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Stone, fine silver

Despite the last six years having seen more than its fair share of worry, more ill-health of some of the people most precious to me than I would wish on anyone, more distress, disturbance and distraction than the rest of my life put together has brought me, it has also been a time of great creativity and fruitfulness. Perhaps because of, rather than in spite of this awfulness; when certain parts of your life go so very awry through no fault of your own, it is solely your own responsibility to make damn sure that the rest of them compensate in some way. There’s no better way of coping that I know of.

2017 was the year that I came to accept that the common denominator in the string of failed relationships I’d had over the years was indeed me and perhaps I wasn’t really cut out for the long-term thing or perhaps even any kind of thing. It was also the year that I met Alison, the woman who was to become my wife in 2021 and who loyally remains so now. Whatever you chase runs away, and it is possibly one of life’s greater ironies that we often only discover what it is that we are looking for once we have given up hope of ever finding it. One of the universe’s fun little games.

At that time I had begun making a group of rings made from the pebbles from the same haul as those used for the Pestle and Ocean-going Craft series. There were some of a certain size, shape and – crucially – mass that I thought might feel meaningful or comforting when worn on a finger; surely the first thing you want to do when you lift a smooth pebble from the beach is to cup it in your palm, stroke it with your fingertips. Hold it, clasp it, mould to it, with it. Warm it.

I had taken these flat ellipses and eggs, spun a diamond core drill in my trusty old Makita through their bellies, then radiused the resultant harsh corner. I considered leaving them like that, but it felt like there weren’t yet finished; rings have settings, yes? I guess I’m just not a plain band kind of guy. But of course, it was the stone itself that was to be the setting, so I fashioned a band from thin, fine silver shim – cut to fit the diameter and contours of each holed pebble. A delicate but definite reversal of the roles and implied importance or worth of each element in a conventional ring; the stone in these rings is dominant in terms of its bulk – the opposite of a diamond being dwarfed by its ‘precious’ metal setting but grotesquely, cartoonishly so. A bit like the grotesque, cartoonish price of a diamond.

I showed one to Alison in my studio one day soon after we first met (you know the line…) and she immediately roared with laughter and exclaimed ‘it’s a hag ring!’ I asked her. She told me.

Hag stones, she said, are the often gnarly lumps of rock you find on the beach with a water-worn hole bored clean through them. According to British folklore, if you bring the hole of a hag stone to your eye you are able to see into another world; one inhabited by witches, elves, dragons and fairies. Possibly even faeries. According to a little more research (which, as everybody knows, means ‘I Googled it’) hag stones not only allow the bearer to see into Narnia, they also:

  • Provide protection from evil entities.
  • Remove blockages from your chakras and aura.
  • Help with fertility.
  • Raise the IQ and moral integrity of the owner’s pets.
  • Enhance the chance of astral travel.
  • Connect you with your higher purpose.
  • Protect from disease, misfortune and death.
  • I might have made one or more of these up.
  • Somebody else made the rest of them up.

Funnily enough, I’d never seen or thought of the rings like that, but I wish that I could claim that one will do any of those things for the wearer. It won’t, and if you look through it you will see pretty much the same thing as if you weren’t looking through it, but it will be surrounded by silver.

They have taken a few years to refine; evidence perhaps that something can indeed be both very simple but at the same time not particularly easy. Possibly also evidence of my having had too many – and more important – time-killing weapons to choose from during those years. After making around a dozen hags I’m happy with them now; being fine, the silver is burnished to the point where it begins to flake to nothingness and so becomes indistinguishable from the stone by means of touch, while the very process of making and finishing them further blurs the boundary between these two elements. No adhesives or mechanical fixings are employed; simply silver set in stone.

Alison has been super-helpful and enthusiastic when it has come to product-testing my jewellery. Often, she will ‘product-test’ something for quite some time after she has snaffled it, still warm, from my bench. One of the hag rings – a silky egg-shape – that I made recently didn’t come up to a standard sufficient for me to confidently put it into the world, so Ali got an extra (admittedly late) birthday present, which she has been product-testing since.

Whenever I pluck things from their environmental bashings I always feel inexplicably protective of them and carry them as if I were carrying real eggs; trying to arrest and preserve moments, like we all do. Because the instant I choose them they become imbued with an otherness that only an over-inflated ego can conjure, and I want them to remain exactly as they were the moment I found them; my selection has somehow elevated them.

But of course, not only has it done nothing of the sort, but it is also true that, naturally, they will not stay the same. Nothing or nobody ever does, and Ali’s hag has begun beautifully to take on the scribbles and scrapes of its encounters with other objects and experiences. It is part of its journey, and we all become our own shapes, bear our own scars.