When I went and did my goldsmith training at the American Jeweler’s Institute in Portland, Oregon, I didn’t really know how it was all going to work. On day-one I was thrilled to be handed a torch and taught to solder a nickel ring. I was so relieved that it wasn’t seminars and lectures and demonstrations. Playing with fire on day-one….epic coolness.
As the course progressed I discovered that a great deal of time is spent polishing jewelry as you make it. With each subsequent step I polished. Solder, pickle, polish. Solder, pickle, polish. (We’ll get to pickling later.) We did this because you can actually GET to the spots that need polishing when you do it as you go. Then there are projects that are just tedious to polish. Wire-work, one of my favorites, is really kind of a pain to polish. Pieces with a lot of stone settings can be tough to polish. It can be done, but it’s time-consuming. I try and get into the Zen of it, knowing my friend Kuya, who is a Buddhist monk, would find a way to see the value in every part of the process. It doesn’t work; I find it boring and resent having to do it.
I think maybe I have PTPD — Post-Traumatic Polishing Disorder. When in training, we began working on nickel rather than silver. It’s cheaper and actually more difficult to work with. It’s hard, tough, has a higher melting point than silver and it scratches easily. Boy does it scratch easily. The flip side of that is that the scratches do not polish out easily. At the end of every module we had to have Paul approve our project before we could move on to the next project. On the piercing project I made a tree pendant out of nickel sheet. The point of the project was to practice cutting and piercing (piercing is cutting a design inside another design with your saw). I was happy with my little tree, it soldered together the way it was supposed to, and all that remained was to polish it. I filed, then sanded, then ran over it with the silicone polishing wheels. I polished it with the felt wheel and buffing compound and finally buffed it to a high shine with rouge. And then Paul rejected it. He said he could see scratches. I couldn’t see scratches, but he was the expert and he could see them. So I did it again. Rejected. And again. Rejected. For 4 AND A HALF DAYS I polished that pendant. People who started after me were two projects ahead of me. When he finally approved it I went into the bathroom and cried. I cried because I could finally move on. I also cried because part of me had wanted to scream at him three days earlier that there WERE NO FREAKING SCRATCHES on that pendant. I looked. I really did. My bench-mate Nikki looked. She couldn’t see them. Waldemar, the semi-retired pathologist looked at it…he couldn’t see them…and he was a trained observer dammit. Nobody could see them but Paul. I still don’t know if he was jerking my chain or not, but I live in dread of polishing to this day.
In the six years since earning my goldsmithing certificate, I have seen tumblers advertised in tool catalogues. They look like the rock tumblers we had when we were kids. I kept going back to them because apparently you could fill one of these tumblers with stainless-steel shot and put your jewelry into it and tumble to a high-polish. I had asked Paul about them when I was at school and he just looked at me, shook his head in derision, and said “Why would you need one of those? Just polish things by hand.” That should have been my first clue. This was the man who made me polish the same pendant for four-and-a-half days. I spotted some of these tumblers through the window of our local bead and lapidary shop, Beadazzled, and thought I’d try one.
I took it home, read the instructions, gathered up a massive handful of my tarnished silver jewelry, loaded it up with the shot, some water, and a drop of soap and fired that puppy up. I was a good girl. I was patient. I waited the full two hours they recommended before even peeking. Well, okay, I waited the hour and 57 minutes I could handle before peeking. I popped the lid off the tumbling chamber, dumped the whole thing into my ultrasound strainer over the sink, and could have just sat down on the floor and cried. Every single piece of my jewelry was coated with a gunmetal-grey, sticky, dull coating. And I do mean coated….this gunk was in every crevice and notch on every single piece. After all, these tumblers are meant to get into everywhere. At this point my husband hid. I can’t really blame him…the language in the kitchen was really not meant for the ears of anyone other than a seasoned sailor.
After I pouted for an hour or so, I did what I always do when confronted with a problem that I don’t know how to solve. I did some research online. I found a bunch of different reasons for this phenomena, but they all pretty-much recommended more soap and several runs, cleaning the water in-between. So I loaded it up again with more soap and dealt with the foam explosion every half hour for the next four hours. The good news is that the tumbler freaking ROCKS!! You put icky, scratched, tarnished things into it, and they come out all shiny and sparkly. It also means my production time is cut literally in half. Best $130 bucks I’ve spent in a long, long time. So there Paul.
Oh…and after this afternoon of frustration and cussing, I found the yellow instruction paper for the tumbler on the floor under the table. I had read it when I started, but didn’t see the small print at the top ABOVE the word “Instructions”. It said “NOTE: run the polisher with just the shot for one half-hour before using with jewelry, to remove any possible barrel residue”. AAAARRRGGGGHHHHH………..