Silver Succulent Jewelry

How It’s Made

Ever geek out on those “how-it’s-made” kinda shows? Me too! Have you ever wondered how a near exact replica of an object is recreated in sterling silver? If you answered ‘yes’ again, keep reading to see how these beautiful sterling silver succulents are made. 

Silver Succulent Earrings

Silver Succulent Earrings

 By using an ancient process called Lost Wax Casting, or Investment Casting, plants are transformed into sterling silver. When casting succulents, the process begins with the actual plant itself. 

 Did you know succulents will propagate from individual leaves?

Pretty cool, right? you can pluck the leaves from clippings, or from the parent plant. Either way will work.

 Place clippings and leaves, with the cut end facing up, on a dish filled with fast-draining soil. And then place the dish in direct sunlight for about 3 days, or until you see callouses form over the ends. Once this happens, use a spray bottle to moisten the soil, but not soak it. You should repeat this step whenever the soil is dry, roughly every 4-5 days. Six or seven weeks after starting the propagation process, the baby succulents will be ready to sprue and cast.

 What the heck is a sprue?

 Great question. The first step in casting is to sprue up whatever it is you’re casting, in this case, the succulents. Essentially, a sprue is like a stem, made of wax. Each succulent is attached to the sprue by heating and melting bits of wax. 

Once all of the succulents are securely attached (you don’t want anything moving or fall off), a flask is carefully placed over the entire sprue tree. It’s important that the succulents don’t touch or come too close to the sides of the flask. Next, water is mixed with a powdered substance called investment, and poured into the flask. The investment contains silica, which is toxic to inhale, thus the stylish dust mask.

Pouring investment into the flask

Pouring investment into the flask

 The investment needs to dry completely before moving on to the next step. This takes about 2-hours. Once dry, the flask is placed into the kiln for the burnout. Depending on the size of the flask, and number of pieces being cast, the burnout can take anywhere from 3-12 hours. During the burnout process the kiln will get up to 1350-degrees.

What exactly is a “burnout”? Essentially, every piece attached to the sprue, including the succulents and all of the wax, will melt, creating cavities where the molten metal will flow. 

 Playing with fire!

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 Here comes the really fun part. Using a torch with a giant flame, the sterling silver is melted in a crucible, until it transforms from solid metal to liquid. Once the metal is completely melted, and the brightest silver you’ve ever seen, it’s GO time! Take a deep breath (and say a little prayer to the “casting gods”) and pour the molten silver into the flask sitting on a special vacuum machine. If all of the previous steps have been done correctly, the molten silver will flow and fill all of the cavities entirely.

 The flask is then quenched in water to dissolve and knock loose all of the investment, and a final check of the pieces is done to be sure the silver flowed into all of the cavities completely, with no holes or gaps. 

 Designing with the handmade sterling silver succulents

Tiny Silver succulents

Tiny Silver succulents

 Next, each tiny sterling silver succulent is cut off of the sprue (which is now silver, and not wax), and the metal gets some cleaning and light finishing. And finally, they’re ready to use! The possibilities are endless. I’ll use each sterling silver succulent to create beautiful rings, necklaces, earrings, and bracelets.

Special thanks to @silversmithnursery for allowing me to use a few of her process photos

Helen Stiver
Evolution of Design

Have you ever wondered how the ring on your finger or charm on your necklace came to be? Designing Jewelry is a detailed multi-step process.  Designers use many different techniques to get the idea from their imagination to the final finished piece.  My process may differ from others, some have additional skills that I have yet to learn.  Currently I am working on a new component to build on my current collection.  As the Lotus pond is always a source of inspiration, I went back to visit and take a few photos.

While I found the Dragonfly appealing I felt unsure about my ability to capture the lightness and magical feeling of the wings.  My next thought was to create a bird, however I felt the size would not be the right scale next to the Lotus flowers I currently have in the collection.  Finally I decided to create a Koi fish, always a popular character in the garden.  Koi are also a symbol of perseverance and overcoming obstacles, both important reminders that resonate with me.  Other characteristics associated with the koi include good fortune, prosperity, courage and ambition.

Once I identify my muse, I work on a few sketches until i'm happy with the shape and detail.  From this two dimensional design, I work with a 3D CAD designer.  This part of the process is a true collaboration requiring patience and clear communication.  After a few rounds a final file is created which is then sent to a 3D printer that produces a plastic model.  This model is used to help determine the size of the final piece and to place the sprues (a channel through which metal is poured into a mold).  The final part of the process involves a mold of the piece which is filled with recycled sterling silver, resulting in the finished piece.

Hope you've found this breakdown of my process interesting.  Would love to hear feedback, and answer any questions in the comments.  To be one of the select few to get first looks at the new creations including the Koi, join the Karma Collective, my monthly email newsletter.

A visit to Lotus Land

Lotus Land-a modern day Wonderland!

Ganna Walska's Lotus Land is a beautiful 37 acre botanical garden located in Montecito (near Santa Barbara), California.  There are approximately 20 distinct gardens featuring 3,000 different plants from around the world.  While this non-profit private garden is open to the public, reservations are required and only available mid February through mid November.  There are two docent led tours provided each day, Wednesday-Saturday only. 

On July 5th I had the pleasure of touring this vast garden for over two hours.  Arriving ten minutes early at the visitors entrance, I joined the other guests lined up in their cars anxiously waiting for the gates to open.  After confirming our reservation at the gate we slowly caravanned to the parking lot adjacent to the welcome area.  Here we were checked in, assigned to a docent and politely suggested to visit the restroom (no other public restrooms available during the tour).  While there were relatively 30-40 visitors, we were separated into several smaller groups of 8-10, this created a more intimate experience and provided more room for discussion with the docent.

As we began our tour the docent provided historical information on the property, pointed out specific flora and fauna, and shared detailed anecdotes.  While I had briefly visited the property a few months earlier as well as visited the website on several occasions, I was not prepared for overwhelming influx of sights, sounds, and smells.  Additionally, the temperature increased and decreased several times during our outing, reflective of the plants and trees around us.  

The docent mentioned early on the reasoning behind the winding path, to provide a sense of surprise around every corner.  Even without this explanation this simple planing in layout of the gardens was evident, provoking awe and wonder.  Although the name Lotus Land evokes a sense that the entire garden would be full of lotus ponds, this couldn't be further from the truth.  We were initially led past a vast row of various Japanese style pagodas, recently displaced from the Japanese Garden currently under renovation.  We meandered thru the Aloe Garden, past a calming reflection pool lined with abalone shell, then circled the Water Garden where the Lotus were beautifully beginning to bloom.  Of course I could have spent the entire day here, taking photos and admiring the source of my inspiration, however there was much more to see. 

A few quick twists and turns landed us in front of the main house on the property, interestingly not the actual residence of Madam Walska as she was said to prefer the more quaint and adjacent artist cottage.  By this time the next several gardens were a respite of shade on this extremely warm summer day.  A large grove of Dracaena, the Fern garden with an ancient California oak, and a temptation of the pool.  Next was the insectary, established to attract butterflies and bees, the orchard, with a lemon covered pergola and a walk thru an alley of olive trees.  

Now that we were sufficiently cooled off, it was back into the baking heat of the cactus garden.  This garden coves three-quarters of an acre, featuring 300 different species of cacti.  Sand covered paths wind around raised beds, leading to an elevated viewing terrace near the center of the garden.  A short distance away is the Topiary Garden which is next to a long and luscious green lawn that extends from the back of the main house.  Here a lovely collection of Bromeliad are displayed as well as featured further along in their own dedicated garden.  The Theatre Garden was explained as a favorite of the elementary students who visit throughout the school year.  After passing through the Shade Palm and Succulent gardens, our tour ended back where we began.  The quaint and impeccably curated gift shop, graciously featuring Charming Little Lotus Jewelry, was our last stop before leaving this wonderland.  

I hope you enjoyed this overview of Lotusland, and that it has inspired you to take a short drive up the coast to visit. In addition to this lovely garden there are several delicious dining options in downtown Montecito, perfect combination for a day trip!

Success! I have live Lotus plants!

Part Three

The hardest part of this process (growing my own lotus plants) has been waiting for them to blossom.  After planting the tubers in April, the plants began to sprout leaves less than 2 weeks later.  So exciting to see these first leaves unfurl but then a little let down as I waited several more weeks for more leaves to appear and grow.     

Finally, close to 8 weeks in to this project a bud appeared.  At this point I began feeding my lotus pond tabs, these small fertilizer pills are easily inserted into the mud at the center of the pot every week.  The second week of June, my very first full bloom!  

In total I was able to grow three buds in one pot, two grew into full flowers and sadly I broke the stem of the third.  While lotus are very strong, during the growth period they can be a bit fragile so take care.  Once fully open each flower lasted approximately 3-4 days, this is typical.  Watching this process has caused me to appreciate and see the beauty in each phase.  

I hope you have enjoyed this series and are inspired to grow your own lotus!  Feel free to leave questions in the comment section or suggestions for the next mini series.  Click here to see my lotus inspire jewelry.