The Teton Range is the featured horizon line on this belt buckle. I made this for a customer who wanted a very special graduation present for her Wyoming son. It is all sterling silver with elk ivory highlights.
To get a nice an accurate mountain range line I printed out some photos of the teton range, chose my favorite and sized it to the ballpark size I needed for the buckle. I used this line as a guide to trace a good ridgeline onto silver sheet. Instead of making a straight bottom line I decided to make a curving line to mirror the feel of the winding Snake River that flows beneath the Grand Teton Range.
My customer had requested a rope-like border on the buckle so I twisted together two lengths of silver wire, shaped those into an oval and slightly hammered that flat. I soldered the mountains and border to another sheet of silver. Meanwhile I cut and polished two elk ivories that she had provided and built the settings for them.
Once I had soldered the mountains and border on the buckle I flipped it over and set that into warm “pitch” so that I could hammer the back and dome out the front. I think belt buckles in this style look nice if there is a slight dome to them.
Once that was finished I flipped the buckle over and added texture around the mountains and river so that the main part of the image would visually pop out. Then I sawed away the extra silver on the edges, soldered the ivory settings to the front and a hook and loop to the back, and set the stones into place.
So I’m super excited about a new turn in my jewelry making. I’ve aquired some rock cutting equipment and am learning lapidary skills. I’ve always used regional turquoise from Nevada, Colorado, Arizona and New Mexico and have been wanting to increase my regional offerings so last year I introduced jade sourced from Wyoming. To get hyper-local I figured I would be interesting to start cutting some of the stones I find while hiking here in my own county, Sublette County.
Sublette County is a huge piece of land and mostly public land. It’s amazingly beautiful and varied in geography. We have high sage-brush desert in the southern half of the county and large granite mountains in the north. A lot of the land was carved by glaciers during the ice age so there are large boulders and glacial moraines at the base of the high peaks of the Wind River Range. The desert used to be a vast ocean and is part of the Green River Formation. People find all sorts of cool fossils in Wyoming and Sublette County and south is no exception. If you go a little farther south from Sublette County you get to Kemmerer, Wyoming, a small town known for the Green River fossils, millions of little fish fossils (below is a photo of one I have in my kitchen) as well as palm fronds, prehistoric crocodiles and birds.
The jade in Wyoming is found in the center of the state near Lander and Casper and it varies in greens to pitch black that shines up like a mirror. I love the jade found here and this is especially one of the reasons I am beginning my lapidary journey; I want to cut unusual shapes for my jewelry. Besides jade we have quite a bit of interesting agate and jasper of varying patterns and colors. So now that the snow is melting I can go rockhounding with pals, what a good time.
(fossilized algae with the corner polished up)
By the way…an interesting thing about the word ‘lapidary’… it comes from the Latin word for rock: ‘lapis’. You hear ‘lapis’ used for Lapis Lazuli is a popular blue stone, often found in Afghanistan, and that name simply means Stone Blue (lazuli coming from the word ‘azure’).
Summer passes quickly at 7,000′ above sea level, we’ve had snow on our mountain tops this week and a very rainy August.
In the shop I have been busy splitting my time between jewelry making and working on a public sculpture for the In|site:Ex|site, Pinedale Fine Arts Council’s public arts program. I am drawing inspiration for the granite peaks of the Wind River Range and mixing in my love of gemology to create a beautiful outdoor sculpture. Granite is compromised of quartz, feldspar and mica; each of those minerals has its own shape, habit and color. While the colors of the feldspar can vary from one mountain range to the next, ours is a pinkish color. When you go up into the mountains here with eyes pointed towards picking out the minerals, the granite proves super interesting. You can see lines of black mica flakes, jumbles of quartz, and chunky facets of feldspar.
(veins of black mica within the quartz and feldspar, spotted colors of pink feldspar and white quartz)
Earlier in the month I had the good fortune to get into the mountains for five days. I went backpacking to the base of some of these enormous peaks so that I could look at this granite up close. I brought a couple of small samples back with me.
(above, vein of golden mica flakes within the quartz)
(rugged Wind River Range peaks are solid granite rock)
Now I am in my workshop laminating together large blue foam sheets so that I can carve the shapes for the sculpture. I will use these pieces for molds and innards of some of the shapes. It’s all a new process for me and I’m using new materials so the learning curve is pretty steep. As usual I am finding that good tools and experienced advice from other artists can help alleviate some of those difficulties.