Roz Buehrlen creates hand-carved, sculptural jewellery featuring striking emblems – anchors, skulls, roses and swallows. Roz works from her foundry in Kent melting and carving metal – a process that can take days – using a half ton vulcaniser cemented into the ground. I wonder if a small pop up in Brixton really lends itself to the sculpting process and I can’t really envisage how it will work, but Roz assures me it will be “brilliant fun”.
Roz arrives with two huge boxes of equipment and materials, and turns the shop’s table into a makeshift workbench. She’s lugged in sheets of base metal, piercing saws, soldering irons, flux liquid (with danger warning), two micro motors (which look like dentists’ teeth polishers), extension leads, heat-proof gloves, traditional scorpers, an emery board, buff sticks, dividers, verniers, heat-proof tongs, tweezers, a set square and some mask-like optivisors which make everyone look like a engineering boffin. Roz had told me that she’s obsessed with tools and now I start to believe it!
Four would-be jewellers arrive and look a little bemused at the amount of heavy duty equipment on hand. I quickly offer them a glass of fizz to calm their nerves. Roz gives us the lowdown on how she works, and introduces her workstation and tools. She starts with a flat sheet of metal and works it like clay, carving straight into the metal to get a crisp finish.
Roz has also bought along a selection of blank ring and bangle castings and necklace chains, plus an array of ready-cast components to assemble and solder together. The idea is to create a basic piece, and then customise it by hand carving the detail. “Almost painting by numbers” Roz says. Cutting a circle out of a piece of sheet metal alone can take a novice over 30 minutes so this is “a good way to have a big sense of achievement in a short time frame". I run my hands through what she’s brought and find differently sized skulls roses, mushrooms, tiny ladybirds, petals, anchors, Bambi-like deer, giraffes, and randomly reclining men. Tiny treasures.
Roz tells us to be as adventurous as possible in our designs because “we might as well go for it”. One participant is keen to make herself a ring, in a tiny size D (hard to buy on the high street), and she sets about sketching it out. Roz resizes a ring blank and teaches her how to satin polish the ring and cut her engraved design.
The next person chooses several tiny swallow, rose and skull castings, composes and solders them on to ring blanks, which results in two different styles of ring. The third takes a selection of petal castings and arranges them along a blank bangle. She solders them on and carves textures on to the metal with different shaped burrs.
My husband picks up a reclining man casting which Roz says would make a “lovely ring”. Using the saw he tries to cut into, and fashion it so that it bends around a finger but he cuts a leg off. “Easily remedied, hang on” Roz tells him, but I think he’s lost heart – either that or realised that he might not wear a dainty ring featuring a provocatively laid out man.
We cut shapes using a piercing saw, solder, and carve and engrave our pieces using scorpers for the finer work. The micro motors neaten and smooth the rough edges or ridges of our creations. By now we could be making a master pattern, which goes on to be moulded and centrifugally cast in finer metal. We won’t be doing this last bit though!
You can feel the intense concentration in the room. Roz really comes into her own moving around the table working one-to-one; she’s incredibly knowledgable, can predict how the metal will behave and seems energised when it doesn’t go to plan. Her love of melting metal is clear and infectious.
Once the pieces have been cleaned and polished they start to look beautiful – it’s fascinating to see how a flat sheet of metal can be turned into a 3D sculpture. The labour and machinery that goes into transforming metal into intricately designed rings and pendants is astounding – an art of micro-engineering.