Kintsugi in Metal: “A Lasting Beauty Born out of Brief Destruction”

*The quote in the title is from Becky Chambers’ novel, A Prayer for the Crown-Shy

This is an excerpt from one of the articles about my process title Precious Damage in MJSA by Tina Snyder from 2020:

““One of the key realizations I made when first looking into this project was that others had made jewelry to mimic Kintsugi, but the cracks their designs employed were contrived and unrealistic,” he says. “I sought metal that I could crack and then ‘repair’ with gold, as well as metal that I could blacken that would be suitable for jewelry and remain dark with wear.”

“…Gibeon meteorite. “I make a lot of meteorite rings,” he says. “It’s not ideal when they crack—but in this case, it was actually perfect.”

Timberlake began by fabricating an 18k gold liner from 26-gauge sheet to the correct finger size. He then put a slice or slab of meteorite through a rolling mill without annealing to encourage cracking. Next he carved a donut shape out of the nickel-iron meteorite that fit precisely over the liner, leaving almost no gap between the two where he will later solder them together. He then hammered it on a mandrel, again without annealing, causing yet more cracks, jagged, natural-looking cracks, to grow and break the ring apart in three pieces. “It’s pretty brittle, so if you don’t hot roll or hot forge, it’s prone to crack.”

The next technical challenge was fusing the 18k gold into the cracks. “Soldering gold to meteorite is tricky,” he says. An article on soldering stainless steel with black flux by James Binnion proved instrumental in the success of this ring.

“The black flux doesn’t burn off as fast as white paste flux, and it shields the metal for longer,” says Timberlake. “It prevents the iron from oxidizing up until the point where the gold flows.”

With the ring assembled and finished, Timberlake blackened the meteorite by heating it and dropping it into machine oil—a trick he learned from his blacksmith friends. A treatment with Renaissance wax sealed the color in, and the precious damage was complete.”

Here are some of the early thoughts on Kintsugi (most of which are covered in her piece): The ring is composed of Gibeon meteorite and 18kt yellow gold. The goal was to make a ring with realistic cracks of yellow gold in a dark gray or black metal. One of the key realizations I made when first looking into this project was that others had made jewelry to mimic kintsugi (the japanese technique of repairing b oken pottery with gold lacquer) but that the cracks their designs employed were contrived and unrealistic. I sought metal that I could crack and then “repair” with gold as well as metal that I could blacken that would be suitable for jewelry and remain dark with wear. I did experiments with 5 different metals and found that only nickel-iron meteorite would work and it cracked beautifully (at one point I considered purchasing liquid nitrogen to in order to crack titanium).  My next technical challenge was to fuse 18kt yellow gold into the cracks. Soldering to meteorite is tricky but something I’d done before. This, however, was quite a bit more challenging. I wear-tested the final product for a few months before custom making the first ring for a client. I know employ this Japanese-inspired technique in many types of jewelry as well as making custom wedding bands.