The trouble with travelling about for training and seeing other jewellers’ set-ups is that you get a sense of incredible bench-envy.
I am not someone who cares about things. I am a cheap date. Some chips on a beach will do me, just Harry from the Block etc.
But despite this, meeting up with half a dozen professional students at the Goldsmiths centre to learn micro-setting (engraving metal and setting stones in it using state of the art microscopes, wonderful ball-vices, pneumatic gravers and a delicious array of tools in funky little boxes) made me swoon.
Then there were the bench units – all clean, large and built for purpose. They were so good, you barely noticed them. Pendant motors hung in the exact position you needed them to hang in, with pedal on the floor – underfoot exactly when you needed it to be (and never underfoot at the wrong time…How? What is this witchcraft?)
I was learning and concentrating on following instructions, but I was taking it all in – the simple, efficient beauty of it all.
Then the other students shared detail about their workspaces. Special rooms devoted to the noisier machines, benches custom built by a friend of a friend. Got rid of an old bench because something bigger came along, more drawers, better top, built in blah, blah, blah.
I must admit that I succumbed to dumb envy and returned home somewhat deflated. My jewellery is fantastic and my design is the best I can make it, but my set-up is…. Unique.
Far from having a separate room for the noisier machines, I have a less elegant method for solving that problem – when I, say use my barrel polisher, I stick a leather jacket over the top of it. Muffled. Brilliant.
But the beast of the piece is my bench. Tiny (the top is 65cm across) and bizarre looking, I built the thing myself from (counting) bit of 6 different sets of flatpack/pieces of furniture.
I would say that I started building it as a table-top unit in about 2004 – so it’s 12 years old. Over the years it’s gained legs, a storage section including drawers, a magnetic tool strip, large hooks, a bucket for hammers and mandrels a bench skin made (inexcusably) from some absolutely beautiful, soft pale blue handbag leather, an upper bench skin for copper lemmel (made from a binbag) and a sexy pale blue pegboard.
It also has a spongy strip running around its front so that should I fall and clonk my head on it, it won’t hurt too much.
In short it’s monstrous, perfect, strange, beautiful and awful and will never EVER be copied onto multiple Pinterest boards or lusted after.
It’s me. It’s the oddness of necessity made into a piece of wooden furniture. I can work at it for hours. It’s so good, I barely notice it. My tools are in the exact position I need them to be in. My bench-peg is ugly. It no longer has a perfect V carved into it, but it has notches that make piercing different types of work so much easier.
And you know what?
I absolute bloody adore it and wouldn’t swap it for a soulless clone or swanky made to measure bench for anything (but I might buy a few new fittings and a new top for it soon….*looks at flat-pack catalogue*)
£750 – 1stdibs.com
£1,920 – net-a-porter.com
£500 – neimanmarcus.com
£1,065 – farfetch.com
£2,575 – 1stdibs.com
£165 – amazon.com
£90 – bluefly.com