Studio Notes: A Jeweler 2 Inspire U, With Coal

Coal is cool.

At least it is in the hands of artist William Morgan Vanaria. As part of his seven-piece MFA thesis at the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth, the 27-year-old set diamonds into a coal brooch.

“The coal piece wasn’t controversial at any point during my degree presentations,” he says. “However it has shocked a few people when I have worn it in public. One lady was rather uncomfortable when I told her that they were real diamonds.

“‘Don’t you think that is kind of a waste?’ she said. I’d be lying if I said that I didn’t want that kind of reaction.”

These days, Vanaria is a part-time polisher at a wholesale jewelry company. He teaches at Metalwerx and two other schools. (He dreams of teaching full time as a career.) And he makes jewelry for clients so he can buy more equipment for his studio in Waltham, where he lives.

It isn’t easy, he says. Personal studio time is a rarity. “There’s a lot to balance.”

To obtain the center stone, Vanaria looked up a coal supplier online and asked the company to mail him a sample of anthracite, which has a glossy metallic look. Boasting a Mohs hardness of 2.75 to 3, it also contains the highest amount of pure carbon.

Vanaria set the diamonds in sterling silver tubes, then friction set them into the black material. For a final touch he mounted the jewel in a sterling silver setting made with vicious looking claws. “I was pairing the two objects because they have a common link — the carbon thing. But coal is utilitarian. So are diamonds,” he says. Although the sparklers are considered ornamentation, in reality most are low grade and end up being used by industry, set onto the cutting edges of coring drills and rock saws as digging tools for example.

“People think diamonds are the be all and end all of stones,” Vanaria says. But after a stint working in a jewelry making sweat shop, he came to the conclusion that commercial diamond jewelry was soulless. “It just seemed that the actual metal working portion of jewelry was there to hold the stones in place. The jewel portion of the jewelry was more important than the metal working. One of the big things about the brooch was I made sure to use really small diamonds so they were overshadowed by the coal — reversing the roles and relegating them to accents.”

To see his work, go to www.WMVmetalsmithing.com. For an example of his incredible fabrication skills, check out the jeweler’s saw he made out of Damascus steel at www.wmvmetalsmithing.com/BFA/Sawframe.htm


Betsy Lehndorff has been writing for Lapidary Journal Jewelry Artist since 2010. Her story on Colorado diamonds appears in the September-October issue and she will be writing about her experience in Kate Wolf’s class in 2018 along with her grant writing adventures as a silversmith. You can reach her at betsylehndorff@gmail.com.