Up-and-coming designer Evan deJonghe isn’t short on jewelry influences in his life: He is the son of award-winning jewelry designer Dennis deJonghe of deJonghe Original Jewelry in Saratoga Springs, New York. Growing up around gold and gemstones obviously influenced Evan, who started his own brand, Evan Maxwell Design, in 2014.
While perusing his family’s collection of gemstones one day, deJonghe came across a 17.35-carat boulder opal. “The opal stood out because of the awesome patterns of colors within the stone—the way the colors work and the shape of the overall stone were the driving forces in the design,” he says. He decided to create a statement piece that would showcase his skills, and show “who I am as a designer,” he says.
DeJonghe sat down to sketch with a few ideas in mind. First, he wanted the piece to be “a little different”: to hang in a nontraditional way and be “crooked on purpose,” as deJonghe describes. Next, he knew he wanted to feature 18k yellow gold in the piece. “I think 18k gold looks great with almost any opal because it complements the colors very well,” he explains.
Additionally, he wanted to add gems that would play off the blue-green colors of the opal. Wanting to make the “colors of the opal flow out of the stone like a waterfall right into the other gems,” he immediately thought of Paraiba tourmalines for their complementary color.
Next, he decided that creating two separate gold pieces—a top and bottom connected with setting bars behind the opal—would create the effect of the opal floating between the yellow gold. It would also allow him to attach a round, bezel-set 3 mm Paraiba tourmaline beside the opal, so it appeared to be floating as well.
With his design in mind, it was time to sit down at the bench. DeJonghe chose to hand-carve wax for the top and bottom gold pieces because he felt it would allow for better precision and a “perfect fit” around the opal. His artistic mission is to combine old techniques with new technologies, and while he agrees that certain pieces require CAD, he wanted to keep this piece hand-carved. “I’m lucky enough to have grown up with a renowned jewelry designer as my father, who only hand-carves waxes,” he explains. “It’s important to me to maintain what is becoming a lost art.”
He started by melting wax onto the opal in the exact place he envisioned the 18k gold pieces to be. He then built up the wax and began to refine the lines, carving the shape of the wax.
Using sterling silver stock as a model for the setting bars, he then practiced connecting the two wax sections with the setting bars. “It was challenging because I had to be exact with my placement [of the sections] and take into account the shrinkage factor after casting the top and bottom sections in 18k gold,” he says.
Once the carvings were complete, he removed the separate wax pieces from the opal and sent them to be cast. After he received the castings, he used a bur to manually clean up the insides so the opal would fit perfectly. He then flush-set six Paraiba tourmalines in the bottom gold section.
Next, he made sure the setting bars, which he fabricated from 18k yellow gold stock, would connect exactly as he had modeled with the silver. Using a laser, he first welded both bars to the top section before welding the bezel-set tourmaline to one of the bars. “At this step, the setting bars were essential because without them, there would have been no place to attach the Paraiba tourmaline to maintain the floating effect of the piece,” says deJonghe.
The design also features a hidden, bezel-set yellow diamond on the underside of the bottom gold section. The yellow diamond, which was not in his original design, again speaks to deJonghe’s ability to embrace his influences. While creating the wax mold, he decided to hollow out the bottom to save on weight. “My father said, ‘Why don’t you put a diamond in there?’” deJonghe says. “That’s his contribution to the piece. It’s special to me because although it is my pendant and my design, he plays such a large role in my life.”
After all the smaller gems were placed, deJonghe set the opal by welding the setting bars to the bottom gold section. He then applied a satin finish “to make the opal and gems stand out more and to add more warmth to the gold,” he explains. He attached a split gold chain as the finishing touch.
The challenge of practicing these techniques, from the hand-carved waxes and the setting bars to the use of laser technology, informs this designer’s future designs as he expands his repertoire and uncovers his own stylistic choices. “I’m working to establish my own style as I’m discovering my abilities, talents, and design as an artist,” he explains. “But this piece will definitely play a role in achieving that. With this piece, I can say, ‘Yes, this was successful. Now, how can I take this piece and continue my success?’"
This pendant is an MJSA Vision Award winner for 2014. Since 1990, the Vision Awards have recognized the best in jewelry making and design, showcasing the work of professionals and students alike, and that tradition still holds true today.
This article was written by Shawna Kulpa, and originally published in MJSA Journal.