I had signed up for a hands-on look at the techniques used by professional jewelers like Carlos Alemany, the man responsible for realizing Dalí’s bejeweled visions. Hand-crafting a piece of fine jewelry is, unsurprisingly, an intensive process, and a two-hour course wasn’t long enough to test out every step. So, after donning our white jeweler’s coats at the door, we listened as our two instructors outlined the initial stages of the jewelry-making process.
First, a designer sketches the ring (or necklace, or bracelet, or brooch) according the artistic director’s vision. All of this is done in close collaboration with the stones department (which helps source the gems for the project) and the research and development department (which ensures the design is practically achievable). Once the design is in place, an artist is tasked with representing the ring in gouache—an exactingly realistic, painted version of the jewel that gives a sense of volume and three-dimensionality. Once the gouache is complete, it’s up to the jeweler to translate the image into a three-dimensional wax mold.
Our assignment that afternoon was to carve a simple, scalloped necklace charm. I took a seat at one of the jeweler’s benches situated around the room, adjusting my stool so the wooden tabletop was level with my armpits. Each bench features a central, semicircle cut-out, with a leather sling positioned underneath to catch any fumbled works-in-progress. But the focal point of any jeweler’s bench, I learned, is a humble piece of wood clamped to the tabletop. This “bench pin,” as it’s known in the U.S., generally features a narrow “V” taken out of one end—but jewelers fine-tune and customize their personal bench pin to suit their particular working methods.