Tuesday, December 7, 2021

Living & Learning

Submitted Photo

Submitted Photo

Richard Alan

Strong words, “I can do most anything,” not exactly like Nike’s catch phrase, which is “Just do it!”

Problem with “Just do it,” is that you do it and fail or fall on your face, that can be a problem. Failure can cause you embarrassment, or worse, your money. But it is said: It’s better to try and fail than never try at all. (Or was that about the subject of love?)

In my case, as a young learning goldsmith, I was instructed to “just do it,” the problem could be a tough repair or a completely from scratch custom ring or pendant, and if it did not pass inspection by my masters (I had two) I would be told to tear it down and start again. Live and learn, and fast forward 40 years…boy did I learn.

I find myself saying jokingly I can do most anything, like performing a simple adjustment on a clasp that won’t clasp on an expensive diamond tennis bracelet. It took me three seconds to remedy. “How did you do that so fast?” I can do most anything.

“I need this antique ring that belonged to my great grandmother sized to fit my finger. I tried several other jewelers, they won’t touch it, and they all said it was too old and delicate.” Leave it with me; it will cost $75 to size the ring, and you can pick it up this Friday. I can do most anything.

“I changed the watch battery myself and the watch still doesn’t work. Can you look at it for me?”  I check the watch at my bench, a couple of minutes later the watch is working perfectly. I can do most anything. (I didn’t have the heart to tell the do-it-yourselfer he put the battery in upside down.)

You might now be thinking, “Wow! This guy is more than just quite sure of himself; he’s almost arrogant.” I’m not arrogant, I just have tons of experience which happens to make a person quite sure of oneself.

I have great pride in the fact that my son and I, on almost any given day, will do what is considered by most of my peers impossible, only to complete the impossible task in a matter of minutes, hours or days. Experience, more experience, then even more experience is the secret. Taking calculated risks is a regular occurrence at the goldsmith’s bench. What has the piece of jewelry been through in its lifetime, be it short or long? Poor cleaning habits such as using bleach or caustic chemicals can make most precious metals brittle, causing catastrophic results when working with the piece at the bench. A poorly repaired piece of jewelry becomes a complete teardown to repair it properly, requiring skill, experience and a will to push the envelope. Cheap hollow jewelry is more than a challenge; try welding a hollow rope chain that weighs the same as a butterfly’s eyelash.

To me the impossible is a challenge we rarely fail at, but many of our miracles can take a bit longer. This is where you notice I said, “most anything.”

I like to look at jewelry challenges in terms of what percentage are the chances of failing miserably or completing the seemingly impossible.

I’m reminded of a couple who had presented a beautiful diamond and platinum ring they purchased at an auction hall up north. They paid close to ten thousand for the ring. Problem was the ring was five sizes too large for the new owner. Big problem, in fact, truly impossible. Even if I brought Cellini, the world’s greatest goldsmith back from the dead, he would say “no way!” (In Italian of course!)

Reducing the ring required removing too much metal, requiring bending the ring past the point of high risk. The result would loosen every diamond and cause all the important diamonds to fall out. The diamonds would never go back in a distorted ring. You see, platinum bends and gives a little, only diamonds and precious gemstones don’t bend, they chip or break. This job was past the point of high risk…100% failure factor. I apologized but there was no way I would accept this hand grenade with the pin pulled out. I told them it was not possible even with help from above. Best advice: return the ring.

Fast forward one year later. Same couple, a pile of loose pieces of what once appeared to be a diamond platinum ring, the loose burnt diamonds were beyond recognition. This was the ring I saw a year ago. They had ignored my warning and found some clown in New York City who said he would do it for $100. He did it all right, and he did say he was sorry. I gave the ring last rites and told them their $9,000 estate ring was now worthless and impossible to put back together. This was worse than trying to put humpty dumpty together after he was cremated.

I recently re-pronged an estate ring that required over thirty new tips, on gemstones that will explode if near a high temperature jeweler’s torch – a bench jeweler’s nightmare, besides being risky (70 % risk factor) and mucho labor intensive. I charged nowhere near what I should have, and now the ring is 100% restored and wearable for another 100 years. So now there is one happy customer, and a neurotic, near-blind bench jeweler. I can do most anything.

The sense of satisfaction I receive when a customer is overjoyed by the finished results of a seemingly impossible restoration or repair never gets old, and it can really make your day, especially if you have one of those days that seems like everyone walking in the door is cranky and impossible to please.

Last year I began to refuse doing labor and time intensive work during the seasonal months. Now it’s my turn to get irritable and cranky. It’s just not possible to concentrate or truly focus on tedious work in a carnival atmosphere, and if you have ever been in my store in season you’ll notice the only thing missing is the shooting gallery and cotton candy. Now that I am older and wiser I refuse to burn the midnight oil unless it’s worth my while.

It’s true I’ve become choosy on which miracles I want or don’t want to perform. If the person in need is nice and understands that the impossible does not always come cheap, and that miracles can be a bit more costly, I’ll most likely do it.

We do nice work for nice people. Push all my wrong buttons, and find I’m not interested and will walk away, even if I know I can do it.

A man has to know his limitations, and I know mine. I don’t mess with electricity, plumbing, roof or car repair. But put me on my jeweler’s bench and I can do most anything.

Richard Alan is a master goldsmith and owner of the Harbor Goldsmith of Marco Island at Island Plaza. He welcomes your questions about all that glitters. Email him at harborgoldsmith@comcast.net or visit www.harborgoldsmith.com.  

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