A Jewel in the Making
Monday 01 July 2013
A masonic jewel is the physical expression of the recipient’s achievement and so must be worthy of his dedication and contribution. In Freemasonry this is most often a Past Master’s jewel, a Knight Commander of the Court of Honour jewel, a Thirty-third Degree jewel, or some other past presiding ofﬁcer’s jewel. Jewels or “decorations” are also found outside of Masonry. The Medal of Honor is the United States of America’s highest award for valor in action against an enemy force. Other US awards include the Presidential Medal of Freedom and the Kennedy Center Honors. In the UK there are awards from the Queen, such as an Order, Member, or Commander of the British Empire (OBE, MBE, CBE) and the Distinguished Service Order. Creating jewels of this caliber is a complex process that involves the input of a number of highly skilled craftsmen and women, each of whom is proud of their contribution to the ﬁnal product.
Toye & Co, founded in 1685 in England, produces both Masonic and civil awards, and takes us behind the scenes for the production of a Masonic jewel. The process begins with design. Using the latest computer technology and immersed in the symbolism of Freemasonry, the team of designers interprets the description (and sometimes guides the customer if they do not have a specific idea of the ﬁnal jewel). Explaining the value of the drawing created by the design team Gary Hiley said: “The drawing is the foundation. At each subsequent stage the craftspeople build on this foundation, perfecting every subtlety and nuance to create the ﬁnal jewel.”
Next the die sinker turns the two dimensional image into a subtle three multidimensional die from which the many jewels can be manufactured. “We have well over 250,000 different dies in our stores, some going back to the 1800s,” explained Nick Ellwood, Business Development Director at Toye Kenning & Spencer. “There is a die for everything from Spitﬁre badges produced during WWII to raise money to build the ﬁghter planes to Football Association Cup Winner Medals.” Jim Baker is the company’s senior die sinker. “You may think cutting a die is simply a case of connecting a computer controlled milling cuter to the computer aided design and letting it do its work. We could do it this way but the ﬁnal die would lack the richness that determines how the gold reﬂects the light. A good example is the KCCH cross for Southern Jurisdiction where each arm of the cross has a hand-ﬁnished pattern cut into it to reﬂect the light through the translucent vitreous enamel. The laurel wreath also has a raised centre and the inside leaves are slightly higher than the outside ones, giving the piece depth. Achieving this subtlety depends on the experienced eye and judgment of the craftsman. “Production then moves to the stamp shop. The company has a number of drop hammers and large and small presses including a 400 metric ton friction screw press. Stamper Mick Puusta works this press with such skill that at times it seems to barely touch the metal. This means he can be incredibly precise in transferring the design from the die to the metal. “It’s easy to deform the metal with the press but very hard to draw out the detail we’re looking for,” he explained. “Often several strikes are needed to get the full detail and I may have to anneal or soften the metal between strikes to counter the work hardening. “Tools are manufactured to match each die and it is at this stage that they are used to clip the piece, removing the excess metal aﬅer it’s been stamped, to pierce it, and to remove any unwanted metal on the inside. “We have to locate the holes for the mounting pin precisely, “explained Roy Badger, Toolmaker. “If we get it wrong, the jewels will be out of kilter and the job of mounting the other components impossible. Hand engraving is also done at this stage by David Hacker. “As with many of my colleagues I have worked for the company for several decades after following in my father’s footsteps into the trade.” Each piece is then hand ﬁnished before being plated. Imperfections left at this stage are amplified by the plating process so again the eye and judgment of the craftsman is essential. A little like a witch’s kitchen, the plating shop is full of all sorts of substances bubbling away. Whatever the ﬁnish, the piece must be clean before each plating process and thus many of the stages in the plating shop involve cleaning the piece in an ultrasonic bath with detergents, acids, alkalis, and clean water. If a warm gold is needed, a substrate of copper is typically used, and if a bright gold, nickel. Ten the gilding, gold or silver, is plated on top. Next, if required, artists enamel the piece. Vitreous enamel is powdered coloured glass in suspension and the craftswomen hand-paint it on to the piece.
“We often apply many layers to get the right depth of colour,” explained Brenda Davis. “Between each layer we ﬁre the piece over an open ﬂame so we can see exactly what’s happening; there is little difference between the melting point of the glass and silver, and a kiln lacks the sensitivity required. Cheap enamels have neither the translucency nor the hardness we can achieve.” In parallel to the metalwork, ribbon is woven on traditional Jacquard looms. Master Weaver, John Jenkins explained: “We could easily use a computerized modern loom but the difference in the quality of the ribbon would be marked, and customers deserve the best.”
“We’re probably the biggest manufacturer of medal ribbon,” continued Neil Halford Weaving Shop Manager. “We have thousands of record cards for all the ribbons we make for customers all over the world and each one acts as a shade standard. We weave each ribbon from yarn that has been pre-dyed and is matched to a specific standard colour. This is the only way to be certain the colour is consistent both with what has gone before and throughout the roll. This consistency is impossible to achieve with the cheaper method of weaving the ribbon from undyed yarn and then dying it in a vat.”
“Once we’ve woven the ribbon and inspected it by eye to ﬁnd and deal with any snags, we watermark it, giving it a real lustre. “The different components of the ﬁnal jewel are then brought together in the mounting shop. The rings and ﬁttings are soldered on by the craftspeople at their own jeweller’s bench. Finally Barbara Frost ribbons the piece. “Getting this right is important or the whole effect of the piece is spoiled. I have been ribboning medals and regalia for many years and believe I can recognize a medal I have ribboned.” Finally the jewels are carefully packed and dispatched. “We know people own and wear their jewels with pride and so we take great care, from the ﬁrst telephone call to the ﬁnal dispatch of the product,” concluded Nick Ellwood. “We are proud of our reputation for manufacturing high quality hand crafted jewels and regalia and while we introduce new techniques and technologies as appropriate, we are always mindful to preserve it.”