I'm Barbara Klein.
I'm Steve Ember with EXPLORATIONS in VOA Special English.
At the Torpedo Factory Art Center in
Alexandria, Virginia, you can see the work of jewelry designer Susan Sanders.
Her many gold and silver designs have a clean and modern look.
One of her
silver rings has a bold geometric design with small smooth stones inlayed into
did she make this ring? Today we answer this question as we explore the history
and methods of jewelry design.
from almost all cultures throughout history have been making and wearing
jewelry. Jewelry is valued for its visual quality, the richness of its
materials and the expert way it is made. Since ancient times people have worn
jewelry like rings, bracelets and necklaces to decorate their fingers, wrists
Ancient peoples who lived near the ocean used
the shells of sea creatures to make jewelry. Other ancient peoples used
materials like small colored rocks and animal bones and teeth. Jewelry often
was made from whatever material was considered rare and costly. It expressed
the wealth and social importance of its wearer.
cultures learned how to find and work with gold. One of gold's important
qualities is that it is a very soft metal. It can be easily formed or even
flattened into extremely thin sheets of metal.
Some of the oldest and finest known jewelry comes from
the burial site of the Sumerian ruler Queen Pu-abi. This Mesopotamian culture existed more than
four thousand five hundred years ago. In this area that is now Iraq,
archeologists discovered fine examples of gold jewelry. Many of the jewelry
designs combined the brightness of gold with the intense blue stone called
lapus lazuli. This jewelry shows some of the earliest examples of metalworking
methods such as filigree and granulation.
is a technique in which tiny gold balls are placed in a decorative pattern and
joined onto a gold surface. Filigree is made by arranging fine gold or silver
wires into patterns or images. Filigree work can either be joined onto a metal
surface, or left as "openwork." Many cultures have left extraordinary examples
of this technique. Examples include the jewelry of ancient Greeks and the
eighteenth century Qing period in China.
Several other metal working methods were developed in
ancient times and still define jewelry design today. They include cloisonne work and casting.
Cloisonné involves forming metal borders to make different contained areas on
the surface of the piece of jewelry. These spaces are then filled with
different pieces of finely carved precious stones or with small bits of glass
that are melted together.
The ancient Egyptians were experts of the cloisonne
method. For example, at the Metropolitan Museum in New York City you can see a
beautiful cloisonne necklace made more than four thousand years ago. More than
three hundred small stones make up a detailed image of Egyptian symbols such as
birds and snake creatures. The symbols tell about the sun god giving long life
to the Egyptian ruler of that time, King
Senwosret the Second.
thousands of years, Egyptian jewelry represented a great tradition of artistic
skill. Many of the pieces were not only beautiful, but also believed to be
magical. Amulet jewelry was believed to protect people or give them special
powers. For example, scarabs in the form of the beetle insect were believed to
be the symbol of new life. Jewelers in ancient Egypt made many examples of
finely carved scarab rings and necklaces that still exist today.
very old technique of metal casting is called the lost-wax method. With this
method, an artist carves the shape of jewelry he or she wants to make out of
wax material. This shape is placed into a piece of clay, which is heated at
high temperatures. The clay takes the form of the ring, but the wax inside
melts away because of the heat. This is why the method is called "lost-wax".
The original carved wax model is lost, but its form remains in the clay. Hot
liquid metal such as gold is placed inside this clay form. As the metal cools
and hardens, it takes the form left by the wax.
The rulers of Asante in modern day Ghana wore gold
jewelry made with the lost-wax method. During the eighteenth and nineteenth
centuries, Asante jewelers made beautiful, fine, detailed gold objects. The
ruling family and other leaders wore objects as symbols of their importance,
wealth, and power.
filigree, cloisonne and casting are only a few of the metalworking methods
used by jewelers both in the past and today.
course, not all jewelry is made by metalworking. Many cultures throughout
history used other valuable materials as well. For example, in China, carved
jade stone was part of an ancient jewelry tradition. This green stone was
beautiful and also thought to have magical powers. In southern Nigeria during
the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, only the ruling family of Benin had
the right to wear jewelry carved of white ivory material. These are only a few
examples of the creativity humans have demonstrated with the art of making
jewelry. What kinds of jewelry traditions exist where you live?
methods we have described are still being used by artists today. Modern
technology and newer methods have only added to the countless ways that stones,
metals and other materials can be formed. Today, jewelry designers combine old
and new methods with styles from around the world. Many also use unexpected
materials, such as plastics, cotton and wood. The creative possibilities of
modern jewelry making are limitless.
Torpedo Factory Art Center is in the old area of Alexandria, Virginia, near
Washington, D.C. Here, on the second
floor is a workroom and store called Susan Sanders Design. Let us go back to
the modern geometric jewelry we told about earlier.
SUSAN SANDERS: "I'm Susan Sanders. I'm a jewelry
designer at the Torpedo Factory Art Center in Alexandria, Virginia. I started
making jewelry when I was in college but my desire to make things started much
earlier than that. My father was a graphics designer and brought me home
professional supplies. My original plan was to be a furniture designer, but I
like things I can hold in my hand."
Susan Sanders says this ring is not the easiest of her
rings to wear. It is more like a finger sculpture. She carved the main sterling
silver form of the ring from a piece of hard wax material. With the lost-wax
method we told about earlier, she carved the wax model to make the silver form.
she used a milling machine to create a perfect circle opening for a finger. She
also used this milling tool to carve out the areas where she placed small
pieces of onyx and jasper stone. Once the stones were in place, she ground the
surface to a smooth finish.
most of her work, this ring is very modern and geometric. Susan Sanders says
she is not exactly sure where her ideas come from. Some ideas come from
subjects she loves such as modern architecture. But the hardest part is
choosing an idea for a piece of jewelry since she does not have the time or
resources to make every design she imagines.
Sanders sells most of her work in her store in Alexandria. If you visit the
store, you can see her hard at work on new jewelry. She has shown her work in
countries such as Italy and South Korea.
Listen as Susan Sanders
tells about an exciting show she helped put together in Russia.
SUSAN SANDERS: "I
have had quite a number of shows in different countries. The most exciting of which was a show that we
had in Moscow in Russia that was called Two Capitals which was jewelry
designers from the Washington, D.C., area and artists also from the Moscow area.
We put together a show and went over there with it. We had a fabulous time. We
were entertained by three of the country's best opera singers and one of their
top pianists, which was absolutely incredible. We had an opportunity to meet
some of the other Russian jewelers and visit their studios, so we feel like we
have friends over there even though we had to speak through an interpreter."
Sanders says to be a good jewelry maker you have to enjoy working long and hard
on very small details. She says it is not work that goes quickly. Sanders feels
lucky to have grown up with the choices she had. Because her father was an
artist, he supported her creative goals early on. Many women did not have the
same choices. Susan Sanders says she is thankful to be an artist doing work
that she loves.
program was written and produced by Dana Demange. I'm Barbara Klein.
I'm Steve Ember. You can read and listen to this program on our Web site,
voaspecialenglish.com. You can also see pictures of Susan Sanders'
jewelry. Join us again next week for
Explorations in VOA Special English.