For my friend Sophie’s birthday I arranged a jewelry class with my Dad’s amazingly talented friend Winston Mason. (Click the link to see some of his amazing silver jewelry and learn more about him) He has been making Native American jewelry for over 30 years.
Winston took Sophie and I through the entire process of making a silver and turquoise jewelry piece. When Winston asked how much experience we had I said, “I like jewelry a lot. That’s all of my experience.” He just chuckled and was a very patient teacher.
First you start by choosing a stone.
After choosing a stone you cut (with large scissors) a piece of silver for it to be mounted on and a border to keep the stone in.
You have to melt tiny bits of silver mixed with a lower-melting alloy to solder it on. The piece you are mounting on does not melt, but the smaller bits do. The torch is extremely hot to be able to melt the metal. After the solder melts and fuses together, you put it in a chemical bath called “pickle” to clean off the impurities.
After you solder, you have to cut the base down to size and file the edges. The drawer underneath catches all of the silver filings and Winston saves them in a jar to melt them down and use them in jewelry. Nothing is wasted!
This sounds like an easy step, but it is hard work! I was felt like I was filing my life away and got really sore wrists. Winston helped me finish when my filing muscles grew weary.
At that point you put sawdust in the ring & set your stone in. The sawdust keeps the stone raised up to the height you want and makes it look like more turquoise than it is. It’s a great trick.
After we finished on the first day, we ate at Winston’s family restaurant called the Black Sheep. The Black Sheep features Southwest Native American cuisine and Winston’s son is the head chef. The food is amazing. I had squash soup and a Navajo taco with delicious, delicious fry bread. We also had cactus fruit lemonade. Oh man do I love lemonade. Every bite was delicious and the restaurant is in a great space. I HIGHLY recommend Black Sheep to everyone. It’s even worth the drive down from Salt Lake! The food even made my foodie mom very happy. That’s when you know it’s good. I was impressed that such a small place had several vegetarian options. Mmmm!
The next day of class Winston helped us set the stone in with a special tool, make and solder our bales (pendant that the chain goes through), and then we buffed our pieces.
We had so much fun chatting with Winston and hearing his stories about growing up in North Dakota. After making this simple piece I have so much more appreciation for the craft. Winston’s jewelry is amazing and extremely intricate and complicated. I am proud of my very first silver piece!