Painting in Metals

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mokume gane rings

George Sawyer on the art of mokumé gane

By John Shanahan

There is perhaps no jewelry look more immediately distinctive than mokumé gane. With its multiple colors of precious metals flowing in wood-grain patterns, the art traces its roots back to Japanese sword-forging techniques that originated before 1000 A.D. George Sawyer’s fascination with mokumé began upon seeing just such a weapon back in the 1970s. The art had largely been lost or forgotten in the west. Even the definitive metalsmithing text of the time, Oppi Untracht’s Metal Techniques for Craftsmen, showed “mokumé” items that were soldered together and did not exhibit the wood-grain pattern. Sawyer, though utterly new to the technique, felt that what Untracht presented as mokumé gane did not represent the true methodology of the genuine art. He started experimenting with copper and silver, diving into whatever texts he could find on the subject, though most were vague at best and focused on weaponry. As he began to master it, his technique and confidence improving, he moved into karat golds and set himself on a path that has defined his career.