|Four gilt copper gem housings for my 9th century box|
there will be a piece of lapis lazuli in each
It is the last aspect, which I want to focus on in this blog posting, as I made a new friend in the jewelry district of Chinatown, Manila, whilst on my recent holiday. He gave me a helping hand with some of the metalwork which I need to do for my 9th century box. The box will have embossed metal foil borders around the imitation ivory panels and the junctions of those strips of foil will be covered with gems and semi-precious stones, just as the more expensive caskets, and treasure bindings of the Middle Ages were made.
|Nestor, a very talented goldsmith.|
|I couldn't resist getting in on the action as well|
|The work begins with square wire which is made with this wire drawing|
machine; on the left, square wire can be made; or round wire on the right
|Repeated passes, through the machine, and repeated annealing every other pass|
eventually produces a suitable gauge wire. It is then passed through the flat
part of the rollers to transform the square wire to thin strips.
|The strips are cut and bent to form the sides to the housing|
|Here one of the rectangles is being formed|
|Once the sides are formed, they must be soldered together. This is done with|
silver; the little lump at the end of the flame
|A long piece of stainless steel wire with a sharp point serves as a soldering iron|
|The finished solder joint|
|Filing the joint flush, notice the little work surface tenoned into the bench;|
old worn-out sandpaper compensates for too much wear on the tenon
|Some copper for smelting|
|This was not the same batch, but it shows borax being added as a flux;|
this allows the copper to melt into a lump, with no impurities
|Ordinary automotive grade petrol is the fuel used for smelting as well as|
|Just as in medieval times, a bellows provides enough oxygen to raise the|
heat to melting point. Of course in the Middle Ages, the fuel was charcoal;
blacksmiths here actually still use that.
|One cannot get much more medieval than a simple un-glazed clay bowl|
used for smelting
|If too much heat is lost for a large batch, a pot shard serves as a lid, creating|
a miniature smelting furnace
|Once the copper is melted, it is poured into a form, to produce a miniature|
|The resulting "ingot" and the wire which served as the valve|
|Another very medieval looking piece of equipment; the anvil, set into a log|
|Repeated rolling and annealing produces a thin flat sheet for use in making|
the 'floor' of the housings
|Trimming the sheet to width|
|Cutting rectangular plates for the housings|
|Another "anvil" this time the face plate off of an antique flatiron|
|Once the parts are made they are "pickled" in a borax solution to aid in the|
|Soldering is done by picking up a bit of molten silver with the point of the|
instrument and allowing it to wick into the heated joint of the parts
|Soldering a rectangular housing|
|The oversised bases are to allow for an eventual beaded wire border, a detail|
I forgot about with the first batch of oval housings
|The only thing powered by electricity in Nestor's shop were the lights|
|Four oval housings, with holes bored to be able to eventually attach them|
to the box; once I manage to find some tiny hand forged copper nails
|The parts being scrubbed to remove any foreign contaminates before plating|
Once the pieces were formed and soldered, he handed them over to an old woman who works there polishing the pieces and doing electroplating. (I could have had them plated in the old fashioned mercury amalgam method, but then I would have had to wait a week, and that process is done in a village some distance from the city where there are no laws prohibiting the use of mercury). I opted for the un-medieval method of electroplating.
Except that they are not finished, because oddly, they had no device for making beaded wire. In the book of "Diverse Art" written by "Theophilus" in the 11th century, (and mostly reciting practices which were much older) he explains a method of making a stamping die for creating beaded wire. For some reason, no one in the Philippines seems to have a need for, or thought of such a device. If I had wanted him to add the beads around the borders he would have made and soldered them one bead at a time. I did not want to spend that much time on the project, and am planning to make a device to take back to him which will make authentic medieval beaded wires the next time I return.
|So I lied; this is powered by electricity as well. This is the liquid which|
contains dissolved gold, which by some magic art...
|Causes it to materialise and adhere to the object being plated|
|The finished rectangular housings|
I share this story and this series of photos because I really want to point out the contrast of the amazing things which can be made with the most "rudimentary" equipment in the hands of skilled craftsmen, compared with how most westerners seem to think they need a super high tech machine for every single task they do. A perfect example of that being the touch screen (really???!) controlled 100% automated KEY CUTTER, which I just witnessed two days after I returned.