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Don Sankley's workshop. Photo by Darwin Guevarra
Don Sankley's workshop. Photo by Darwin Guevarra

How to design your own jewellery

Dubai silversmith Don Sankley shows how you can tailor gems to your own personal taste.

If you'd like to make your own foray into jewellery design, talk to Don Sankley. The Dubai-based silversmith and tutor, who has more than 30 years of experience, runs weekly two-hour classes in locations in Abu Dhabi and Dubai. No experience is necessary. A ring workshop, for example, could see you walk away with a finished handmade ring in just four hours. A course lasts six weeks, with an option to extend to a further six weeks.

"These classes give people time to build their skills and make as few or as many pieces as they wish" says Sankley, a long-term UAE resident, who also runs weekly classes for after-school clubs.

Sankley spent eight years in the ecclesiastical silverware division of a local church furnishing company, learning everything from basic repairs to eventual design and manufacture, which led to him gaining his Craft and Advanced Silversmithing certificates, something that would set him up for his future business. He returned to school as a mature student a few years later.

"In the UK at that time, there was a shortage of DT [design technology] teachers, especially with industrial experience, and so I took a 'mature student' grant and returned to college for a teaching degree, then spent 23 years in the classroom teaching DT," During his training he became increasingly inspired by Scandinavian silverware, especially that of Georg Jensen, "the work is based around clean, pure, simple lines which complements the metal when its polished," he explains.

"I discovered there was such a demand for adult vocational classes here in the UAE so I made the decision to leave the classroom and set up my business. I now travel independently to schools and colleges to deliver my classes to school students and adults."

So what exactly is involved? To start with each student is provided with a toolkit, comprising of the 18 pieces needed to make basic silver jewellery. Students also have access to 'shared' tools which are required further along in the design process. All tools and equipment are provided free, though students can decide if they wish to invest and purchase their own kit to work at home in their own time.

Beginners are taken through a ready-made bank of photographs, of projects which are possible in the time frame of the course, and according to experience. "Most of the time this provides a good starting point," he says. However, there are always students who want to make a Tiffany bracelet in the first lesson with no previous experience, so we discuss the realities and it usually works out."

Sankley, who sources his stirling silver from the UK (the registered hallmark means he can ensure the purity standard), asks his students to imagine a flat strip of silver as a piece of card. "We simply shape it, cut it, adorn and texture it while flat, then we curve it around a steel mandrel and join the ends together with solder. It is then polished and complete. Of course that is a simplified version, but from measuring the finger to a finished 'basic' ring, it is very quick indeed. It then depends upon the level of cutting, shaping and decoration the student wishes to apply."

"We then use the matching solder to the metal used, for example silver solder to silver. It is done with your common kitchen torch, a chemical to clean the joint, and solder, which is melted into liquid and which sets hard when cold."

The one-off workshops will result in a finished outcome, which is quite directed but which also still allows for some freedom to design, whereas the weekly classes are designed to build up skills and to design a series of projects starting from simple, to more complex as your confidence and experience grows, although he assures no previous experience is necessary.

"It depends entirely on what you wish the end target to be; a one-off experience or a longer lasting learning exercise which you will use again and again, but all you need to bring along is your enthusiasm and your willingness to meet new people and learn new skills."

Where: Various locations throughout Abu Dhabi and Dubai.

Cost: Dh1,080 for a six week course. A four hour workshop costs Dh450.

Contact: 050 784 0509 or email dssilversmith@gmail.com

hmclaughlin@thenational.ae

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