Hiking Braunwald

We all get them, those Facebook memory reminder things, mostly they’re annoying but this month they’ve been great as they reminded me about what a rad time I was having this time last year. And so I thought I’d share with you what I was getting up to because, to be honest, it was a little life changing.

OK, so maybe I’m getting a little away with myself but it was an awesome two weeks for many reasons. Firstly, it was the break I needed from my work and my life. Secondly, it was the first time I’d travelled by myself in over 10 years!! And thirdly, because I was doing something I love, learning something new and meeting like minded people. This one little trip has actually changed my whole view on travel and what I find rewarding.

Anyways, this time last year I took two weeks off and went to Switzerland. To be honest, Switzerland had never really been high on my hit list of places to visit but I found an awesome reason to go, so I booked a ticket and wow, was I glad I did. I got to go to this tiny little village high up in the Swiss Alps and live there for two whole weeks.

The studio

Braunwald only has a population of 300 people and every year (for the last 20 or so years), in the Summertime, German jeweller Felix Urs Stuessi hosts a jewellers summer school – how rad is that?  Through the years he’s invited many established and specialist jewellers to host week long courses in his beautiful workshop and last year I was lucky enough to spend two weeks with Japanese jeweller Kimiaki Kageyama, who also happens to be the Professor and Head of Metal Department at Hiko Mizuno Jewellery College in Tokyo. So as you can imagine I was in my element.

There was only space for 12 students
There was only space for 12 students

Learning from Kimiaki was a real pleasure – he is incredibly skilled in so many different techniques but in the first week we focused on making traditional Japanese alloys, metal surface techniques and patinisation (a technique where you colour metal using different chemicals); all of which traditionally was used to decorate the hilts of Japanese swords. In the second week we explored chase and repousse (which is a method of raising and forming metal into shapes).

Melting the alloys with Kimiaki

After having worked for so many years by myself, it was really awesome spending time with a group of other jewellers from different countries and levels of competency. The thrill of learning something new together, with no competition, was also great – it felt like I was back in University. This tiny shift in my perspective really helped light the fire under my ass to get out of my home studio and find a space to share with another creative (I moved into my current spot a month after my return from this trip).

Different Japanese metal alloys

Obviously, the work itself was very interesting – I was stretching my skill levels alongside an expert (teaching yourself new skills are all fine and well, but to have an expert on hand to show you the nuances of a specific technique is so much more helpful) and filing away all the things I was learning so that I could use them later within my own creative journey with SMITH.

In the first week we learned how to combine silver, copper and gold to create different coloured alloys. These alloys would later get coloured using natural ‘chemicals’ to turn them various shades of grey/brown/black. We then learnt a technique called inlay where you literally ‘lay in’ a small piece of metal into the main piece (you can see this with the lines on the earrings below). We also learnt a surface technique where you score tiny lines into the metal (like cross-hatching) and then rub gold foil on top to make it stick (the gold part on the earrings).

Earrings I made using different Japanese metal alloys & traditional surface texture techniques with gold foil & paternisation.

In the second week we explored chase and repousse in iron. I first encountered this technique in 2nd year varsity (and haven’t used it since) so it was awesome to have the time to play and create beautiful organic pieces inspired by nature (right up my alley). We made ‘leaves’ using local leaves as a reference. We first cut out the shape, placed it in pitch (a type of tar) and then beat different shaped tools into the iron to create the curves and crevices. Every now and then we turned the leaf over to work from the front, then again from the back.

The process of making a chase and repousse iron leaf – at the beginning in pitch with the original and finished just before rusting.

Then we went onto making flowers – I made a rose brooch. This was much more complicated as there were more layers to the piece (to create the petals and leaves) and we had to manufacture the stem and brooch pin. Then finally we rusted the iron to create this beautiful brown effect.

My iron rose brooch

I must say, that if you’re a creative, taking time out to be creative independant and learn a new skill is invaluable. My time spent in Braunwald really replenished my creative spirit and to be honest, Im still feeding off it a year later. As a result, I’ve vowed to take a break and learn something new every year (this year I did an afternoon knife making course, but more on that later). It’s also changed the way I view travelling – staying in one spot, learning about the people who live there and learning a new skill at the same time!