work.  They’re not forced, they just want to ‘be’.   Three cheers for serendipity! 

Till next :)

Wednesday, 18 July 2012

Winter school holidays, new calves and rock cakes

I survived the winter school holidays - yay!   Apart from having an event of some sort (half of them involving visitors here) the first week and a nasty dose of the flu in the second week, on the whole I found the term break more bearable than normal.

The children are obviously reaching an age when they don't need their mother to entertain them so whilst I still had numerous invitations for "playing a game", on the whole they managed to play amongst themselves or have their heads in a book, preferably sitting in some winter sun somewhere around the house.   My eldest boy, now as tall as a man (at 14!), was called upon to help his Dad more often than in the past and whilst he grumbled about being dragged out, enjoyed it once he got there and got some good 'boy' time away from us girls.

So its back to normal programming for a while.  I enjoy this time of year.  Sitting near the fire reading, soaking up some weak (instead of blazing) sunshine and starting to excute the upcoming spring collection.

The other nice point about this time of year is that its calving time.  Although the heifers (first time mothers) do have more problems, requiring checking at least 3 times a day and even then you can't solve everything, the sight of bouncing little calves definitely lightens your heart.

This heifer had given birth a few hours previously.  The little tyke was still a bit wobbly and the mother was skittish so I took a quick photo before leaving them alone to get know each other better.

I mentioned on facebook a couple of days ago about my baking frenzy and one of the things I had cooked was Rock Cakes.   My friends in the US, however, didn't know what these nasty sounding things were - so I thought I would show my American bloggy friends what they look like and give you the recipe in case you want to try them out!

I believe they originated in the UK, although looking at UK recipes for them they appear more bread like than cookie like.   My recipe is from my husband's aunt and she's been cooking these for over 60 years.  I think they're more like a crumbly cookie and they keep for ages in an airtight container :)

Rock Cakes

Makes about 20.

2 cups of Self Raising Flour
1/2 cup sugar
2 eggs
125g butter
1 cup sultanas or mixed dried fruit

Put flour and sugar in bowl.  Melt butter (unless its nice and soft) and lightly beat eggs. Add the butter, eggs and sultanas to the flour mix and stir till well combined.  The mixture will be stiff.   Place heaped spoonfuls on a baking tray and sprinkle with a little extra sugar.  Bake in a moderate oven for about 10 minutes or till just golden on top.   If you find they spread too much a preheated tray will prevent this.


OK, time for me to put my farmer's hat back on and check the heifers - maybe they'll be some new bouncing calves since this morning :)

Wednesday, 11 July 2012

Italy Part 2 - Pompeii and Herculaneum

Mt Vesuvius visible from Pompeii
I'm such a bad blogger.  I do apologise, life keeps getting in the way - in this instance an incredibly busy month with school activities and currently school holidays, but I've sneaked away from the children for a little while!

Its been a few months since instalment 1… but I haven’t forgotten!  In the last instalment we were last in Rome with next stop Pompeii….

OK.  Picture this.   The main railway station in Rome.   Bus/coach stop nearby.   Cars zipping to and fro at maniacally speed.  Cars parked wherever humanly possible (and sometimes possibly not humanly possible by us, but definitely possible by an Italian).  Maxiumum 2 lanes, give or take with buses, cars double parking and so on.

Now picture a grey Lancia Delta (hatchback) double parked in the right lane (in front of where the buses pull out), with the boot open and 5 people milling around the sides back while the man valiantly and not so calmly tries to shove 5 suitcases (3 medium and 2 small) into the rather compact sized boot.   In and out go the bags.  The temperature rises, particularly in close vicinity to the man.   A bus toots its horn wanting to get past.   Cars keep zipping past.   Eventually with much pushing and shoving, success!    

Everyone hopped in and off we dash.   Of course, we’d no idea WHERE to go.  We went down a couple of streets and saw a “pop up” fuel  stop on the other side of the street.   Thankfully it was siesta time so not fanatically busy, but it was a dangerous effort to do a u-turn and there was much beeping and some finger wagging by the locals (the finger wagging is due to inadvertently driving on the left hand side of the road.  Momentarily).   While hubby filled up the car, was frowned on by the attendant for paying by credit card and put off guard by the attendant asking for a tip, I managed to set the GPS (fondly and occasionally not-so-fondly by the end of the trip, called Jane) to Pompei.   Of course we had to turn around.  Another hair raising experience.  And one that contained quite a bit of swearing by the driver.  Even the children mentioned the swearing in their diary that night – a fairly obvious sign it was noticeable.

Surprisingly quickly we found ourselves on the autostrada and set off at a good pace with full confidence in Jane.  We ignored the beeps that sounded like Jane warning us of speed cameras, but as we couldn’t seem to see anything that LOOKS like our speed cameras we thought Jane must be over reacting and off we went.   The journey was fast at 130km per hour.  The speed limit was 110km/hr but everyone else was going 130 or faster so we gathered that’s just what you do.   

We passed the signs to Naples and Jane got us off the autostrada in plenty of time for Pompei.  So much time in fact that we ended up having more hair raising experiences down narrow streets that only had room for one lane of traffic due to the number of cars parked on the sides and adjoining footpaths of streets.   It appeared Jane had taken us on the scenic route, something she was apt to do, as we found out, more often than not.

The hotel Vittoria didn’t have a number and we pulled in for directions – imagine pulling in asking for directions about 100m from the hotel.  Hmmm.  Well.     The hotel was delightful.  A villa from the 18th century, built just before the Pompeii ruins were found, it was ideally located right outside the ruin’s entrance, and just off the autostrada exit.   The one that Jane didn’t use.     The receptionist was pretty, constantly smiling and spoke some English.   The porter, in black suit and bow tie, collected our bags on a large gold trolley like you see in the movies, and we took the sweeping staircase to the next floor after the receptionist who led us to our very roomy, comfortable rooms.   
The Hotel Vittoria, Pompei

There were masses of stalls set up outside the hotel aimed at the thousands of tourists that start their Pompeii journey here.   Souvenirs and refreshments abound and we found the most delicious drink that was a mix of fresh orange juice, fresh lemon juice and crushed ice.   The children of course had gelati.

We had dinner in a restaurant about a kilometre away.  The food was OK, but it was overpriced compared to Rome and compared to most places we ate at during our stay.  Hubby reinforced his language skills using both birra grande and aqua naturale while ordering that evening.  
The waitress spoke excellent English and corrected my pronunciation of a few meals we had ordered.  I had studied Italian at school for 2 years.  Actually the word ‘studied’ might be a slight exaggeration.  But I sat in class for 2 years and obviously inhaled some Italian even though the teacher was appalled at my efforts in Italian grammar.   One thing that I had forgotten was that Australians as a rule are lazy speakers.  Perhaps it’s just the English language?  But Italians really put effort into their pronunciation.   And of course, you use your hands to enhance the words.   It sounds over the top to our Aussie ears, but it’s the way they do it.   My memory of Italian slowly returned from 30 odd years ago, but it didn’t really come back in full sentences … the best I got was something like … like “Bona sera.  Due piccolo gelati – uno ciccolata, uno niccola, per favore…. Grazie”  Usually I had a few English words thrown in for good measure!

A very comfortable night’s sleep, another cold shower.  What WAS it about the lack of hot water in Italy!?   And down for breakfast which was stunning! We had a table set up for us in the dining room and the waiting staff in black suits and bow ties again.  White linen tablecloths and napkins.  A brioche at each setting.   Cereal, milk, juice, yoghurt, salami, ham, cheese, more pastries, a few types of breads/dry toasts, jams and honey and probably more.  The waiter asked us if we wanted coffee or chocolate or something else and I asked for a hot chocolate which was so thick I’m sure it was just melted chocolate with a little milk added for colour!  It was yummy though!

We rolled out of the breakfast room, climbed the stairs, donned our sneakers and hats and went forth to Pompeii.  (By the way, you may notice my spelling of Pompei/Pompeii varies.  Apparently the modern town has one “I” and the old town has two.  FYI. ) We ascended to the ticket office, paid quite a hefty sum in entry fees (EU citizens get a good deal, but others not so much), purchased a book on Pompeii and set off.  

It has quite a grand entrance into the city – part way up a rise, there are three arches and small tunnels with cobblestoned roads.  The smaller entrances on the left and right were for pedestrians.  The centre, larger entrance was for chariots and carts.   We walked up through the tunnels and past a temple or two and a bath complex,  topping the rise and saw both the distant views (including Mt. Vesuvius, which doesn’t loom as much as I had thought it would) and the vast city spread out before us.   

Part of the Forum area at Pompeii

The forum area is large and impressive and we found some barred storage buildings that had numerous artifacts – lots of vases, urns and the like, a little furniture and some of the original casts made when they found the hollows in the ash, including the memorable dog on his back, locked in a pose of pain.

The famous cast of the dog, Pompeii
The large buildings give a good indication of how the Roman’s built.   Whilst they aspired to the grand styles of the Greeks, they didn’t have the quantity of stone to be able to build in the same manner.  So instead they built with bricks and concrete and then rendered the outside with more concrete to make it look like stone.   Many of these would then have further decoration or architectural painting.  Clever, those Romans.

We continued on past these buildings and found ourselves in a quiet section of Pompeii.  The streets were narrow, but all had paved footpaths and roads, high gutters and at the intersections, stepping stones that were wide enough apart for chariot and cart wheels to pass through, but close enough for people to use them to get from one side to the other and keep their feet/sandals/hems away from the mud or dirt on the roads.

Many of the buildings have only half the original wall height, hardly any have a roof unless it has been restored.  There were many small dwellings and shops (many of the shops can be identified by a half wall and large round hole at the front of the building along the path which would have been the storefront and the hole would have contained a large earthenware vessel for their produce, water etc.   
There were also the larger, graceful homes, built on the typical roman layout.  We went into one that had had its roof replaced  (all wood was burned in the hot ash that fell on Pompeii during the eruption in 79AD and roofs for example would have fallen in with their supports gone) and saw generously proportioned rooms with frescoes and intricate mosaics.   The people who built Pompeii – whether slaves or free were definitely craftsmen.  Most of the treasures of Pompeii have been removed over time by nobles and visitors in early days and the large museum in Naples.  

A semi restored villas in Pompeii

Celia tripped on a footpath cobblestone in the first hour there and ended up with an impressive graze on her knee.  Known as the “Pompeii graze” for the next week, she soldiered on bravely, aided by a couple of tic-tacs proffered by a little English boy who saw her fall.  To use Langdon’s words from his diary that night, the city went on “forever.  It was hot and it was all grey stone.”  No truer words were spoken!    

We found our way to one of the edges and skirted round the wall of the town and back in to go and see the amphitheatre, the military training ground and some of the larger villas that were built later in Pompeii’s history.  These had more extensive gardens and combined indoor and outdoor living spaces.   They appeared quite rich too with highly detailed mosaics and large, colourful and rather fanciful frescoes.
A fresco, Pompeii

One downer for the day came when Langdon realised his camera was gone.   Either he had inadvertently put it down and it was picked up by a tour group walking through or he was the victim of a pickpocket.   We put in a report and whilst they were helpful they told us the chances of getting it back were close to zero.  They were right.

Way down the back of Pompeii
We eventually staggered out of Pompeii in the early afternoon, heading straight for the refreshment stand we’d found the day before and downed a couple of fresh icy lemon/orange juices, granitas and gelati!  Still hot, we retired to our airconditioned rooms for an hour of rest.

Looking down into Herculaneum

 Then, up again and out to nearby Herculaneum.  Herculaneum was a seaside town when the eruption hit and it was buried in mud.   Only found this century when a local farmer was digging a well and he broke through the roof of the theatre, it sits right on the edge of present day Ercola and partly under it.     
A small street in Herculaneum
Far more manageable to navigate around size wise, it is in better condition than Pompeii and not everything has been taken away to the Naples museum.   

Original charred wood beams visible,  Herculaneum
As it was buried in mud rather than ash, some wood beams that held up windows, doorways and even roofs and eaves, have survived.  The frescoes and mosaic abound and there is even a pool, partially excavated, that you can access by going underground on one side of the site.  Whilst the theatre is still there, it is still under the current city (underground) and only accessible to researchers and officials.   The front of Herculaneum has some rather grand residences at the top of the town that would have had waterfront views over the beach and sea and arches at the base of the city on the sea –side is where the residents would store their boats.  A large number of remains were found here – those that didn’t escape in time sought shelter here.

A mosaic in Herculaneum
All in all, Herculaneum is definitely worth a visit!

We let Jane lead us a merry dance on the way back to Pompei, but after ending up in one too many dead ends, selected to go back on the fastest route and so eventually found our way back to the hotel.  Fortunately Jane also let us off the autostrada right near the hotel this time!

We ate dinner at the restaurant adjacent to the hotel and had a lovely chat to the waiter who told us he had gone to Australia for the sheep.  We started asking what stud, thinking he was talking about merino sheep and after about 10 minutes of confusion realised he had gone there working on a SHIP.  We had a good laugh, he didn’t quite understand but was a lovely, helpful man.    Meredith broke her first glass and quickly learned mi dispiace  “I’m sorry”, to which he replied it was OK, it would be all forgotten by morning.  A good creed to live by for all those little things that go wrong.

Another night in our comfortable rooms and another generous breakfast and the girls headed off to pack and shop in the souvenier stalls outside the hotel while the boys set off to conquer Mt. Vesuvius.  

From Mt Vesuvius across the Bay of Naples

By about noon the boys were back, impressed with the journey to Mt. Vesuvius.  We loaded up the car (with much relief that the driver had worked out how to move the back seat slightly forward so the bags didn’t need to be hit with force to fit in) and headed off again, saying farewell to Pompeii.

Next stop… the Amalfi Coast.


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