There are so many wedding details to coordinate that often the wedding bands get overlooked. After the wedding day, the bands are one of the only things--besides the marriage, of course--that stays with you. In making this element of the wedding special, I heard about The Den in Toronto and knew it would be very "us" if we made them ourselves. After all, weddings should reflect your personalities.
The Den is an art studio in Toronto that offers jewellery workshops, studio space for artists and private events. You can spend an afternoon in a workshop or rent studio space to make wedding bands, engagement rings and necklaces and they walk you through every step. It really is a "playground for grown-ups." Playing with fire, hammering things and finessing them to make your own special creation is definitely fun. All you need is basic hand-eye coordination, relatively good eye sight, creativity and the desire to make something with your hands.
The price of the workshop is approximately $380 per couple for a private lesson or $298 for a group lesson plus the cost of the materials depending on the price of gold. We chose 14 karat white gold. Overall, with the workshop included, the rings cost about $450 each, which is pretty good compared to some the prices I saw in stores. When we got there, the other participants hadn't shown up, so our original group lesson ended up being a private lesson. The studio vibe is relaxed and the instructors are wonderful and make you feel at ease even when you slip up or cut your finger open with a saw like I did. I knew that I would somehow end up injuring myself.
I saw some beautiful rings in the stores I looked in, but we knew we wanted simple, matching gold bands. One jewellery store salesperson told me that matching wedding bands are not in style anymore, so I was a little disappointed. Nowadays, bride's rings are more ornate and sometimes even bigger than the engagement ring. For my personality, I wanted something simple, special and a little bit different. We also had some gold and jewellery passed down from Mike's Grandmother that we wanted to incorporate. For this workshop, we decided to stick with making the plain bands and then add to them with stones or other golds on various anniversaries or later on--when we have more practice.
First we picked the style, width and texture. I wanted a smooth edged, somewhat thin band with a plain, smooth finish. There are also the options for textured, flat bands and different types of metal, including sterling silver, yellow and rose gold. The ring started as a strip of gold known as a "blank." The instructor--who has a lot more experience than we do--then saws the piece to the right size to fit our ring sizes.
Then we stamped letters on the inside of the blank using a letter stamping kit and a hammer. The letters aren't completely straight because you do them by hand and it was the first thing we did; however, I like the quirkiness and style of the stamped letters. We stamped our initials on the inside ("L.D - M.P"). There is also the option to send it to an engraver beforehand or get something custom made by the studio. Our wedding is a week away, so that wasn't an option. Speaking of deadlines, before we booked the class, we made sure we would walk out of the studio that day with the rings.
You use hand tools to first bend the blank into a "U" shape and then the sides over into almost a "G" shape. There is a lot of muscle work involved in bending the gold. Sometimes they use heat to soften the metal a little bit as seen in the photo above. This is called "annealing." Then you have to get the sides to line up and meet. Once they meet together, you "solder" it together. When the gold is heated up, it turns a neat red colour that makes it look like it's glowing. They assured us that the gold wouldn't melt--even with the glowing heat--because gold needs to get to at least about 1000C to melt.
During the process, they also dunk the rings into a "pickle," which is a mild acid solution that removes oxidation from the metal. To solder the ends together, you take a tiny piece of gold (called a "solder chip") and place it on the area where the ends meet. Then you melt the gold together so the ends are seamless. After a bit of forming, sanding and polishing the ends are not even visible and you can't even tell where the ring starts and ends.
Using a ring mandrel, you then form it into a little more of a ring shape by using some good old fashioned muscle power. You strike the metal against the mandrel to form it into more of a straight circle and smooth out any irregularities. The process is also great for relieving any wedding-related stress. The owner of The Den, Kristen (pictured below) walked us through each step and told us both not to be afraid of smashing it!
After some more filing with a hand file on the inside, outside and sides, it starts to look more like an actual ring. The filing is a smooth, downward motion instead of how you would normally file your nails back and forth. It is also important to rotate the piece while you work on it, so everything stays even and smooth.
Then it's a matter of pre-polishing it before the final cleanup. We used emery paper attached to a spinning split mandrel that is reminiscent of a dentist's drill. It has a foot petal that you control for speed. You use the fast-spinning surface to polish the inside, outside and sides of the ring and remove any grit. I found holding the ring, pushing the foot petal and controlling the mandrel a little tricky at first. After a little practice, I was a regular one-man band. Then you take the ring to a polishing machine to spin it around in polishing "rouge" for a final buffing.
About three hours later after all of that work, you get a beautiful and shiny, new ring. Pro tip: To clean rings or jewellery add soap and baking powder together to form a paste and then scrub the jewellery with a toothbrush and a bit of the paste and rinse it off for an instant shine. The instructors are all trained in goldsmithing, metalwork and silversmithing and can explain the process in more depth themselves, so I highly recommend taking an afternoon to check it out. It was a great way to do something together, have fun and take our minds off of wedding planning. Since I've had a bandage on my finger all week after cutting it in the workshop, Mike has enjoyed telling people I cut my finger "goldsmithing." I will admit, it sounds pretty cool.
I have much more of an appreciation for jewellery and the process involved in making rings. I don't know what my next project will be. For now, I know I have a wedding ring I love and can tell everyone that I made.
After the workshop we went for dinner in Chinatown at "People's Eatery." It used to be a Chinese restaurant, but has since re-opened as a hip snack bar with a Chinese influence by former Top Chef Canada contestant Dustin Gallagher and the team behind "416 Snack Bar." It was great for having a few bites and a glass of wine after an afternoon working away on our rings.