Today, I am writing this article to give you my opinion on the jewelry classes I took in Paris. On the Internet, there are often course descriptions, but very little feedback.
My love of jewelry began with my small collection of silver and gold jewelry that my parents have given me since I was a child. It continued with JB, who gave me a ring on every wedding anniversary. In 2015, after he gave me all the rings I wanted (after 5 years of marriage, that’s starting to sound like a lot), I said to myself: “why not create my own jewelry”.
That’s when I started looking for jewelry design classes in Paris.
Despite the abundant supply, I finally had a hard time finding my teachers because :
- i only want to wear silver/gold jewelry, being allergic to other metals => no more costume jewelry classes
- i wear extremely fine jewelry, having small hands => exit the silver paste jewelry courses
- i want to work directly on the metal => Exit the silver paste jewelry or wax work
So, after doing a lot of research, I realized that I wanted to take courses where I had to work in front of the workbench, do soldering, and use rolled silver. Added to this was my lack of time (I was working a lot)….
So I have :
- evening classes (once a week) at Iris Hellen’s house
- followed a one-week internship with Thierry Grave
- bought equipment myself and paid for a place in a jewelry workshop on RTT days
I tell you all about it in this article:
First course at Iris Noir
Schedules: Monday to Friday, either in the morning (10H – 13H), in the afternoon (14H – 17H), or in the evening (18H – 21H) some days of the week.
More infos : on his Facebook page
Three-hour introductory session:
(ten classes): 550€
Materials & metal (brass) included
I came across Iris’s site, with whom I always keep in touch. She is a brilliant woman who left the financial world to set up her own workshop. She now gives classes, among other things, in the evenings, 6-9pm. Her studio is in Levallois, near my work at the time, and near the metro. Because of the work, I always arrived running around 18h20 🙂
Afraid I wouldn’t be good at it, I started with 3 hours of classes. Normally, the first class is to make a medal, but since I don’t wear big jewelry, I preferred to make a small cat-shaped ring, without soldering. Iris helped me make my ring idea come true and guided me step by step. Brass is provided and included in the price of the course, so my first ring was made of brass.
The 3 hours went by extremely quickly. I learned how to use the bocfil (a tool that looks like a saw, to cut metal). You can see on the picture that I cut the cat’s ear a bit too much. I was extremely slow to cut it, but we still managed to polish it all in time.
I liked my session so much that I opted for 5 more sessions at Iris. Every Monday I went to her workshop. She teaches classes with a minimum of 2 students and a maximum of 3 students at a time. There are always students who spend the whole year at her place, and it’s always going around. Usually on Monday evening, there is always at least one other person, so she never cancelled a class or said “I have no one for Monday evening”.
In spite of the small size of the workshop, it is very very well equipped, each student has his own handpiece, his workbench, there are even rolling mills, machines for enlarging rings, for polishing etc.. There is everything except to make cast iron (a task that does not interest me much).
First equipment purchased
Brass isn’t a material that I particularly like, it oxidizes quickly so she advises me to go and have my ring gilded by a gilder, something I have never done (for lack of time). So, to optimize my time and make my jewelry wearable right away, I asked her where I could buy money. There are “secret” addresses like that in Paris where only people in the trade know they exist.
That’s how I went to one of these secret addresses, give a kind of “password” before going through a double door (bank style), near the Métro des Arts & Métiers, to buy my first silver plaque. Iris gave me the instructions (size + thickness).
25€ all the same! Ouhlala, I didn’t think it was that expensive for a very small plate. But this is only the beginning of the expenses. It’s like all passions, like photography, and even sewing, when you want to do something good, right away, you want to equip yourself.
Knowing that I cut slowly, I preferred to make the cuts at home, buying a bocfil, blades of all sizes… and do the rest (welding, polishing …) at Iris to save time (already I always arrive late at home) and practice a little more at home. The result was not great without Iris because I am less demanding with myself than Iris is with me. So I closed my eyes on the “mistakes” when she would surely have asked me to do it again 😀 In any case, after a lot of sweat and pain, I was able to finalize and offer this keychain.
What has always touched me a lot is to see my hands all dirty and all black (because of the polishing) and to admire my beautiful jewelry, shining in my hands.
First weld with Iris
With the bocfil almost mastered, it’s time to move on to the first weld with a very thin 0.8mm ring (I refuse to wear something thicker). I think it is still my favorite ring among all the rings I could make. Simple, and the welding is particularly successful. You can’t see any trace of weld at all because it has been well filed and polished.
I did it very quickly (1h30 I think?) and the silver wire used cost me 1€!
Note: at Iris, there is only one welding station but it’s not awkward at all, it’s not like we have to spend 3 hours non-stop welding. So we only install there when we have a weld to do.
Here are my jewels realized after 5 other courses at her place.
Iris also offers courses in creating jewelry from wax, and this allows her to make even more sophisticated jewelry. I’ve seen her students create very intricate jewelry, with chatons or gem locations, and the setting is then given to a professional gem-setter. Other students work with gold, something I haven’t dared to do yet, given my low level.
Internship at Thierry Grave
5 days internship with Thierry Grave (6 hours of classes/day) : 750€ – equipment & silver plates included.
24 rue Durantin, 75018 Paris
Telephone: 06 09 68 35 00
more info: http: //thierry-grave.over-blog.com
After the classes at Iris, I started to like this activity a lot and wanted to spend a whole week making jewelry, to see if it’s a job I could be passionate about. If so, I might consider a reconversion. That’s how I went to Thierry, with whom I’m still in contact.
I took a week’s leave on purpose to do this internship in his 18th century workshop (not far from my home at that time).
Thierry, with his 40 years of experience, offers one-week internships in January – February and June-July each year. The rest of the time, he focuses on the creation of his annual collection.
At Thierry’s, all the tools are present. And as he also cuts stones, there are a lot of big machines.
The objective of this course is to do some engraving and closed crimping. Everything was provided (including money), even if I preferred to bring my bocfil to “work” it (like one makes his violin work).
Thierry noticed that I was not yet perfect in bocfil and welding so the first ring was a concentrate of bocfil & welding. I had to file, a lot a lot because I made some fire spots appear 🙁
The second ring was even harder: a lot, a lot of welding, shaping, and then the closed crimp that finished me off.
And last attempt for engraving (catastrophic!) which made me understand that I didn’t like engraving at all 🙂 The only thing I’m sure of is the “home-made” belly with pad-shaped holes.
I ENORMALLY liked this workshop. I was the only extra student, so Thierry spent a lot, a lot of time with me and didn’t allow me any mistakes. However, I understood how hard this job could be. Every second I wasn’t focused cost me dearly: a crooked cut, a trace on the metal… It isn’t possible for me, in the long run, to be concentrated on my workbench 8 hours a day.
While hanging out at Thierry’s, I saw other jewelers passing by and they were at the top of their game. I know that I will never be able to make it in this universe, being less gifted, less patient and less perfectionist. Also, in talking with everyone, I realized that it was very difficult to sell handmade jewelry, made from laminated metal… because jewelry made from cast iron is much cheaper and consumers see it as just fire. Even jewelry sold by luxury brands is no longer handmade.
However, I was very happy to realize this right away, before I tried a conversion and realized too late that it was finally not for me 🙂
A workshop at home
Then, I was promoted at work and I didn’t have time to run to Iris’ house or to spend a week at Thierry’s. I was promoted at work and I had no more time to run to Iris’ house or to spend a week at Thierry’s house. I decided to equip myself as much as possible, while being reasonable (because I had other equipment for other passions, like sewing, paper flowers, knitting, photography….) and it starts to cost.
For the handpiece, I went to the Bijorhca show (Thierry kindly offered me an entrance ticket) and I inquired about first price handpieces. Not only there is no pedal (to adjust the speed, you had to turn a knob) but it cost a blind: 250€. I sulked and bought stones instead.
So, in the meantime, I signed up for the “Ankle Jewelry” forum and searched the entire forum. I finally opted for :
- the first price Dremel kit 70€
- a pedal bought at Amazon USA (delivered to my host during my trip to Chicago) at 30$ to adjust the speed
My handpiece was a little bit big, but it was enough for me.
And finally, I bought enough to transform my dining table into a temporary workbench.
The welding corner was made possible with a small device more suitable for making crème brûlée than welding. But it worked!
I had some pro borax, but after each soldering, instead of soaking the jewels in an acid solution (risking killing myself), I just left the jewels in a mixture of vinegar and salt. I try to keep the chemicals at home to a minimum, not knowing where to keep them, and not knowing where to throw them away either.
I have to tell you that everything that came out of my home studio was super ugly. So don’t ask me for the pictures!
The creator’s workshops: renting a workbench
Bench Rental Rates :
per day 25 € TTC (access to the workbenches from 9:00 am to 5:30 pm) to the
evening 13 € TTC (from 6:00 pm to 9:30 pm on Monday and Friday on reservation)to
the month 450 € TTC
Day of class with a pro: 100€
Near subway Art & Métier
More info: http: //lesateliersducreateur.blogspot.com/p/horaires-et-tarifs.html
Then, I got tired of my very low-end gear, which didn’t allow me to go fast enough. So I rented a workbench for the day in a workshop. There is only the borax provided on site, some welding equipment (camels, a mini welding board…), and a motor for the handpiece. All this for 25€/day.
So I brought all my gear and spent several RTTs there, working alongside other professional jewelers, on a trip to Paris and not wanting to spoil a day’s work. We didn’t talk too much because everyone was focused. But everyone was very nice to me, lending me some missing equipment. The big boss (the “master”, as other jewellers call him) I never saw him, but I got him by SMS and he was always very nice every time.
I think if I knew that, I wouldn’t have bothered to buy my dremel and all the welding equipment. I would have just bought a handpiece (without the motor) to be connected to the workshop motor, the small welding pliers, come with my wire, my small polishing materials (sandpaper etc.) and that would have been enough. It would have cost me less time and energy to come here instead of trying to create a workshop at home.
The workshop is super super super well equipped !!! You can do everything here, there is a cast iron space, not for wax, but to make ingots. I brought all my jewelry there to clean it thoroughly in the ultrasonic machine 😀 I must admit I had a great time!
Here, I self-made some crimpings, my teachers would have yelled at me if they saw the level !!! But I like to be rebellious from time to time 😉 I have to admit that I don’t have the level to be autonomous yet, but I loved being able to practice within the limit of my available time.
My advice if you want to get started
It is an expensive passion so before committing yourself to it, I advise you to do 3 hours of classes to test your motivation but also your dexterity.
Then, don’t make the same mistakes I made, don’t try to create a workshop at home right away, we’re quickly leaving in monstrous sums.
I advise you, if you ever want to train at home: a peg vice (20€), a peg (5€), a bocfil (20€) and the different sizes of blades (10€).
When you feel able to do everything yourself (i.e. when you really have a very good level, not like me), I advise you not to buy any machine, but rather to go to a workshop. For that, you have to buy :
- a handpiece (not the motor) : about 100€
- an intermediate level jewelry tool kit (at Cookson Clal for example), with files, hammers, ruler, pliers… it costs 107€
- a soldering tool kit (just the clamps, brush, and soldering blocks), it costs about 100€
- emery paper, polishing tips, forests: for about 30€
Here are the books, forums, sites & YouTube channels that I like a lot and that helped me a lot:
- Jewelry: art and techniques
- L’orfèvrerie : art et techniques
- YouTube channel of the jeweler Michel Zimmermann: very detailed explanation, with diagrams
- YouTube channel of the jeweler Pablo Cimadevila: he doesn’t explain anything, sometimes he speaks in English, sometimes in Spanish, but his work is really clean (even zoomed, ohlala, the precision of his gestures!)
- Forum Ankle Jewelry: a lot of exercises for beginners, forum administered by Mr. Zimmermann himself
Finally, I wish you to kiffer as I enjoyed each of my hours spent filing, welding, creating … even if my jewelry isn’t yet perfect, they help me to better appreciate the work, to understand and admire the technicality behind each jewelry.