By Deborah Yonick
Designer: Joel McFadden, JMD Jewelry, Red Bank, New Jersey
At first glance, the ring created by designer Joel McFadden looks simple: a half-gold, half-platinum band that spirals around the finger and is trimmed with 1 mm pavé diamond.
It was, McFadden says, nearly impossible to make.
“It wasn’t an easy task, working with two different metals in two different colors, and using such tiny diamonds,” he explains. In the end, though, the project became one of his favorites-a fun departure from the more traditional designs he typically crafts for customers.
The owner of JMD Jewelry in Red Bank, New Jersey, McFadden had been asked by a client to create a unique piece for his girlfriend—one that incorporated twists and turns to represent the winding path life takes us on.
“I knew he wanted something very unusual and artistic,” McFadden says. “The request inspired me to look at the project more from an art approach than a jewelry one. It was more about, ’Can we make something like this?’ rather than, ’Can we make it wearable?’"
His original idea, he says, was to create earrings that spiraled in and out of the lobe, but the client felt that a ring would be more meaningful. McFadden went back to the drawing board—or, more specifically, his CAD program. After three days of trial and error plotting in Matrix, he perfected the design: A helix with eight points, forming a shank.
“The turns and twists allowed the ring to nestle perfectly in the webbing alongside the finger,” he explains. To make the twist more pronounced, he chose to use the two different metal colors. And the diamonds, he felt, were the perfect way to hide the seam where the two joined. “It looks as though the yellow and white metals are stitched together by diamonds—in fact, micro-pavé used to be call ’threadwork,’ and that’s what it resembles."
Those decisions ultimately would combine to make this one of the most challenging pieces he’d ever undertaken. The idea of using two metals was a good one, but actually attaching two different metals into a helix shape required a bit of problem solving. "Take a rubber band and twist into a helix, then take a second band and do the same," he says. "Now try to join them. It can’t be done."
Nor could he try to join the two metals and then twist, since the metals not only bend at different rates, but also expand at different rates when heated. The solution was to create the ring in three sections. In CAD, McFadden created two opposing cross-sections, one in gold and one in platinum. He then broke the gold section in two, creating two "C" shapes that wove around the platinum finger rail (see Figure 1). McFadden joined the sections together with hard solder.
Next came the challenge of setting the 1-mm round diamonds-all 156 of them. Because the two metals cut at different rates, McFadden had to spend more time than usual—"twice as long," he estimates—creating the seats for the pavé. Then came the actual setting. Over three days, he worked to set each tiny stone, which at 1 mm was the size of a pinhead.
“It was maddening," he remembers. "I had to hold the ring with my fingers against a bench pin as I raised [the beads for] each stone, and the spiral only made it more complicated. After three days, my fingers were hurting. I couldn’t use any form of vise because it would crush the ring. And if I tried using shellac [to secure the ring], I was applying so much pressure that the shellac would quickly wear out—I’d have to spend too much time replenishing it."
But the completed piece, he says, was worth the agony. “This ring is so cool, really a curious design,” he enthuses. “Every turn gleams a different metal color, with a glint of diamonds.”
Most important, the customer said he loved it-the perfect turn of phrase for what has become one of McFadden’s signature pieces.