14K gold flower earrings with garnet centre made by Julius Cornelius.

People have been using gold to make jewellery for over 6,000 years. The physical and chemical properties of gold make it an ideal metal with which to create jewellery. Because gold is very ductile and malleable it can be beaten into fine sheets of gold leaf or pulled into fine wires. It requires little or no heat to accomplish this.

Gold is also chemically inactive, which means it is not affected by moisture, oxygen or even regular acids. What does that mean? It means gold will not tarnish or rust like other metals.

Nova Scotia Goldsmiths

There is no indication that the Mi’kmaq used gold, so in Nova Scotia the story of goldsmithing starts more recently. In 1605, Pierre du Gua de Monts, Lieutenant General of Acadia, was charged to “search for mines of gold and silver, to make them to be […] drawn from the earth, purified and refined for to be converted into use” and to “take with him suitable artisans” to carry out these projects. While metal smiths came with these early explorers, there are no records that native Nova Scotia gold was found or used in any quantity.

Large gold brooch and earring set with the name “Mary” set in stone on the brooch.

Earrings & Brooch set, c.1858 made by John MacCulloch, Halifax as a wedding present for his wife, Mary Jane Kerr.

NSM: 2004.8.8a-d

However, Halifax was a major shipping hub and that meant imported gold was readily available even before it was discovered in the province and goldsmiths and gilders were in demand from early days. Goldsmith Isaac Grandon was one of the first settlers in Halifax in 1749. Another talented fine jewellery artist, John McCulloch, came to Halifax from Glasgow in 1837. Once gold mining began, the generous supply of native gold attracted a number of European-trained goldsmiths to Nova Scotia.

Perhaps the most artistic and skillful designer of that time was Julius Cornelius. Born in Germany in 1825, Cornelius attended the Berlin Academy of Art where he won the King’s medal for design. He worked as a goldsmith and jeweller in Berlin, Paris, London, Boston and at Tiffany’s in New York before coming to Halifax in 1855. Cornelius opened a jewellery store in downtown Halifax on Granville Street. He favoured Nova Scotia gold, minerals such as amethyst and quartz, and often featured Nova Scotian themes in his work. He was particularly fond of representing the mayflower, our provincial flower.

Gold, oval “scarab” locket.

Scarab locket made by Julius Cornelius. Brass and gold, dated c.1870

NSM History Collection: 87.92.4

Gold pendent in the shape of a cross with mayflowers twining around it, with a pearl in the centre-most flower.

Cross pendant made by Julius Cornelius. Gold mayflower motif, with pearls from Oyster Pond, NS.

NSM History Collection: 60.20.4c

Oval gold brooch set with garnets.

Gold and garnet brooch made by Julius Cornelius.

NSM History Collection: 72.43.1

After briefly working in partnership with William Herman Newman, Cornelius then operated as an independent jeweller in downtown Halifax from 1857-1905, making jewellery and shooting competition medals.

Contemporary Jewellery Designers

Contemporary Nova Scotia artists have less native gold available to them than their counterparts during the gold rushes and the processing of mined gold is most frequently done outside of the province. Metal artists now can buy the desired purity of gold (measured in karats) and particular alloy mixes from supply houses.

Gold band ring where the ends overlap instead of meeting in the centre.

Faulted: Aurum Infinity Ring, 2011. 14K gold.

Locusart Jewellery Designs

Want to see how this ring was made?

Check out the following series of videos with Nova Scotia jewellery designer Emily Seaboyer. Or, you can watch the full video on YouTube at:

Making a Gold Ring, Part 1: Starting a Band Ring

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My name is Emily Seaboyer. I own and operate Locusart Jewellery Designs right here in Nova Scotia. I am a jewellery designer. I work specifically with silver and gold of all carats.

When you're studying jewellery design at university and that becomes your major, the very first project you learn to make is a very humble band ring. But I find it's the artist's interpretation - or the artist's ability, rather - to interpret a band ring and to make it their own by adding design interest, is what will separate it from the very basic, the very beginner projects, to something that is truly beautiful.

So, the first thing we're going to do is start with a larger piece of stock. This is about twice the size of what we actually need, and I'm using what's called a "mitre box" or a "tube cutter" to accurately file one end so everything is just so.

So I'm just filing off the very smallest amount of surface area so that I can get a flat edge. Never, ever want to waste any gold because it costs far too much money.

And when this edge is perfectly flush, it gives us a straight edge to work with.

So I pre-measured the length, in case you were wondering why this is quicker than it should be.

Making a Gold Ring, Part 2: Preparing the Ring Stock

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The ring I'm making today is created using a fabrication method, which means I'm using entirely hand tools, as opposed to any kind of casting equipment. This is a jeweller's saw, a very tiny version of a coping saw.

When we finish sawing, you're left with a very, very clean line, with the exception of one edge where the metal has been pulled apart. I've left approximately half millimetre margin between the line where the measurement will be filed and where it's been sawn, so that way it will have the absolutely perfect edge to work with.

If these first steps aren't done with absolute precision, then the entire ring will follow suit, and none of the measurements will be accurate. I use a coarse file to get rid of the bulk of metal, and then a finer file to prepare it for any soldering or fabrication.

So now our ring stock is roughed out and prepared.

Making a Gold Ring, Part 3: Bending the Ring

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This is a ring bender. For the first three years of training in jewellery design, they don't even tell you that there is such a thing as a ring bender. You do all of this by hand.

So when you're roughing out a ring, you start with the largest setting and work your way down as necessary. Now this band will be a size seven. And we just get started very carefully with one end.

With square stock, it's especially important and sometimes difficult to make sure that the stock is exactly as it should be in the ring bender, so that it's not twisted in any way. Otherwise, your final product will be twisted.

You bend it through in tiny little increments to avoid any extra marring or marking during this process.

The different stocks will come in different … will be available in different alloys. Yellow gold is commonly available in 14 carat, 10 carat, 14 carat, 18 carat, sometimes 22 carat.

Now, as I work with this gold as well, it becomes harder and harder. So I'm hoping because this fabrication process is a relatively simple one, we won't need to go through the extra step of annealing the metal - warming it and softening it. So, because we've been working with this gold to some degree, it's becoming work-hardened and we have a nice curve.

Making a Gold Ring, Part 4: Perfecting the Shape

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Each end of the band ring would normally - in a classic, straightforward, design, you would want those to meet perfectly in the centre. For this design, we're going to have them overlap by four millimetres, and because we’ve got this nice spring here, I can pull the band - the two ends of the band - across one another, and so it gives us the tension we need and holds the two pieces closer together. So now I'll continue to bend the ring and prepare it for where we want it to be for soldering.

The ring is still very much oval-shaped, so we'll need to work on that too.

So we've got the overlap we need with this ring and a certain amount of tension, so what I'll do is work with hand tools just for a little bit to make sure the end pieces are round. They need to be on the same curve as the rest of the band. Once it's been soldered, I'll hammer it on a mandrel to make sure that everything is perfect.

So what I'm doing right now is using ring bending pliers, which are curved on one side, and I'm just using these to tighten up the ends of this ring, and to get them in the right position for soldering.

What happens when we're bending our metal is that it gets a lot of oils and grease on it from your hands, from your skin, and that needs to be cleaned off. Otherwise the solder won't flow properly during that process. What I'm doing is cleaning it in a very mild acid solution in what we refer to as a "pickle pot". This is a really mild solution and quite safe. It works better when it's warm.

Making a Gold Ring, Part 5: Soldering

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What I'm doing here is cutting my solder. Now this is 14 carat yellow gold solder, and I am cutting the solder into tiny little pallions. They're about a millimetre square and I'm cutting these into the lid of my flux container.

Flux is used to clean your metal to keep it from oxidizing during the heating and soldering process and it helps your solder to flow properly. Just paint the flux onto your solder so that it can be picked up easily with the solder pick.

So we'll do the same thing with our ring. I'll paint it entirely in flux to keep the metal from overheating. This is really, really important because when the metal overheats, it discolours.

You have to heat the entire piece overall, otherwise it will act as a heat sink and your solder won't flow in the right direction, in the right place, and you'll heat it until the flux bubbles and then becomes clear. Then you'll know it's ready to be soldered.

So I'm soldering the back of the seam. We never - or very rarely, I should say, never say never, but very rarely would you want to solder the top of a seam because sometimes the solder flows a little extra and clean-up is made easier on the inside; it keeps the outside of your band ring looking flush and seamless.

So I'll be using a rawhide mallet, that way we can shape the ring without marking the metal. And I'm using a steel mandril.

The ring is perfectly round now, we've taken out any imperfections, and it is ready for a pre-polish.

Making a Gold Ring, Part 6: Finishing Touches

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Our first line of finishing is complete.

Here's just filing each end of the band ring where they meet so that they're soft and fit comfortably and won't catch on any clothing or other objects.

We're ready to start with the next layer of finishing.

We use a rouge polish which is the finest and final step. When you're finishing a band ring, you can use any number of emery papers, files, Dremel tools to give you the desired finished results. This can be a process that requires a dozen steps, or in this case, three or four.

Choosing a finish that is compatible with the design is a very educated choice and it really depends on what you want your final results to look like.