A ‘gem' of a job

2008-10-02 08:05

PENNY Jardine sits at her workbench on a purple Pilates ball - comfortable and just right for the work she does, except on the odd occasion it rolls away when she stands up to reach for a pair of tiny pliers, a file or a saw. And in front of where she works is a big leather pouch, to catch any scraps or filings of metal, however small.

To make sure she doesn't miss any, later she will go over the pouch with a magnet. Even the tiniest scrap will be picked up, put into a crucible, melted and poured into a mould, ready to be used for more of the gold, silver and platinum jewellery Jardine makes in her studio on the Curry's Post Road.

And it is not just the scraps that fall in front of her - every couple of years or so, Jardine, like most jewellery makers, will send off the floor sweepings from her studio along with old saw blades to a metal refinery, where any scrap of precious metal will be retrieved.

“In some big workshops, where they have carpet tiles on the floor, they will rip them up every five years or so and send them off to the refinery to be burnt and any gold or silver will be recovered,” she says.

Her work ranges from engagement rings, made to order, to delicate bracelets, rings and earrings set with all kinds of gems.

Elegant and tiny or chunky, they all radiate the glamour that comes with jewellery.

Jardine came to jewellery making by a roundabout route. She loved art at school - it was her favourite subject - but knew she had no wish to be a painter. She had friends at Tech doing jewellery design but it was only after some years of working and travelling that she came back to Johannesburg and met up with one of them. He told her that the jeweller he worked for had just got rid of one of his apprentices.

“I went along and I knew immediately that this was what I wanted to do. I had drifted for years but this was it.” Jardine was told that a jeweller would know after one day of seeing her doing the basics whether she was cut out for the work - and although some of the basics including sweeping the floor, picking up scraps with a magnet and making the coffee, she was also given a very fine-bladed jewellers' hacksaw and told to cut out shapes. It was work that demanded care and skill, was both creative and practical, and from the start, she loved it.

From Johannesburg, she went to work with a Cape Town jeweller and, even though she had never thought she was a jewellery kind of person, apart from having fun with beaded earrings in what she calls her “hippie phase”, the work with beautiful metals and stones inspired her, and still does.

“I try to do my own thing but do a lot of private commissions for remodelling old jewellery and making engagement rings and so on,” she says. “I get frustrated but the commissions are my bread and butter.” However, she says she has just made her “best ring ever”, a copy of an old-fashioned one, and she is delighted with the result.

Inspired by surroundings

A lot of her inspiration comes from her surroundings in the Midlands, particularly the wild flowers. “I would love to do a whole collection based on flowers,” she says, showing the earrings she is wearing, dainty and beautiful flower shapes.

Jardine talks about different metals and gems - silver is a pleasure to use, as is 18-carat gold. Nine carat is difficult, much more brittle. Platinum is also good, although she cannot melt down the filings - the temperature required is too high and so all the platinum has to be sent off to the refinery to be recovered. “It's difficult to say which is my favourite gem,” she says. “It's changeable.” It is the colour combinations that she relishes creating - showing me the lime-green shade of lemon quartz, teamed with the pink of a tourmaline, or even a pink sapphire.

Jardine is on the Midlands Meander as a Living Artist, one of the select category of artists and crafters who produce original work and who, while part of the Meander, prefer to open their studios by appointment. The Meander name and map helps with marketing but the artists can carry on with their work, without having a stream of visitors coming in. For Jardine, this is particularly important as, besides creating exquisite jewellery, she is home schooling her two children, aged seven and eight.

It was something she never imagined she would do but when she and her husband returned from England and were living with her parents at Splashy Fen, a group of home-schoolers came to look at the trout farm and Jardine was so taken with the relationship between the parents and children that she decided that this was the way to go. And, “I'm loving it at the moment,” she says.

Inevitably, it lessens the time she can spend in her studio, but creativity needs peace of mind, and that is something Jardine finds in the way her life is currently organised.

• Inquiries: Penny Jardine at 082 326 0149.

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