In this day of mass production, with high-end craft galleries shuttering at an alarming rate, studio jewelers feel a mounting pressure to rely on the well-made production line. But many still prefer to make their jewelry by hand, using methods of fabrication that date to ancient times.
Recently, I started asking successful studio jewelers:
What are your favorite tools?
We’ve heard from Sydney Lynch and Rebecca Myers, among others. This time I turned to another legendary art jeweler to see if she’d share some inside secrets.
Carolyn Morris Bach
Carolyn Morris Bach makes every piece of her jewelry by hand – her own hand. It’s not the easiest way to go but it keeps her work collectible and easy to identify.
“Thankfully, I have an amazing fan base,” she says. “A lot of people try to copy my work, but they can’t. I’ve never used any assistants. I make every piece by myself and I think that’s what keeps it unique.”
After a few decades of pounding out jewelry every day, that’s getting to be a challenge. By the time she gets around to cleanup, her hands are often aching. But she still loves what she does and pulls it off with a little help from her favorite tools.
Carolyn has tried to scale back, but when you make every piece by hand, smaller isn’t necessarily easier. “Ironically, the smaller the pieces,” she says, “the harder they are to make!
“Look at your hands and imagine holding something the size of a pea. See what your knuckles do? Mine are in that position eight to ten hours a day.”
“I still use this old, beat-up thing.
I’m sure I’ve thrown it across my studio
at least twelve times.”
She uses rubber grips on her hammers and her flex-shaft handle absorbs some of the shock. “But your hand is in that position when you’re holding any of your tools – flex shaft, hammers, everything – your hands are contorted like that.”
Hammers. “I notice more and more hammers coming onto the market and I just smile because I still use this old ball peen hammer that was my father’s. He died in 1971,” she says. “It’s an antique hammer. It’s so chewed up, you couldn’t duplicate it.”
Flexible shaft “I rarely use my big buffing machine,” she says. “I do all my carving and most of my cleanup with a Foredom flexible shaft. I burn through one every two years. I have two in my studio now.”
Pliers. “The thing about our tools is that we get so used to using them,” she says. “I’ve got an old handheld pliers that I bought from Jan Yager when we were RISD students. I graduated from there 30 years ago and these are still with me. I buy replacements but I never end up using them. I’ve got a whole drawer of replacements.”
Saw. “I’ve had this old saw frame since I was in high school in the mid seventies. It’s all beaten up. The saw blades fall out because I can’t keep it tightened. I’ve bought so many fancy Swiss saw frames and I hate them, so I still use this old beat-up thing. I’m sure I’ve thrown it across my studio at least 12 times because it keeps breaking saw blades.”
“I am so low-tech,” she says. “At RISD, my professors wanted me to use all the equipment they had there. But for me, it’s always been about my eyes, my hands, and my hand tools.”
And that has become her signature. “I’m stubborn and old-fashioned,” she says with a laugh.
For more tool recommendations, visit my Tools for Jewelers store on Amazon.