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Slow and steady wins the race...

Posted on March 07 2017

Handmade turtle brooch

Our apprentice, Harry, has been working here at London Rocks for the past four years, under the care of Karl Karter whilst completing his five year Diamond Mounting apprenticeship.
Traditionally, in the jewellery trade, craftsmen undertake a five-year apprenticeship which is then followed up with a couple of years as an improver - honing their skills. Sadly, these days, there are few young people joining the trade to learn these ancient techniques as there is not such a trend or information for school leavers to find and apply themselves to long period of hands-on, vocational training.
Harry has shown a real talent and has great skills as a goldsmith, so with a year left for him to complete his apprenticeship we decided that we would sponsor him to enter the annual Goldsmiths competition. This prestigious competition takes place once a year and showcases all the best work by the most talented craftsmen in the UK in all different areas of fine metal work and design.
Karl created the concept and inspiration of Harry’s final piece, after having explored the Galapagos Islands and the Amazon on a once in a lifetime trip. He saw some magnificent sights and animals including anacondas, giant otters and hundreds of tropical birds and insects. But the real wonders came when visiting the island of Fernandina in the Galapagos Islands were he saw the giant tortoises along with marine turtles.
“Encountering the giant tortoise is one of the most incredible experiences of my life and along with this, swimming with sea turtles instantly inspired an idea for a jewellery design. I really loved the silhouette of the creature and the patterning and textures of the skin. I had it in my head as a jewellery piece from that moment on.”

The turtle brooch, from a making perspective, was a big undertaking and would encompass many different skills and techniques, so we decided that it would be the perfect design for Harrys competition piece to show off his talent.
One of the most challenging parts of this piece, and a very old technique, would be the creation of the tremblers which creates natural movement within the piece. We would mount the fins onto springs hidden within the main body of the turtle. Keeping a life like feel to the turtle was key, so rather than the usual ‘trembling’ we wanted it to have more of a swimming motion which took some experimentation and tweaking to get it working in a realistic movement.

The next complication was the very tricky pin snap as we didn’t want there to be any visibly moving parts or ball joints. Mechanisms are the most advance area within jewellery-making and sometimes you can feel more like an engineer than a jeweller. Only highly skilled craftsmen can achieve these complex components and Harry did a great job of creating and concealing this within the piece.


The rest of the brooch was made up of intricate pave work which Harry had to painstakingly mark out with great accuracy and back hole with precision. Back-holing is a job which is repetitive but Harry mastered it early on in his apprenticeship. The skirt around the shell was carved from a solid piece of metal and we made the patterning more geometric than the real-life creature just for the purpose of design and to give it that ‘Karl Karter’ style. Harry then free-styled the patterning on the fins which is an identical mirror image on both sides and is completely symmetrical to give the piece his own signature and to ensure that there will never be the same piece made again.
It is a truly unique piece which was executed brilliantly and we are all very proud of Harrys work. And all that hard work paid off as he won a Gold Award for his craftsmanship at the Goldsmiths Craft and Design Awards last week! 

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