Many years ago I took a class on wire-wrapping beads so I could help my partner Paul with his work. I learned a lot, and had fun, so I started making my own pieces with antique and ancient beads. Looking at my work, customers would comment on how even and uniform it was, which I didn’t think was such a big deal.
One day, while noting that same detail about my work, Paul suggested I try my hand at more advanced jewelry making. I had tried a few times to carve wax for casting pieces, as he does so masterfully, but I was terrible at it! I asked Paul what kind of jewelry he thought I should try, and he said “you know, I think you’d be really good at granulation.”
I asked why, and he was more diplomatic about it, but basically pointed out that the perfectionist tendencies I have to make all those wire loops the same are the perfect skills for the highly detailed work of granulation. I had always loved granulated jewelry, so I thought “why not?”, and I bought a few DVDs, went to some classes with the excellent teacher Ronda Coryell, and started creating. As in so many things, Paul was right- the most detailed, fiddly, nitpicky parts of the process are my favourite steps, and I get lost in the work for hours as I place and move each tiny sphere until it’s just right.
Like any artistic technique, granulation creates a certain look that connects visually to other pieces made the same way, whether modern or very ancient. That sense of context is the other aspect of granulation that I love, and while I’m lost in the hours I work on a piece, I often also feel lost in the centuries, suspended in a process that would be recognizable to a metalsmith from decades, centuries, or millennia ago.
That feeling of timelessness is even stronger when I work with beads from the ancient world, as I do with most of my pieces. Beads and carved stones are our most ancient form of adornment, and they are like time travelers from the hand of someone long gone, enduring and growing in value as their birth recedes into the distant past. Their journey to get to me is exponentially longer than my own short human lifespan, and the path I set them on will take them into the distant future.
I take care in my work with them, trying to keep a balance between honoring their origins, historically and aesthetically, while also re-contextualizing them into something appealing to modern tastes. I find that granulation and the look it creates is a wonderful way to achieve that dynamic balance, especially in the combination of silver and gold that I use. It’s timeless without being stuffy, rich but still wearable, interesting in ways that reflect but don’t copy the work that has gone before. I hope you agree!