The Future of Jewelry Design: Get Inspired by the Fretz/RIT Student Tool Challenge

7 Jan 2013

In a recent issue of Lapidary Journal Jewelry Artist magazine, we shared the metalwork of students at RIT who were challenged to use Fretz miniature hammers and stakes to create metal jewelry designs. Here are some of their inspiring pieces and enlightening stories. --Tammy

Compiled by Helen I. Driggs

What happens when you combine new and innovative jewelry-making tools with fresh young minds, creativity and talent? Tool designer and silversmith William (Bill) Fretz wanted to find out--and chose his own alma mater, the Metals Department at the Rochester Institute of Technology, to become an experimental test lab. A challenge was designed specifically to stretch and test the boundaries of metal forming on jewelry scale objects, using the popular tools he has designed and developed in the past decade. The tools were shipped to instructors Carlos Caballero and Angie Carter and the forming began. Here are the results of that challenge and the students' thoughts on their work in their own words.

Chelsea Fay; 3rd year
NuGold, oxidized copper, fine silver

 
Chelsea Fay
 

LJJA: What was the most interesting thing you discovered while using these tools?
CF:
The most interesting thing I discovered while using the Fretz miniature hammers and stakes was how accurate my forming became when working on smaller items. I was able to form metal in a detailed manner I had not yet been able to accomplish.  

LJJA: How did the Fretz tools change your work process?
CF:
The forms I created for the Fretz Stake Challenge were forms I had attempted previously in my work. The larger hammers I used led to clumsy and time-consuming work. The Fretz tools allowed me to work on a much smaller scale, thus making these forms easier to produce and more skillfully made.

LJJA: How do you think participating in the challenge will affect your career as a jewelry artist?
CF:
In the time I have been studying metal and jewelry design I have become increasingly aware of how many ways there are to accomplish one single task. I have found that the more techniques I can learn, the more apt I am in effectively producing my designs. Every new tool I am introduced to yields the same opportunities. Thanks to this challenge, I have discovered the importance of the tools I use and how they can drastically affect the final outcome of a product.  

LJJA: Do you see yourself pursuing forming and forging as an in-depth focus for future work?
CF:
Yes, I believe that forming and forging will always be a focus within my future work.  The process of stretching and forming metal by hammer is a process that I find fulfilling and is something I will undoubtedly continue.   

LJJA: Which tool is your favorite?
CF:
My favorite tool is the Fretz hammer with plastic inserts.

 

 
Rachel Arday

Rachel Arday; 2nd Year
NuGold, oxidized copper, sterling

LJJA: What was the most interesting thing you discovered while using these tools?
RA:
I found that these hammers were an ideal size for intricate forming. While most would consider the lack of weight due to their size a negative attribute, I used them to my advantage and was able to work with much thinner gauges of metal. Heavier hammers would have been too forceful and would have cracked the metal. These hammers helped me to produce a cost effective and lighter weight product. Typically when forming I tend to use a thick gauge of metal (usually 18ga) to combat the stress from hammering. Because of the lightweight hammers I was able to use sheets as thin as 22ga to create this piece.

LJJA: How did the Fretz tools change your work process?
RA:
These tools introduced me to the development of small-scale forms that I would have not previously been able to create in a time-effective manner.  Overall, my process became more methodical and the product was more deliberate than in my previous pieces.

LJJA: How do you think participating in the challenge will affect your career as a jewelry artist?
RA:
Being chosen for the article is something I already have become more than satisfied with. I am only twenty years old and am just starting my career. Recognition from readers will be an added bonus to being acknowledged in the magazine.

LJJA: Do you see yourself pursuing forming and forging as an in-depth focus for future work?
RA:
I definitely see myself utilizing the hammers in the future. I currently have plans underway for pieces that contain the same forms seen in this piece. In the future my forms will most likely remain on the small scale.

LJJA: Which tool is your favorite?
RA:
My favorite tool by far was the hammer and I found no substitutions for this tool in my process. I discovered that without the hammer I would have been unable to produce this form. (I believe it was a miniature narrow rounded raising hammer, there were no labels so I am not completely positive.) I found that the stakes were almost unnecessary in the form process. I used a miniature sinusoidal stake to curve the metal, but the job was easier on a piece of wood that resulted in less bumps and blemishes. Also, I used a stake that was mostly flat on top to close the spiked forms. This was not entirely sufficient due to its small size and I ended up using a steel block to speed up my process. 

Risa Tanaka; 2nd Year

Risa Tanaka
 

NuGold

LJJA: What was the most interesting thing you discovered while using these tools?
RT:
When I started the challenge, I wanted to see how the Fretz hammers and stakes form metal differently from the competition. While using different hammers and stakes to form scraps of metal, I found that I really enjoyed the edge and side of the stake. They were very useful to cramp the metal and I was able to planish as well. The edge of the stake is slightly rounded and did not create any scratches on the metal.

LJJA: How did the Fretz tools change your work process?
RT:
I had never used the Fretz tools until the challenge. I thought it would be hard to get used to using them, however, I quickly adjusted. The weight of the hammer and the shape of the stake worked perfectly with my cramping technique. Without adding more weight and power, I could use the weight of the hammer itself to shape the brass. Using the Fretz tools increased my efficiency, as it was not necessary to clean and planish the metal as much as I usually would. The handle of the hammer is easy to grip and I did not feel the time even though I used it extensively.

LJJA: How do you think participating in the challenge will affect your career as a jewelry artist?
RT:
It was the first challenge I have tried with other talented artists at RIT, and I felt that each artist inspired and was inspired by watching each other's work, which was interesting and became the stimulus. I not only gained skill and knowledge about forming and forging smaller metal, I was also to challenge and push myself to the limits. Therefore, I strongly believe that the experience and knowledge through the challenge will greatly affect my future as a metal artist.

LJJA: Do you see yourself pursuing forming and forging as an in-depth focus for future work?
RT:
Yes, I do. I have formed and forged small metals before, but the challenge gave me a new idea and perspective about forming and forging, so I would like to try different methods of forming and forging for future work.

LJJA: Which tool is your favorite?
RT:
My preferred tools are the rounded narrow raising hammer and the miniature forming stake set. I especially like the miniature thin shell forming stake and would easily call it my favorite.

Read on to see the challenge rules and more of the students' designs, and then learn even more about the Fretz Tool Challenge in "Jewelry, Students, Tools and Design" in the November 2012 issue of Lapidary Journal Jewelry Artist.

To keep up with the latest in jewelry design and jewelry-making techniques from top experts in the industry, subscribe to Lapidary Journal Jewelry Artist--the oldest jewelry-making magazine in print, celebrating 65 years of jewelry and gemstone expertise!


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