how I make my jewelry

Where designs come from

All Sailorgirl Jewelry is 100% original and unique! My designs come from the inspiration of the world around me in all of its natural beauty. Inspiration comes from the unexpected combinations of colour that leap out at me while riding my bike on the streets of Toronto or while strolling the streets of places like Paris, France, Taos, New Mexico, or Edinburgh, Scotland. Shapes and forms take hold in my brain while I walk the beaches of Bermuda, swim in the ocean, or captain my sailboat under sunny skies.

I do my best to draw pictures, take photos and find the words to capture the images, colours and forms that inspire me – then I rush back to my studio and attempt to translate it all into something that will become the bright happy pieces that form the Sailorgirl jewelry collection.

How I make glass beads

I make glass beads using an ancient technique called lampworking or flameworking. This involves the use of a propane/oxygen torch, with a flame temperature of 927 degrees Celsius, to melt rods of glass. I then wrap that melted glass around a thin steel rod called a “mandrel” that has been coated with a thin layer of liquid clay or “bead release”.

The raw glass I use is known as soda lime glass, or “soft glass” and comes mainly from Italy (Effetre), and a little from China (CIM) or the U.S. (Bullseye).

Once the melted glass has been wound around the mandrel I can further decorate it with additional thin rods of glass called “stringers”. Some of my beads have pure silver leaf inside, the silver encased beneath multiple layers of transparent glass for extra sparkle.

When I have achieved a satisfactory size and shape to my bead, it is placed in a kiln where it will be “annealed”. The kiln starts by holding the beads at approximately 510 degrees Celsius and then ramps down at 40 degrees Celsius per hour until it reaches room temperature. This slow cooling removes stress from the glass and prevents the bead from cracking. Annealing glass beads makes them very durable, but dropping them on cement or marble is something to be avoided. They will hold up for years of normal everyday wear.

Once cooled, all beads are removed from the kiln and then taken from the mandrels by breaking the dried bead release. Then all of the dried release is removed from each bead by hand. The beads are cleaned, inspected, and then ready to be used.

Due to their handmade nature, each bead is unique. While I do my very best to produce exactly what you see on the screen, there will be some slight variations.

My silver treasures

Nature is an amazing designer! Sometimes the materials the designs show up in just aren’t going to work for daily wear, or glass just isn’t the best way to capture a particular shape. This is when I turn to sterling silver, and the casting process. By taking a natural shape, like a seashell, for example, I can have a two part mould made, and can then make multiple impressions of a special design.

Sterling silver is 92.5% pure silver combined with another alloy, often copper, to increase its strength and workability. My cast silver treasures pair beautifully with my handmade glass. They add an extra bit of sparkle to everything, while managing to capture a durable level of fine detail.

Where I need to, I also hand forge some silver components allowing me to customize sizes and shapes to better suit individual beads.

Putting it all together

Once I have come up with my design, established my colour palate, made all my beads, and cast or forged any silver components I may require, I can then begin the actual process of assembling my jewelry! All Sailorgirl jewelery is assembled by hand in my Toronto studio. Pieces come together using a variety of techniques: stringing, wire wrapping or basic metalwork – whatever will allow me to recreate the great idea I had in my head. Then I “test drive” pieces to ensure their wearability and comfort. Some pieces don’t even make it past this step – they get taken apart and sent “back to the drawing board”. A good design is only a successful one if it feels as good to wear as it looks!