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A Design Challenge ... and a Cover Story!

Karin Jacobson design award design process press video

Recently, I was invited to participate in MJSA (Manufacturing Jewelers & Suppliers of America) Magazine's Mystery Box Challenge. The idea behind this fun and friendly design challenge is to take a collection of materials supplied by MJSA - what's in the box was a surprise - and turn them into a wearable piece of jewelry in just four weeks. Three designers were invited to participate, and I was one of them!

I received my box of goodies back in November and had four weeks to figure out how to make the challenge work! Watch the video below to see what was inside!

The rules stated that I had to use material from each of the four categories: colored stones; lab-grown diamonds; silver sheet; and copper clay. The amount of each was up to me, and I could also add materials of my own. Beyond that, I could make whatever I liked! (Read more about the Mystery Box Design Challenge here.)

I knew that I wanted to design something with my signature Origami style, but since this was a design challenge I wanted to push myself out of my comfort zone and do something new and exciting! 

A pendant was a great fit for the project, because it allowed me to make a bigger statement piece and not worry too much about the weight (as I would have to with earrings or a brooch). While I had used 18 karat gold wire to outline my shapes in the past, making the flower a continuous spiral with leaves that got smaller as they wound into the center was a new and tricky shape. Because the flower petals overlapped themselves as they wound in, the piece actually had to be made of two cutouts which had to look seamless when soldered together. And adding the diamonds to the tips of the petals really made it a statement piece!

Karin Jacobson Jewelry Design MJSA Mystery Box Design Challenge
My pendant in sterling silver with 18 karat yellow gold edges, oval citrine, and diamond accents.

But there was a problem ... the copper clay. What on earth was I going to do with that? I had no kiln to fire the clay, which is how most people who work with it turn it from malleable clay into solid copper. There were videos online for firing the clay with a torch, which I do have, but that method was tricky since I needed to keep it at a specific temperature for a specific time. Reviews of this method were mixed - but, as I was not going to buy a kiln solely for this purpose, that was my only option! In light of the fact that I had no experience with copper clay and didn't even have the right tools for it, I decided that it would be safest to make something that was part of the project, but not part of the pendant itself. A chain or neck cable from which to hang the pendant seemed like the perfect solution.

Or ... maybe not. My initial attempts at working with the clay were disastrous. It stuck to everything, dried too fast, crumbled, and firing it with a torch left me with pieces which were brittle and cracked. I was running out of clay before I had anywhere near enough pieces for a chain - and because it kept breaking, the links that I made kept getting bigger ... and uglier. Not good.

And then, in the midst of frustration, inspiration struck! For some time, I had been toying with the idea of making display stands for some of my more elaborate pieces. My thought was that in light of how sculptural my work is, it would be wonderful to be able to display it (when not being worn) as small sculpture. And it seemed like the perfect way to re-purpose the few copper pieces that I had been able to fire successfully. I hammered them into flat wires and then soldered them together to make a small prop, which once oxidized, would hold up the pendant and essentially disappear behind it. And the very same rings on the back of the pendant that I had attached for the necklace cable would work for the stand. It felt like it was meant to be! In the end, I wound up loving the new solution. I'm even thinking that I might make them for other pendants - but I'll skip the metal clay and just fabricate them. (Read the MJSA story about my design here.)

Karin Jacobson Jewelry Design MJSA Mystery Box Design Challenge
Front, side, and back views of the pendant on its copper stand. I quite like how it worked out!

The Mystery Box Challenge ended up being a wonderful learning experience and great way to stretch my design skills. While sometimes frustrating, it was also really fun! And I was SO happy with the resulting piece of jewelry. It turns out that the people at MJSA really liked my pendant as well, because they decided to put it on the cover of this month's MJSA Journal! I couldn't be happier about it!

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