Queensland Jewellery Apprentice Awards recognises and celebrates the hard work and commitment jewellery apprentices in their 3rd year have undertaken to complete their training.
Judged on a collection of pieces, carefully handcrafted with the highest level of creativity and quality, Michael Hill apprentice jeweller Nicole McBurney, who completed her apprenticeship in 2014, was awarded Best Overall Design & Runner-up Apprentice of The Year at the Gala awards night.
Her unique pieces; a ring, bracelet & neck piece, along with a striking handmade, leather bound folio were a standout & a testament to all the hard work & effort she has put in to achieving this outstanding result.
We sat down with Nicole to learn more about her piece.
How long have you been a jeweller?
I started out in jewellery making about 10 years ago when I started a course in my spare time. At the time I was working full-time , so it was like a hobby. I felt I could never learn (jewellery making) properly because I didn’t have the time to dedicate myself to it fully. I learnt a whole lot more on the job when I started working at Michael Hill about 7 years ago. It wasn’t until a few years ago that I had the opportunity to do this course, so it’s been a long road.
What does a typical day look like in your job?
A lot of my job involves working on custom designs and sometimes we get very unique handmake pieces that have to be designed from scratch. I’m lucky enough to get to work on individual pieces from start to finish, some other jewellers here specialise in specific techniques, so only do small parts in creating each ring. I work closely with the designers – they construct a design on the computer and a wax model of the ring gets printed out on the 3D printer; it's very delicate. A mould for the design is then created using the wax model & the chosen metal is then cast. This can sometime happen in several pieces that need to be assembled together and cleaned up to make the surface perfectly shiny. Lastly, the stones get set into the metal & the ring gets polished. It can take a long time to create one ring.
What skills have you learnt from working as a jeweller?
It’s important in the job to really know each metal type. I’m very, very good at that because I’ve been doing it for such a long time now. The process of making multiple rings is different to making a unique one-off piece so I’ve learnt a lot of good skills here at Michael Hill that you would not learn in other places. We learn many things in the apprenticeship too - how to render drawings and artworks to technical drawings. Which is what you could say is the ‘old school’ way of designing. Now we do it all through a CAD program on the computer.
Tell us about the Southbank Institute of Technology’s Apprentice of the Year Award.
The award was open to all the apprentices that year. We were given a theme and had to design & create a three piece collection using precious metals and gemstones including a folio of work to support the process. The entire project was judged on the design and concept & how it relates to the given theme. There is also technical and quality aspects that are considered too.
Tell us about your design.
Because the theme was poison, I chose to do my collection with the inspiration from Shakespeare’s poison. The collection consists of; a ring, bracelet & neck piece, along with a handmade, leather bound folio.
I wanted my work to reflect the poisons that were written about by Shakespeare within the form of the jewellery. I’ve created every element of the project in a style that was of his time including my folio. I’ve tried to use language that was used around then and fonts that reflected the older style of handwriting – reflecting the style of the Shakespeare posters that were put up to advertise his plays. I’ve also hand bound the folio .
I’d envisioned the final product to be more organic in design, but I also wanted the pieces to reflect Shakespeare’s era – something a little bit medieval & gothic.
What was the process in designing these pieces?
We had to design 3 pieces and provide the supporting folio. The folio contained technical drawings, research and the process I went through to design it all. I just wanted to something manual, everything at TAFE is becoming so computerised and so is the industry. But I just thought, no, I’m going to scrap all that and do this really old school and completely opposite to what I knew other people were going to do.
The designs get drawn onto paper and cut out and stuck on to the metal. Then the shape is cut from the pattern with a little saw. Each of the intricate parts are pierced out and then after you’ve sawed it, the shapes are very rough and you have to get sandpaper and smooth out the shapes. It can be a very long process to get the piece to look exactly how you want it. I was overwhelmed with the amount of work that goes into hand making a piece like this. Each element of the design is handmade and hand cut.
What was the inspiration behind your design?
The inspiration for these three pieces have come from the poisonous plant henbane.
It’s an old poison that come from a flower and seedpod of a plant. It is said they used to use it in witchcraft and medieval times. The flowers are quite beautiful but when they dry up they are quite evil-looking and have that gothic element to them.
Tell us about the materials you have used?
The piece is made from 9ct yellow gold, rose gold and Sterling silver. I’ve also used a star ruby in the centre (of the ring) and pink tourmaline. The choice of the stones was inspired by the colour of the henbane plant itself. The star ruby looks like a dark amethyst – quite magical, & the book has been bound with kangaroo leather.
What do you love most about it?
I’m satisfied that I’ve created something so close to the theme. It’s not something that I would have come up with without having to think about a theme. I just love the way things have evolved into something entirely different to what I originally thought. You have to be confident that you were capable of completing the work in such limited amount of time. But you just do it because you know you had to get it finished, and I enjoyed that aspect of it. It was so much fun seeing all the elements coming together.
Were there any major difficulties you had?
I had a few major road blocks. When I was cutting out the ring and I ended up cutting out the wrong line because they weren't very clear. You have to be careful with everything that you’re doing because a piece of gold is quite expensive.
How long did it take to make?
It took four weeks to make all of the items in the collection. It’s difficult to make something like this for the first time because you’re figuring out how to do each piece. You have an idea of how you are going to do something, but it sometimes doesn’t quite work out that way. If I was to remake it, the process would probably be twice as fast.