Silversmithing 101

by Annalise on January 16, 2010

Robin and I wanted to try something a little different while my schools here are on break so we followed up on a lead from a friend about a small silversmith’s shop who actually provides lessons.

It took several trips into Thamel, Kathmandu’s primary tourist area to locate the shop. David calls Thamel the backpackers ghetto and it is always a crazy, noisy experience. The place is absolutely teeming with shops of all the stuff tourists seem to eat up; jewelry, discount outdoor and trekking wear, Gurka kukuri knives, shawls and pashminas, tshirts, music, singing bowls and buddha statues of all shapes and sizes. We were interested in the jewelry but not in buying; making it.

When I found the shop, I was astounded at how small and primitive the little spot was but the two cousins, Dupendra and Radehsham, who come from a long line of silversmiths made us feel completely at home and easily shared with us their little space to learn how to make our silver creations.

We started by purchasing the two ounces of silver they recommended we’d needed to make the items we had in mind. Then we selected the stones for our settings. All of their tools and techniques are manual except for one electrically powered polishing wheel. To fire the silver making it pliable, we drop it in a clay pot with charcoal and using a manual blow-drier (a rotating handle drives the air through a hole in the side of the pot) as bellow to fuel the flame with oxygen and speed the heating of the silver. Once it reaches a red glow, you simply dip the silver in a pot of water momentarily and then you can once again handle it with your bare hands. So we hammered as instructed to flatten or lengthen the silver rod into the shape desired. When creating the circular link form which the pendants would hang, we had to pull the silver we’d earlier hammered into a long rectangle, through a series of diminishing round holes to coil and cut. These techniques required repeated heating or soldering were often done by blowing a small flame towards the silver target through a long metal straw. Everything is done by hand; filing, bending, shaping. At one point they had us hand heat a piece to create a small ball of silver using the blowing tube and the small flame. It took some wind but was astounding to see the silver move from cold to red to molten. How is that for science class?!

The work was very engrossing and each day, we were astounded to see how the hours flew by. By the end, Robin had created three originally designed silver pendants and one with a stone. I’d created two stone pendants and a ring. The silver filings and remnants of bits we’d cut away were brushed together to once again melt down and tease us into doing more. Encouraged by our experience, we’ll go back this coming week to continue. It is so fun creating our souvenirs rather than simply shopping.

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{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

carla January 17, 2010 at 7:05 am

How cool! Can’t wait to see your creations

karel January 27, 2010 at 7:50 am

we had your mom and my mom over 4 supper here tonight,had a great visit .send me a note now and then robyn,had not heard from you in a while.

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