Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Making Solid 14k Gold Wedding Bands - Behind the Scenes

My best friend since childhood, Ruohan, is getting married this July. Since I make jewelry for a living, she decided that I would be the best candidate to make her wedding band. You may think this totally make sense, but actually it doesn't! I specialize in wire wrapped jewelry, meaning I do not solder or do other complicated metalwork. And one simply cannot have an unsoldered adjustable wedding band.

Having said that, I agreed to do it anyway, thinking I could use this challenge as an incentive to learn soldering. I knew Ruohan and her husband would wear the rings even if they turned out looking only "semi professional". After all, according to her, the most important thing was that they were made by me. 

I have tried soldering before and made myself a few crappy looking sterling silver rings. I had fun, but felt there was still a lot to learn. Plus, since I'd never worked with 14k solid gold before, I really didn't know if I would encounter any issues. And this was when I thought of my master metalsmith friend Katy of Kathryn Riechert Jewelry.  I asked Katy tons of stupid questions about the process. She finally couldn't stand it anymore, so she told me to go down to her studio and make the rings there under her instructions, and in return I was to teach her to cook Chinese food. I thought that was a pretty awesome deal for me. :)

So, with excitement, I ordered some 14k gold wire strips and 14k gold solder, and headed down to Katy's studio that has all the fancy equipment and tools... 

How difficult could it be to make two wedding bands? I just need to solder two joints, right? I thought. 

Turned out I was SO wrong.

The 14k gold strips were much harder than the wire I usually work with because of the thickness and width. My first task was to bend the wire and make sure the ends meet absolutely perfectly without any gap. This step took me a very, very long time. 

After I was (barely) able to form the loops, I soldered the seam -- now, THIS was actually a little easier than I expected. Unfortunately it was just one of the many steps! 

After soldering, I had to shape the rings on the mandrel into perfect circles by hammering repeatedly with a plastic hammer. 

I'm not going to tell you how much time this step took me. The wire was REALLY HARD! (Wait, did I mention that earlier?) No matter how long or how hard I hammered, the rings stayed "almost perfectly" round, but just wouldn't get any rounder. 

And then, ouch -- check this out, I just hit my finger REAL hard with the hammer. 

But anyway, with a little extra help from Katy, we finished this step, and the next step was filing and sanding. Doing detailed wirework everyday, I always thought I was a perfectionist and was very good at details, but each time when I was happy with the result of my filing and sanding and took the rings to Katy for inspection, she would point out all the scratches I did not see. ("There's scratches everywhere!" "Where? I don't see them." "Here! Here! You see that spot?")
Seriously? Alright, back to work….  

The fire scale formed during soldering gave the rings a rosy tone. After sanding, they now finally looked like yellow gold. By this time I was exhausted and starving, so we had to take a dinner (cooking lesson) break… followed by a movie… We shall finish the rings tomorrow. 

The next morning we moved on to the last step -- polishing. Katy warned me that my finger would turn black. She was right. Here's an picture proof of my black finger. The groom's band is almost polished ( can you see the shine?) while the bride's is not. 

The rings were finally completed after polishing, and Katy engraved the inside using her fancy engraving machine. It was really cool, I tell ya.  

And LOOK! Here's the final result! OMG!! I'm so proud of myself! :D 

Check out these gorgeous, perfect round circles! I've never appreciated a perfect round shape as much as these. :D

Check out the perfectly polished surface! Isn't that the most shiny thing you've ever seen? Not a single scratch. :D

Check out the beautiful elegant engravings! Fancy! :D

Now I was finally able to go home with two beautiful rings and some awesome fresh eggs from Katy's chickens. She had four chickens of different breeds and they laid eggs in different sizes and colors. The smaller ones are just half the size of the big ones. Aren't these cute?

I know I seriously couldn't have done it without Katy. What was I thinking to attempt the mission impossible? I've no idea. Thankfully Katy came to rescue. She was really an amazing artist and teacher. :)

 Here's a picture of Katy taste testing our dumplings. That sure was a fun weekend. :)

And, of course, here's the link to her shop again if you're interested in her jewelry -- I'm sure by now you know the perfection of her craftsmanship. :)

Monday, August 19, 2013

Wire Sculpted Custom Bridal Necklace - Behind the Scenes

     My favorite cousin Yuli is getting married next week, and I was honored to create custom bridal jewelry for her. This was a very fun experience for me and I thought I'd share my creative process with you all.
     After learning I would create custom jewelry designs for her, Yuli sent me her vision for the bridal necklace that included her hand drawn sketch (#4).
I began the necklace by hand forming the asymmetric  foliage.
 After the initial shape was formed, I opened each loop and hammered the tip of each "leaf" on the steel block one by one to give it more volume and also add interest.
After this I bent the wire back to the original shape, and then carefully adjusted each leaf to make the curves look more natural.
Then it's time to assemble the parts and add the focal pendant drop. Yuli opted for a clear crystal.
I added two peridot gemstones next to the clasp to symbolize her and the groom's birth months (they were both born in Auguest)

Here's a shot on the mannequin --
She loved the necklace, but after trying it on, one side of the foliage kept flipping upside down, so I wrapped the joint between the two part metal pieces to make them one piece. It's very subtle and not visible from the distance, but here's the close-up --
  She test drove the necklace again and this time it was a success!
 Here are two more pieces I made for her. The necklace for the maid of honor echos the bride's --
 And a bridal bracelet with the bride and groom's initials and birthstones --
I will be flying to Portland to attend her wedding next Sunday, when I will see her wear the necklace in person. Hopefully I'll bring home more photos!

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

10000 sales!

   Last Sunday was a special day, because my Etsy shop reached 10000 sales!
   I started my Etsy shop on July 4th, 2007. To have this happen shortly after my 6 year Etsy anniversary made me so very happy. This has been a fun journey and I am extremely grateful for my success.
   Here's a screenshot of my Etsy shop when this happened -- 

    After a very successful 2012, I decided to scale down my business this year. This turned out to be the right decision for me, as I have been getting more rest and feeling happier and more creative. I am hoping to have some new designs or/and more blog posts coming later this year, so stay tuend!

Saturday, June 29, 2013

A Perfect Birthday Weekend

It was my birthday on Thursday. Originally Mike and I planned to go to Charlotte with our friends April and Josh for the weekend, but April got sick and the trip was cancelled. Despite that, my birthday this year was still filled with surprises. For starters Mike couldn't resist giving me my birthday present last week...
gift from mike
What are these? You ask. Well, they are a big 12" nonstick pan and an ultra sharp knife! Mike and me cook at home most of our meals at home and our old nonstick pan was worn out (and our old knifes were not sharp). Last year Mike got me an 8" nonstick pan for my birthday; I loved it but wished it was bigger, so this year he got me a real big one, which was as awesome as it looked. I was so thrilled that I made French crepes for three days straight using this recipe. I've always loved crepes but never had the right pan to make them, so they were the first thing I thought of making when I got this pan. I made a batch of the crepe mix, and for the next three days I made myself fresh crepes for breakfast and evening snack. Yum!
The knife is so sharp that it actually scares me a little, since I can be a little clumsy sometimes, but Mike has been using it to make dinners for me, so that's even better!
Originally Mike was working on my birthday (after all it was a Thursday!) but he ended up taking the day off because he didn't sleep well the night before. I was very happy to find him home when I got up in the morning. We went out for lunch and drove 20 miles to pick up my dream gourmet chocolate cake. In the evening, we went out for sushi with our friends Siong and Angela. After dinner a bunch of waiters came to our table bringing this little cake while drumming and singing me Happy Birthday (I did have to do a chicken dance before allowed to blow the candle...).
cake from Wasabi Japanese restaurant
Then we all came home and had the official birthday cake. Angela took some photos for me before she noticed my outfit matched my cake -- Look! Even the ruffle matched the chocolate shavings on the cake! I love chocolate cakes and this one definitely met my expectation in every way.
But the biggest surprise this weekend must be this package from my friend Jeremi. It came all the way from Taiwan --
She knew I was a stationery fanatic and especially loved novelty stickers, sticky pads and sticky tabs, so these are what she got me --
 surprise gift package from Taiwan
I was so excited I bounced around the house for 10 min screaming OMG before taking a closer look at the content. That was when I thought I had died and gone to sticky tabs heaven. I continued to scream "OMG So many sticky tabs!!"
surprise gift package from Taiwan 
I love all of them, but these are my favorite...
 surprise gift package from Taiwan
Wait -- there are more sticky tabs!!surprise gift package from Taiwan
These have sticky tabs on one side, and sticky pads on the other. surprise gift package from Taiwan
"OMG there's more sticky tabs!Kitties and lambs!"surprise gift package from Taiwan
"OMG there's more!"
surprise gift package from Taiwan
These are in the bookelet style and have sticky tabs and pads in different sizes... surprise gift package from Taiwan
"Washi taaaaaaaaaaaaaapes!!!!!!! Cuuuuuuuuuuute!!!!!!!!"
 surprise gift package from Taiwan
 She bought so much they gave her a free apple notepad.
surprise gift package from Taiwan
Each page looks like a piece of sliced apple with a seed on it --
  surprise gift package from Taiwan 
I think Chopin would be pleased to know I love him enough to spare a few of my favorite sticky tabs on his score --
surprise gift package from Taiwan
Alright alright, I know you think I'm crazy to love stationery so much, but I think it's even crazier for my friend to spend so much money on these novelty items for me. I guess that's what true friends do -- they buy you meaningless stuff that you're too cheap to buy for yourself.

If you have not overdosed on sticky tabs yet, here's a picture of my lunch --
Awesome bison burger from Perfectly Frnks
It's an awesome bison burger from a popular local hot dog place called Perfectly Franks. Big, greasy, pure indulgence. 
@perfectly franks
And tomorrow we're going out again for a movie! Perfect!

Saturday, May 11, 2013

Happy Mother's Day!

Do you still remember the story about my artistic mother? Well, she is still painting and since then has made more progress, so I made a video of her paintings using an original song I wrote last night as the background music, and also added captions.. Let this be a tribute to be all great mothers in the world -- thank you for your love and sacrifice. May you all have a great Mother's Day, and if you have dreams, please don't give them up! Your children will only be happy for you when they see how your dreams make you happy.

If you enjoy the paintings, leave a comment below -- my mother would love to know what you think about them!

Saturday, January 19, 2013

Las Vegas / Grand Canyon Trip

I just came back from a fabulous weekend trip to Las Vegas to meet my friends from Etsy and can't wait to share these pictures with you. I have been talking with these successful artists / entrepreneurs online since 2008, and this was the first time we finally got to meet each other in person and spend some time together, so I was super excited. This was the day when my "virtual friends" turned into "real friends". It's amazing to finally be able to look into their eyes and know they are real people in real world, and as awesome in person as online!

Most people (including me) don't realize it actually can get a little chilly in Las Vegas in winter. In fact, there was a cold front during the time of our stay, and the temperature dropped to 20s at night. Mike and I spent most of the time inside the hotels on the strip because of that. I am really glad we finally put on our thick jackets and walked down the strip one night to see the famous Ballagio Fountains. I felt like I could just stand there watching the fountains all night long.

I would say the best meal we had there was at the Burger Bar at Mandalay Bay. At close to $20, their burgers are pretty pricey, but in my opinion they're worth every penny. The ingredients are very fresh and full of flavors. I also love how I can choose between regular fries, sweet potato fries and zuccini fries (in fact, I had half zuccini fries and half sweet potato fries to go with my turkey burger). Their service is also excellent.
We saw some street artists during the day, and this guy was my favorite, probably because I've always been intrigued by ventriloquism.Both him and his dummy have these super shiny teeth and gorgeous smiles which I envy.
The highlight of our trip is to the Grand Canyon. I booked a tour online that included bus ride from and back to Vegas, a helicopter ride from the West Rim down to the Colorado River, and a 15 min boat ride. We had to get up at 5 for the 6.10 bus pick-up at the hotel. The company offered our choice of a honey bun or protein bar as the morning snack as well as some coffee while we were waiting for the tour bus to Grand Canyon. Originally I was a little concerned about getting bored on the bus, but our bus driver/tour guide Cassie kept the whole trip interesting with tons of stories and jokes. Plus there were plenty of beautiful scenery along the way, so I really enjoyed the whole drive. 
After we arrived at the West Rim, we checked in at a counter for the helicopter ride. They weighed each one of us, and stamped "FRONT SEAT" on the back of my left hand (woohoo!). So, here you go, my view from the front seat. --
 I have seen so many pictures of the Grand Canyon before, but just like so many things in life, it is more amazing when you experience it in person. It's such a beautiful thing to feel so small, young, and unimportant when you stand in front of this sheer greatness.

 Of course one must not forget  to take a "I-have-been-here" tourist shot before leaving. I think I look rather happy here despite being totally freezing --

I found it funny there were Chinese signs everywhere at Grand Canyon. But, seeing so many Asian tourists there, I guess this shouldn't be a surprise. On our way back to Vegas, the bus stopped at this funky place called "Last Stop" so we could take a bathroom break. Cassie said they had the best burger ever, but since we were not hungry, we didn't get to try it. Mike did get to shoot some machine gun , and he seemed to really enjoy that 2 min of adrenaline rush. Before we left, I was surprised to find one of the 15 flags or so outside of their shop was a Taiwanese national flag (the one next to the sun), so I had to take a picture. They must have tons of Taiwanese tourists for some reason. 

This was my second trip to Vegas, and the first time to Grand Canyon. If  I could do it all over again, here are what I would do differently ....

1. I would rent a car in Vegas so I could go see downtown or other places instead of getting stuck on the Strip. There are many things to do and see around Vegas that would require a car. Being stuck on the strip means one is more likely to participate in activities that involve more money (such as gambling).
2. Instead of sitting inside the hotel buildings and buy water at $3 per bottle, walk down the strip to those gift shops where the same bottle would only cost 50 cents.
3. I would try to see some famous shows, even through they are a little costly.  
4. I would want to stay at Grand Canyon overnight.
5. Restaurants right next to casinos tend to have very horrible service. Do not eat there.
6. Write down the taxi driver's name or license number, because some of them are dishonest and will take you through a long route just to make more money (ask how I know!).

Also, in case you didn't know, the shark reef aquarium at Mandalay Bay is too small and boring for the price they're charging. I have been to quite a few aquariums and this one is among the least exciting one.

I guess that sums up my whole trip! I'm in a pretty good mood today because my facebook page
just reached 1000 likes yesterday. Yay!!

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