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18 July 2016

Creating a replica of the mystery object

Over the last few years, Birmingham Museums Trust has been working with Birmingham City University to create replicas for display and handing. Currently we are working on the mystery object; it is in the final phase of creation. In this blog Clare from Resin8 discusses her part of the process:

Image 1: Comparing photograph of the original with the JIIC created form so resin ‘garnets’ can be added

Jewellery making has been a big part of my life for over 40 years and I still get a lot of pleasure from new projects and designs. In the past I have made many unusual things such as a set of jewellery for the Monty Python team, a ring for a bishop and a secret project for the Royal Mint, which involved adding resin to some large coins. I have taught classes at Birmingham City University Summer School and, through this connection, I was delighted to be asked to help with the Staffordshire Hoard replica pieces for Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery.

Image 2: Other work created by Clare

When creating a replica, my involvement starts when the first metal samples are made.  I view the original objects, along with the samples, to get an idea of the colour I need to re-create with resin.  Once the full metal copies are made and gilded I then start work on filling the cells with resin “garnets”.

It is my job to give the look of the garnet inserts in the original mystery items. The original is very badly misshapen so it would be almost impossible to cut a real garnet to fit the deformed shape, not to mention extremely costly. The beauty of epoxy resin is that it is so versatile and can be made to look like real gemstones.

In order to match up the colours, I spent some time at the museum and got to handle the three original objects that make up the mystery item- very exciting and nerve-wracking. It was fascinating to see the work going on behind the scenes and I was so impressed with the dedication of everybody involved, at the museum and the Jewellery Industry Innovation Centre.

Image 3: making the resin the correct tone to match the original garnets

Matching the colour of real gemstones is the greatest challenge.  It takes patience and a keen eye to colour match real gemstones to ensure that you have the right depth of colour, and the right level of translucency.

I use epoxy resin (a two-part system of resin and hardener) coloured with transparent pigments.  It is applied using highly technical tools such as cocktail sticks and lollipop sticks!  Some of the cells are left empty to be filled with dirt (as per the original pieces) and the finishing touches will be applied right at the end of the creation.  Some of the broken cells are copied in the metalwork, and the surfaces of the new resin garnets will be dulled with dirt from the field where the pieces were found.  Working on the mystery pieces was different from making jewellery as it is replication, rather than designing and creating a new piece of jewellery, but equally as fun and even more challenging.

Every section has to have 3 or 4 layers of resin applied to it, each of which needs to be fully cured over a 24 hour period before the next layer is added. Doing it this way enables me to create the depth of colour, angled surfaces and finish required for as close a copy as possible to the original. The many angles in the large mystery object, and the fact that resin is liquid, means that it can’t be completed in one go.  Each time a resin layer is added the piece needs to be turned and twisted to re-create the correct angles.

I have been using resin for years and have written magazine articles, I teach resin techniques at my workshop and other venues, I demonstrate on TV and I have written a book ‘Resin Jewellery’. Samples of my work can be seen on our website and you can follow us on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest and Instagram.

Clare John