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  • Some of my favorite tools. Or, how to make jewelry if stranded on a deserted island.
  • Post author
    Heather Perry

Some of my favorite tools. Or, how to make jewelry if stranded on a deserted island.

Some of my favorite tools. Or, how to make jewelry if stranded on a deserted island.

Happy National Jewelry Day!

Apparently, there IS a special day for everything…did you know that March 13 is National Jewelry Day? I, for one, just became aware of this legendary Day, TODAY, March 14, 2016; an entire day late! Embarrassing but true. Sigh. How did I never know of this before? You can bet it will be burned in my memory from now to eternity.

In any case, I thought I’d honor the spirit of such an important {if overlooked} day in the life of a jeweler by sharing with you a bit about how jewelry happens in my studio. Because someone’s got to make it, right? A recent Instagram post from a fellow maker got me thinking and was the inspiration for this blog: ‘what is the tool you use most and couldn’t live without?’

Because I rely on my tools every day to take a jewel from design to physical reality, and the journey of that process varies from project to project, I’ve collected a lot of useful tools over the years, many of which I use quite often. So, this question required some thought. What tool could I not live without, hmmm…

It comes down to five. I love these selections for many reasons but feel the most significant is this; if I were stranded on deserted island and could only bring the jewelers tools I could carry in one hand it would be these five. In this totally realistic scenario {because what else would I want to spend my time doing stranded on an island but make jewelry} the tools I have chosen require no electricity and are representative of tools jewelers have been using from the dawn of the age of jewelry technology. Which makes jewelry production on a deserted island completely realistic and achievable. Yup. As long as that island is in a warm climate so my hands don’t freeze-being stranded on a Maine island is out for me, sorry to say.

The tools I can't live without.

Here’s the breakdown from the tool photo, left to right:

Brass Caliper. I use this to measure everything its little jaws can fit around. It has readings in inches and millimeters, which comes in handy because in the jewelry world most measurements are metric. Its predominant purpose for me is to find the size of the outer rim of a gemstone {its girdle} and the distance between the stone’s table and culet. See Illustration below. This enables me to create a setting in wax of the correct size to accommodate the stone I’m working with, and to measure the burs I will use to drill the hole to the exact size to set the stone once the wax model is cast in metal. I’ve had this caliper since about 1999. It’s out of alignment slightly but we’ve developed enough of a relationship that I know just where to put pressure to get an accurate reading. {My trusty brass friend can also be seen in the work-in-progress photo taken on my jewelry bench, at the top of this page. Isn’t he handsome?}

Gem Terminology 101


Large Wax File. If you’ve ever taken a painting course you may remember your instructor advising you to start with the biggest brush possible and move down in size as you develop detail. This is how I approach wax carving. And I do a lot of wax carving. Large blocks of jeweler’s wax are first cut into approximate shape with a wax saw, then I get to work removing sections of wax with this file until it’s time to develop precisely carved detail. It’s the only one of its size I’ve ever owned. I have tons of smaller wax files but at this point the large one and I have bonded and it would feel like cheating to purchase a spare one. This tool is also one way I achieve the rough and organic texture on the surface of my jewelry such as in the ring stack in the photo below:

Textured sterling ring stack with rubies & chocolate diamonds.


X-ACTO. Like duct tape, it has 1001 uses in my jewelry studio. Since my work is so dependent on carving wax models to mold and cast in metal, this is how I use my blade. After the saw and large wax file has removed the initial wax from my carving, the X-ACTO is next in line. It can slice away chunks of wax or shave off a micron’s width depending on my hand control. Lately I’ve been enjoying the flat facet-like surfaces I can achieve by rough carving with my blade. It’s how I made these pinky rings in oxidized sterling and white sapphire:

Dark Starla Pinky Rings, sterling, white sapphire.


Awl. Apart from being useful for positioning gems in their settings and scribing metal or wax with its sharp end, this tool belonged to my late grandfather on my father’s side. It has the most elegant & decorative steel finial, which makes me swoon. They just don’t make tools like this anymore.

Starette Divider. Starette is the brand name of this tool, desired by jewelers everywhere. I use it to take measurements from one thing {say a drawing or an existing ring or stone} and apply it to another thing, mainly a wax carving. Measurements are very important in jewelry to assure parts fit together exactly; every little fraction of a millimeter is crucial. I use my brass caliper to measure the distance I need to open the arms of my Starette. It will keep the distance I set while I mark my wax or metal with its sharp little ends. It hasn’t failed me yet! {You can see my Starette and the line it made on the beginning of the wax ring model in the photo at the top.}

Now, what would YOU take to keep you busy on your deserted island? Email your thoughts to me if you feel compelled to do so, I’m curious!

Thanks for reading to the end. I hope you found this post informative and interesting! More on the subject of jewelry soon. Until then, and in honor of National Jewelry Day, go to your jewelry box and find a jewel you haven’t worn for a while; It needs your warmth. xo, H

p.s. Shall we keep in touch?

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  • Post author
    Heather Perry

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