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Pure Gold Genius

  • 26th January 2011 was the date.
  • The Birmingham School of Jewellery was the venue.
  • The speakers were the goldsmithing deity Martyn Pugh and laser welding guru Dr Anne-Marie Carey.
  • The title of the talk was ‘I want one of those in 24ct’.

I can’t remember the last time I went to a lecture and came out of there so inspired and in awe! The genesis of this lecture and it’s title occurred a decade or so ago when one of Martyn Pugh’s customers, on seeing one of his exquisite silver and crystal jugs said, ‘I want one of those in 24ct’.  24ct gold has a beautiful rich colour but is inherently soft. This softness makes it unsuitable for jewellery or tableware but this was all part of the challenge for Pugh. If you haven’t heard of Pugh, you should have! He is prolific British creator of tableware and jewellery and is the winner of several awards and his work is used in 10 Downing Street!

So how do you make 24ct gold tough enough to create a jug with and then pour claret out of? This was the question which Pugh had bouncing around in his head and what followed were groundbreaking in both the end result and processes developed. There is no need to go into too much technical detail here (mainly because it I don’t fully understand it!) but what Martyn had to do was research what micro alloys of gold were available and suitable. A micro alloy is where a tiny amount of another metal is joined with the gold. After many conversations with world leaders in the field of metallurgy and workshop trials involving leading craftspeople, a gold-titanium alloy was chosen. This was 23.9ct pure gold and 0.1ct titanium. On hearing this I first thought that this small amount of titanium could not affect the strength of the gold  – but it does – significantly. This alloy has been used over the past few decades to create jewellery but has not made a huge impact in the industry. Creating the sheets and components of the gold alloy to be worked on was no mean feat and bullion and casting experts were drafted in to figure it all out. Actually the whole project was a successful experiment in pooling the resources and expertise of the best metallurgic/casting/spinning/lasering/goldsmithing minds in the world!

One of the issues that came up when creating the pieces was invisibly joining the sections together – the jug was made up of about half a dozen or so pieces. This is where Dr Anne-Marie Carey came in – the laser wielding welding expert! Countless hours were spent in creating the perfect join which the pieces required. There was no previous research available in the welding of this alloy so Dr Carey had to develop her own. A challenge but highly rewarding.

Believe it or not, one of the most important applications in creating the tableware was good old Brasso! The alloy did not respond well to normal gold polishing methods so Martyn decided to give Brasso a shot and it worked perfectly  – as the image shows!

To those of you who work in metal you may appreciate what Pugh and Carey have achieved here. To sum it up – they have created the first pure (almost!) gold jug and developed the working of a lesser used alloy on a scale never before achieved. Praise be to Oppi Untracht for those who decide to commission the impossible.

In 2008 I returned from a trip to India inspired to use rich gold with platinum in my designs. I heard rumours of these elusive alloys which were hard enough for jewellery but they just remained as rumours. That is until last year when I had the pleasure of chatting with Martyn. It is my desire this year to create some jewellery using this beautiful alloy.  The only thing is that it is bloody hard to produce or source. But, like the Pugh, I will rise to the challenge!

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