By Tina Giuntini
I have a new client in Seattle who commissioned me to make a design that had long been in her dreams, known in her native tongue as a Fire Bird. Over the years, I have been asked to make some unusual designs; many of which required learning a new technique. This commission proved to be no different, a tiara atop a felt hat base. One might call it a modern re-styling of the traditional Russian headdress, kokoshnik.
Let me take you on a journey of discovery…
It all started with the photo below, a rhinestone-incrusted tiara of a Peacock. I am not a metalsmith, nor have I ever taken a class working with metals. However, I was not to be daunted. I enlisted the help of my knowledgeable studio mate, Wayne Wichern, and my very capable brother, Scott Juntini. Following on from their advice, I was able to tackle the impossible - welding.
The first point to note, I was not setting gemstones into pronged settings, as in the more traditional method. Instead, I would be using beads made from Garnet, Tourmaline and Ruby. My idea, to string the beads onto thin silver wire and then wrap these strands onto a silver tiara frame with more silver wire – the more modern approach to tiaras. But first, I needed to construct a frame!
After consulting with the client regarding the overall size of the tiara, I cut all the necessary pieces out of 20 gauge silver plated copper wire. To help me create the required curve of the pieces I used a WWII shell copper casing (yes) that happened to be lying around the basement. At this point, I could mark all my joining points with a Sharpie marker and proceed with my welding work.
I did find the soldering a bit difficult as I felt the flux (used to attract the soldering metal) had a mind of its own at times. In the third photo above, one can see my soldering was a bit heavy handed at the bottom of the frame. Overall, I believe the tiara frame came out well for my first issue. Next, to create all the lengths of beads needed to lay over the frame – the client, in the order she wished them attached, had previously laid out the beads.
To help bear the weight of the tiara, the felt was blocked over a layer of double-sided buckram. There was a point where it seemed the hat might not come off the block. It is that stiff!
It is always interesting to look at old styles of headdress and fashion, and not only from one’s own demographic. The client had expressed to me that her design was not unusual, but something from long ago. My interest piqued. As she is of Ukraine/Russia heritage, I did some research and found some stunning pieces of amazing workmanship.
This was an extraordinary journey for me. I learned a lot, not only in new techniques but also in the rich and extravagant fashion of 1800 & 1900s Russia. I can report, the client was over the moon with her finished piece. Please keep in mind the design is 100% of the client’s vision. I was only her technician. Enjoy the regal views…