Rewarding, Fun, Artistic, and One-of-a-Kind: Learn to Make A Mokumé Gané Bracelet with Chris Ploof
Learn About Making a Mokumé Gané Bracelet with Chris Ploof
By Helen I. Driggs
Chris Ploof is a master metalsmith–meaning he understands how to fabricate objects that exploit various properties of a wide array of metals to achieve his artistic goal. It's elemental, really. Metalsmithing in general covers a huge galaxy of object-making. It takes a career to master just one small part of that galaxy, and what gets made depends on each individual artist's goals. Lucky for us, Chris's goal is the creation of metal jewelry using a relatively rare and somewhat challenging material called mokumé gané. Recently, I was lucky to be on site (and in the tremendous, tool-nirvana location otherwise known as the Ploof/Cahoon studio) during the filming of his third Interweave video, Mokumé Gané Jewelry: Make a Bracelet with Chris Ploof.
Haven't heard of mokumé gané? Don't feel bad, many people haven't. Mokumé gané has been used in Japan in the decorative arts and sword-making for hundreds of years but only became known in the West around the mid-1970s, as master metalsmiths from Japan, the US, and Europe began to meet and study with each other. Roughly translated to mean "wood grain metal," mokumé gané is instantly recognizable by the waved, swirling, striped, orbicular, starburst-shaped, or geometric patterns of two metals. Copper and silver is a common mokumé combination, but Chris (see metalsmith, above) skillfully layers many types of gold–like 18K yellow, 14K red, or 14K palladium–with sterling silver and even meteorite in his jewelry line. And he makes the process look doable, too. So much so, that I've added trying my hand at it during the coming year to my own metalsmithing to-do list.
Want to know more? Here are the metallurgical Cliff's notes: Making mokumé gané is a precise technical process. The metalsmith must possess thorough knowledge of melting temperatures and behaviors of each of the metals he will use. Typically, 15 up to about 35 layers of metal are bonded together into a brick-shaped billet of metal, either with solder or by fusion on a molecular level under stringent temperature control. The mokumé gané billet is then manipulated by twisting, cutting, grinding, punching, chiseling, burring, etc. After that, the metal is rolled out into a rod and cut open–where the pattern of the contrasting metals inside it is finally revealed. It takes dedication, grit and patience to do it–all of which are evident in Chris's personality–and watching it will inspire you to try the process, too, if you are into metal like I am.
Don't let the technical aspects of the process scare you–there is ready-made mokumé rod stock (and gorgeous sheet) available if you don't want to roll your own, it's just more entertaining (see metalsmith, above) if you do. And, if you don't want to mess with the metallurgy part, the skills and techniques you need to learn to create a one-of-a-kind mokumé gané bracelet yourself are within reach, so give it a try! Chris will show you everything in his videos and make you laugh along the way. Plus, the rewards are great: a unique and highly unusual bracelet made from an ancient metal material that is a guaranteed conversation-starter. Nobody will have one that looks like yours. What's not to love there? —Helen
Fun, rewarding, unique, entertaining, laugh, gorgeous, rare, artistic, one-of-a-kind. If these are some of the words you wouldn't mind being used to describe your jewelry-making process or the jewelry creations you create, then give mokumé gané a try with Chris Ploof's newest video workshop, Mokumé Gané Jewelry: Make a Bracelet with Chris Ploof!
About the guest author: Helen Driggs is Senior Editor for Lapidary Journal Jewelry Artist and her column "Cool Tools & Hip Tips" has appeared there since 2006. An experienced metalsmith and teacher, she has appeared in six Interweave instructional videos and has recently written The Jewelry Maker's Field Guide: Tools and Essential Techniques. Follow her on Twitter @fabricationista and check out her blog.