7 Ways to Riff on Jewelry Design

Silver-in-quartz in silver bezel setting by Helen Driggs; photo: Jim Lawson

One of my favorite effects in jewelry design is echoing some aspect of the main or focal element elsewhere in the piece. I especially love it when a really interesting gemstone is the focal part of the design, and the metal suggests the gem's pattern, color, or cut. 

It's a subtle thing, though. Just copying it outright looks repetitive, but when you only reproduce a bit of the original and vary it, the relationship draws my eye around and around the piece as I notice the similarities and departures from the stone itself.

Echo a Natural Pattern and Mood
One of the most interesting examples of this that Lapidary Journal Jewelry Artist has published recently is Helen Driggs's necklace from the cover in January 2010.  She started with a slab of quartz with visible veins of silver running through it and set it in a silver bezel for her pendant. Then she riffed on that slice of silver ore by extending the lines of the veins into the visible part of her silver back plate—not every line and not perfectly matching any line's width or curves, but enough to get the idea across, inviting us to look for more. She added cool-colored aquamarines and a moonstone with its cool cloud of floating blue as an extension of the cool white color of the silver.


Inlaid cuff by Jeff Fulkerson; photo: Jim Lawson

To be honest, the mood is all a little too cool for me—I love gemstones that are richly colored, especially in warm hues—but I'm still fascinated by the interplay of gemstone and metal in this pendant, and I can imagine similar jewelry designs with a warmer, brighter palette: perhaps pink- and peach-colored dots in "ocean" jasper echoed by copper, brass, or gold dots on a shining silver sea.

Echo Your Own Gemstone Design
Or look at the February 2010 cover. See how Jeff Fulkerson repeats and varies the dots on his stone inlay in the silver rim? And although you can't see it in this shot, the checkerboard texture visible on the inside of the cuff repeats a similar but not exact pattern on another of the inlaid gemstones, too.


Multi-stone pendant by Marilyn Mack; photo: Jim Lawson

Silver triskele pendants by Michael David Sturlin; photo: Jim Lawson 

Echo Pattern, Shape, and Color
The necklace on the August 2010 cover really goes to town playing stones and metals off one another. Here Marilyn Mack uses purple-speckled green serpentine as her main pair of cabochons, whose shapes almost mirror each other. Then she varies that shape again in a complementary cabochon of sparkling greenish rainbow pyrite and echoes the serpentine's colors in cabochons and faceted gemstones of amethyst and peridot. All of the stones are set in silver bezels connected by silver elements just kissed with gold that play off the shapes of all the stones—it's her signature look in necklace designs.


Fiber, metal, and gemstone Bird Wing Brooch by Karen Smith; photo: Hap Sakwa


Reticulated Brooch by Karen J. Lauseng; photo: Jim Lawson

Echo Line
But I love this effect without stones, too. On the July 2010 cover, fiber artist and budding metalsmith Karen Smith unifies a flowing mixed-media jewelry design created primarily with knotted nylon and silk threads by running a single sinuous line of silver through the piece.

And in an amazing technical exercise in using the jeweler's saw, jewelry designer and goldsmith Michael David Sturlin created all-silver positive and negative versions of an ancient curvilinear form in which each version also displays a positive and negative (Lapidary Journal Jewelry Artist, November 2010). I can't tell you how much time I've lost just staring at that image!

Jewelry Designs, Silversmithing Techniques, and Gemstones
You can find plenty of silver jewelry designs in our new eBook, 10 Silver Jewelry-Making Projects, which we've created by taking some of the best projects from Lapidary Journal Jewelry Artist and putting them together in a convenient downloadable format. Some use this stone/metal echo effect, such as Karen Lauseng's reticulated brooch, in which her crumpled silver backdrop suggests the pattern of her showcased agate. She created that crumpled look by reticulating silver, a texturing technique that is full of design possibility, even without any stones at all.

Other projects echo other elements or make their statements with simple contrast, but each project not only gives you jewelry design ideas, it teaches you a technique, from forming cones or tapered tubes to using a micro-abrasive film to creating complex mechanisms for movement.

If you need help with some of the basics, you might want to check out 10 Metalsmithing Basics, in which Helen walks you through some essential jewelry-making techniques and use of jewelry tools. And if you want to find some interesting stones to design around, you'll love 10 Gemstones for Jewelry Making, which introduces you to little-known and often surprisingly affordable stones for a splash of color, pattern, or both in your next jewelry design.



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