Planning a wedding is hectic. Even if you’ve every intention that your wedding will be a relaxed do, low on stress and fuss, the to-do lists are long, the admin takes time, and you end up juggling wedding tasks with life stuff in a way that can feel a lot like balancing oh so very many plates.
So spending a day together at the Quarter Workshop in Birmingham with jeweller Victoria Delany, where she guided us through crafting our own wedding rings, was a surprisingly welcome time out from other pressures. One of those lovely, hazy, gently emotion-filled days where time seems to slow down, and all that heavy stuff just lifts off your shoulders for a while.
A lot of it had to do with the fact that we’d booked this time a long time ago, and nothing could interrupt it. And handing over control to Victoria; carefully following her instructions, was such an unexpected respite from having to think, plan and make decisions for ourselves.
The whole session was underpinned by real emotion. The process of crafting, from lengths of gold, the bands that we’ll wear on our fingers as a marker of our commitment to each other, was a very special experience. It gave us some much-needed time to reflect, and simply enjoy being in each other’s company, toiling alongside one another to create something beautiful.
Victoria’s studio, in the historic Jewellery Quarter in Birmingham is perfect; white painted walls, flowers, interesting nick nacks and old fashioned tools, infused with gorgeous light, which streams through the large windows. Outside, the weather shifted from full-throated downpours to bright sunshine, but while it blustered and shone, we carried on with our craft in the quiet calm of the studio.
Victoria took us through the process step by step, which meant that non of it ever seemed intimidating. We only ever focussed on one task at a time. My engagement ring is an unusual shape, and I wanted the band to curve around it. I’d initially wanted a very plain gold band, but it didn’t sit very well with my engagement ring, so I came around to the idea of one that flowed around it in a sculptural style, fitting up against and into it snugly.
This meant some nervous practising on copper first, and when we felt more confident of our skills, on silver – which was less yielding than the bendy copper, and more similar to what we’d encounter with the gold. Clasping the slender length of gold and bending it to fit precisely against my engagement ring was a lovely experience.
Did you know that gold becomes less malleable the more it’s shaped? Victoria explained that after working with gold, you must heat it, so that it regains its malleable quality and you can continue to shape it. So donning goggles and heating the gold with a flame, so that a glowing red ran along the strips of metal like liquid, became a regular part of the process.
We hammered our gold with a nylon hammer (so as not to mark) around a mandrel (a sort of metal cone), so that they began to take shape, transitioning from lengths of gold to rings. And after more heating, we sawed through the bands, to remove the excess, and soldered them closed.
Victoria helped us file imperfections, and polish both bands to a glowing shine. Simon decided he preferred his with a matte finish, so he brushed it back to a soft surface.
For two plain gold bands, it was extraordinary how much character they ended up imbued with. They may be understated, but they sing with a sense of their own-ness. Victoria shared her view that the human eye can always pick up the tiny imperfections that give away a handmade object, versus a machine-made thing. I agree. There’s a unique, and very human feeling you get from handling something carefully made with love and effort by someone’s hand, and I’m so glad that I’ll have this feeling every time I glance at my own.