This article showcases book reviews for “The Art of the Jeweler”, “Bead Setting Diamonds, with Pavé Applications”, “Custom Knifemaking: 10 Proiects From a Master Craftsman” and “Pearls: Their Origin, Treatment & Identification” published in the 1986 Spring issue of the Metalsmith Magazine.


The Art of the Jeweler
A Catalogue of the Hull Grundy Gift to the British Museum: Jewelry, Engraved Gems and Goldsmiths’ Work
Edited by Hugh Tait
British Museum Publications, Ltd., London, 1984
Two Volumes: Vol.1: Text, 271 pp. Vol. 2: Plates, 319 pp.
£150, U. K.

First, let me say that writing a review of a pair of books that cost £150 strikes me as a somewhat awesome enterprise. I cannot casually suggest you go out and buy it only to let it languish for a while on your coffee table. Second, I do believe that this work belongs in at least the library of a school that takes the teaching of jewelry making seriously.

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In its bare outlines, the story of how this work came to be produced is this: Over a period of many years, Prof. and Mrs. Hull Grundy amassed a very fine collection of about 1200 pieces of jewelry that roughly spans the period 1700 to 1950. Most of the work is English and European, some Far Eastern, some American. Mrs. Hull Grundy was not just buying nice things indiscriminately. Her acquisitions were meticulously made within a well-thought-out art-historical framework and her knowledge of the field was honed finely enough to enable her to write numerous scholarly articles on many aspects of the history of jewelry.

In 1978 Prof. and Mrs. Hull Grundy presented the entire collection, along with a wealth of related literature, to the British Museum. In itself, the gift was significant. Its importance is enhanced because it neatly fills a historical gap of some 250 years in the Museum’s prodigious jewelry collection; a collection which ends at about 1700, the time when the Hull Grundy collection begins.

The importance of the size, the quality, the completeness and the period covered by the Hull Grundy collection could only be expressed and made available to scholars and artists through the production of a complete catalogue, and that is the subject of this review.

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Volume 1, which consists only of text, includes the usual introductory material, a fine bibliography, a glossary of jewelry terms, an index of signatures, makers’ marks, manufacturers’ marks, retailers’ marks, inscriptions and a general index. Most important, there is the catalogue material itself. The collection has been organized into 14 categories, each one of which represents what may be called a chapter. Typical categories are: Iron, Steel and Marcasite, Late 18th 20th centuries; Enamelling and Painted Miniatures; The Art of the Goldsmith.

Turning to a given chapter, one will find an introduction followed by an exhaustive description of each object. The chapters are further subdivided into groupings. For example, in the chapter called “The Art of the Goldsmith,” the subgroups are: Engraving on Silver, Filigree Work in Silver and Gold, Boxes and Containers in the Oriental Style, Containers and Implements, Watches, Chatelaines and Other Accessories in Colored Gold, Hardstone and Shell, Boxes; Gold, Silver and Tortoise Shell, The Art of Pique.

Each object’s catalogue entry consists of: 1) A brief description of the piece, similar to what may be found in an auction catalogue. 2) Dimensions, country of origin and date of manufacture. 3) Plate number, if the piece is illustrated in color. 4) Bibliographical reference, if the piece has appeared in publications elsewhere. 5) Notes. Items 1 through 4 are the straightforward, mechanical information one would expect of any properly written catalogue. Ah, but those notes!

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The notes are what made it difficult for me to put the book down. Who reads a catalogue as if it were a compelling page-turner? Possibly you will. Here is where the authors release the encyclopedic knowledge they have about most of the pieces. In addition, the writing style, while not folksy, is less formal than the plain catalogue description that comes before. Most of the time I found the notes to be downright entertaining. Where included, the notes range in length from a short sentence to about a half-page or more and include a very wide variety of information about the history of the piece, its materials, construction and design, meaning of the symbols, related pieces, who owned it, education and career of the designer and just about anything else that is remotely relevant, including a discussion of how the object fit into the social, political, economic and religious context of the period and place of its origin. If You get high on knowledge and like seeing jewelry written about as if it is a significant part of a civilization’s fabric rather than an isolated, unrelated, income-oriented appendage, then you will enjoy and benefit from studying these books.

Speaking of studying, you will need lots of desk space in order to do it. These are large books (9″ x 11″) and you will have to have them both open and in front of you at the same time because one has the text and the other has the pictures. This is good practice for watching the ball at tennis matches.

– Bernard Bernstein


Bead Setting Diamonds, with Pavé Applications
by Robert R. Wooding
Dry Ridge Company, 1985
P. O. Box 18814, Erlanger, KY 41018,
192 pp.

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In 1984, Robert Wooding wrote a highly successful book called Diamond Setting, The Professional Approach (reviewed in Metalsmith, Spring, 85, p. 51). This most recent contribution is a companion to that volume.

Bead Setting, like its predecessor, is a specific manual for the benchworker. The organization of the book is logical and direct. The fact that it reads like a course syllabus is not a surprise. That the author is a teacher shows on every page.

The book is divided into three sections. The first covers the tools needed for diamond setting and their preparation for use. The second describes the steps involved in bead setting. Through many photographs and drawings the process is described in great detail. Included are chapters on layout, marking, drilling, cutting, raising beads, engraving and finishing. The prose is not fancy, nor the presentation exotic, but the material is methodically, exhaustively covered.

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The third section describes “case histories” of specific applications of bead setting. Included is a single stone in a square mount, a triangular plate, a marquis plate, a round cluster, a hexagon, row settings and several examples of pavé. In each instance the process of finishing a popular piece of jewelry is shown, from the time it arrives at the stone setter’s bench to the final result. This step-by-step approach would seem to leave little room for error. Any competent craftsman, reading carefully and following the clear instructions, will learn this valuable skill.

Getting a clear photograph of reflective gems on a shiny surface at great magnification is always difficult. The reader hoping to skip through the text and pick up all the information needed through photos and captions is cautioned. To those reading along, the photos are adequate. I found the drawings clear and helpful.

Diamond setting is not everyone’s first love (though it is clearly Mr. Wooding’s). To his credit, the author does not seek to win converts. Rather, he writes for those jewelers who are already fascinated by the clean sparkle of a well-set diamond and who want to learn how to do it. That kind of jeweler will find Bead Setting a welcome addition to his or her library.

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– Tim McCreight


Custom Knifemaking: 10 Proiects From a Master Craftsman
by Tim McCreight
Stockpole Books, 1985
224 pp., 75 photos, 100 line drawings, pb

The concept of Tim McCreight’s newest book is that each of the 10 projects, starting with a kitchen paring knife and proceeding to a Damascus steel dagger, is slightly more difficult than the preceding one. Each project is cross-referenced, so that someone starting with, say, project four, which is a through-tang skinner using antler as a handle material, may be referred ahead to project six to see a through-tang knife using leather as a handle material, or back to an earlier chapter to check on heat treating. Each project starts with a general overview including a list of the new skills it teaches (project four teaches threading, stamping and the use of antler). There is a materials list, process overview design consideration and process detail given for each knife. This organization is the strong point of the book. It should be noted that although the author states that experienced knifemakers can use it to generate fresh ideas, the book is aimed primarily at beginners. The projects, together with the initial chapters on tools, materials, sheathmaking, and so on, provide an easily understood, broad introduction to knifemaking.

Custom Knifemaking is written in a personal, one-to-one style that places emphasis on uniqueness. Sentences like, “l did it this way but you can do it that way” occur in many places. Each project is accompanied by a series of alternative design ideas that alert the reader to the potential wealth of knife design. In a discipline where many of the participants—even many of the well-known custom knifemakers—repeat the same, tired designs, this is particularly refreshing.

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Other sections that make the book valuable, especially for those with less experience, include a straightforward, clear explanation of steel, carbon content and what happens during heat treatment. The no-nonsense approach to making folding knives, which can be a remarkably distressing experience in itself, is a welcome part of this book.

If the book can be taken to task, it is because of what at times amounts to oversimplification and/or omissions. The description of popular knife steels, for example, dismisses air-hardening steel (A-2) as being more difficult to use than oil-hardening. Yet A-2 is usually considered to be the better knife steel of the two because it has better toughness, better corrosion resistance, higher hardness at quench and so on. It is more expensive than O-1 and requires more sophisticated heat treatment but, then, the same can be said of 440-C and 154-CM, both of which the author does include. Micarta is another material that seems to be slighted, with nothing being said about the paper or canvas types, only the linen. When soft solder is mentioned, there is a failure to point out that not all soft solders contain lead. Eutectic’s 157 does not contain lead, nor cadmium nor zinc, for that matter. Actually, it has a small percentage of silver but the point is that it is a good choice for knifemakers, especially if the knife will be used with food, but it appears to have been overlooked. Finally, in more than one place the author states that, if in the heat treating process the blade is over tempered, it can be rehardened and retempered. A more detailed discussion would reveal that because of stresses set up during heat treating the blade should be annealed before being rehardened. Otherwise, cracking can result from too much stress build-up.

When these over-simplifications and omissions are weighed against the concept and organization of the book and against its emphasis on individual/alternative designs, Custom Knifemaking comes out being a good book for the beginninq knifemaker as well as a worthy library addition for any metals person about to enter the knifemaking arena.

– Ken Coleman


Pearls: Their Origin, Treatment & Identification
by Jean Taburiaux
N.A.G. Press, Suffolk, England, 1985 (translated from French by David Ceriog-Hughes)
238 pp.

Did you know that blister pearls can be formed over tiny crabs? Or that the cores upon which cultured pearls form are cut from a Mississippi River mussel? Do you care? Well, me either, I guess, but it’s interesting all the same. Those kinds of facts, as well as dozens of reminiscences and field observations give this book its unique flavor.

Despite its compact size, Pearls covers every imaginable aspect of this gem. The author describes the various bivalves that create pearls, where they live, what they eat and how they are gathered and sold. If there was a secret life to a “pinctada maxima” (the preferred pearl oyster), it would be here. Here you’ll find complicated scientific explanations of the nacre-forming process. Here too are stories about famous pearls and anecdotes about notorious pearl merchants. The extraction, preparation and marketing of pearls are covered as well. There’s even a technical report on a model pearl farm in the Philippines.

When I got in tune with the peculiar outlook of this book, I enjoyed its eccentricity. There can be no doubt that the author is committed heart and soul to his subject. His flamboyant enthusiasm for every detail concerning pearls is refreshing in an offbeat way.

The physical quality of the book is uneven. It sports what is arguably the ugliest cover I’ve ever seen. The jacket shows a Man Ray-esque hand reaching out at us from a Puddle of pearls. The writing, Perhaps because of translation, is choppy. These complaints are outweighed by delightful and informative illustrations by Jean-Paul Ehrmann. The eight pages of color photos are sumptuously reproduced.

Not what you’d call a coffeetable book, this volume is more at home in a den than a studio. A pearl lover will enjoy it cover to cover, and a jeweler, after reading it, will never look at pearls in quite the same way.

– Tim McCreight