Author Archives: Melanie Dooley

Magical mystery changing necklace

Sometimes what you see as the finished product takes a few goes to get it right. My designs can go on a magical mystery tour before they reach a point of being ready for sale. Take this lovely design for example.

It started out like this…


Then after I wore it once or twice (which I do with every design, to make sure they ‘work’ as they should), I realised the pendant section was too light for the chain and the necklace did not sit straight when worn.

So, I made an adjustment and put a heavier pendant onto the chain.


This new pendant worked a treat and wore beautifully.

However a customer who really, desperately wanted the cyclamen pocket watch pendant asked if she could buy it, without the necklace. I agreed, and therefore had to find a new pendant for the necklace. I found one in a similar style but with a different design…


So there you have it…the journey of a necklace in three parts. This piece is listed for sale here.

A peek into my production process

For a few years now I have been making these delightful fine silver earrings.

The finished earrings.

They are entirely hand fabricated, starting with the moulds – which I made from old buttons – through to the casting of the metal and the finishing of the final piece. I sell the earrings for $45 a pair, which I think is pretty good for something that takes two days to finish and is a unique design exclusive to L’Atelier de Talaru.

I thought I’d let you in on my production process so you can see (and appreciate) just what goes into these little wonders.

It starts with silver clay. Yes, clay. Not molten silver poured into a mould, but tacky clay pressed into a mould, removed and then allowed to dry.

Here are the moulds I used for the current batch:


They are made with two-part silicone moulding putty. I press the buttons into the putty and when it sets, it is flexible but it holds the pattern. Here are some of the buttons I made moulds from:

Buttons for moulds

The silver clay looks fairly innocuous – it’s just greyish, sticky clay. It does dry out very quickly so you need to work fast.

Silver clay

I take out a little bit at a time and press the clay into oiled moulds:

Clay in moulds

There is no waiting time. The flexible moulds can be twisted a bit and the piece falls out.

Freshly cast silver clay.

I used a whole 50 gram packet of clay today and here is everything I made from it. I added little fine silver eyelets for hanging. The eyelets are gently pressed into the clay and as the clay fires, it shrinks a bit and holds tight to the eyelet.

A batch of fine silver clay pieces with eyelets

The clay pieces need to be completely dry before you can fire them. You could leave them overnight in a warm spot, or do what I do and put them on a baking tray in the oven on a very low heat for an hour or so. Once dry they can be sanded, filed, drilled and placed into the kiln.

Pieces in the kiln

The kiln heats up to 1800 degrees fahrenheit. There are all sorts of rules and measures for ramping up the heat etc – I just turn it on and come back two hours later and they are done. I never have any problems with this method.

Once fired the pieces will shrink a bit – maybe 10% – which makes it tricky if you are making something that is measured, like a ring. They will also be white, as there is a residue from the binding agent in the clay that remains, but which can be brushed off – I use a brass brush.

Fired pieces

Using the brass brush, I scrubbed a few pieces so you can see the difference. The clay fuses in the firing process and all that remains is 100% fine silver. It is bright and shiny.

Brushed pieces

In order to shine them up and strengthen them, I put them all into the tumbler for a few hours. I link them all up with brass wire, as the little eyelets are so small that they will often get a bit of the tumbling shot stuck in the hole, which is a bugger to get out.

Pieces in the tumbler.

Now they will tumble for a while and once done, you are left with these bright solid fine silver charms.

Raw pieces from the tumbler

To finish the design I oxidise the metal so that the detail in the pattern can be brought out as a darker oxidised surface. After oxidising I sand them back and add a coat of sealant so that the metal does not oxidise any further. Once I add ear wires, you end up with what is shown in the first photo at the top.

Finished pieces that have been oxidised

In case you were thinking of setting yourself up to make your own fine silver jewellery in this way, be prepared for a high initial outlay:

  • kiln – shipped from the USA around $500-600 USD for the smallest of electric kilns
  • internal trays, fireproof tiles to protect your surface and other tools about $200 USD
  • step down transformer to protect the kiln from Aust voltage – about $100
  • tumbler and shot – about $200 AUD
  • silver clay – varies from $100-$125 US for a 50 gram bag depending on the market price for silver plus shipping
  • moulding putty – about $35 US with shipping from the States
  • other bits and pieces like eyelets, gemstones, settings, tools etc about $100 USD

So it’s pretty pricey, and only something you would invest in if you are really keen to start up and produce work to sell. You can learn torch-fired silver clay, which works well for small designs, however the kiln set up gives more flexibility.

So there you go – if you would like to buy any of my fine silver designs, if still available they will be for sale at L’Atelier de Talaru

When Art Nouveau and Art Deco Collide

Take a look at this necklace. I keep wanting to look at it, which is strange because some of the parts used in its design have been in my collection for over five years.


Nouveau Deco Necklace 3


There is a lot going on here and sometimes I amaze myself when I bring all these elements together and it looks like the design was always meant to be like that. It starts with an Art Deco French men’s pocket watch chain – something that is quite masculine but somehow works well with the other very feminine elements.

The rest of the chain is made from wire wrapped labradorite gemstone beads and a few links from an old rhinestone necklace.

The pendant section comprises a solid silver Art Nouveau necklace slide, an antique labradorite bracelet link and a fun and whimsical rhinestone ball bead.


Nouveau Deco Necklace 1




This necklace is what assemblage jewellery is all about. Disparate elements from different decades or even centuries that come together when the time is right to create a unique piece of wearable art.


Nouveau Deco Necklace 2


Oh Joy!

Look what I found online? Hundreds of fashion photos taken at the Longchamps Racecourse, officially known as L’Hippodrome de Longchamps, in Paris from the year 1900 through to 1919. Look at the lovely people and their fancy fashions! What I would give to see these photos in colour. You can still get a great sense of texture and materials from these photos. I could wear just about every outfit in this collection.

These images are in the public domain and need to be credited to the source: National Library of France.

Update to the Curiosity Cabinet

I’ve slowly been adding items to my curiosity cabinet, as written about late last year – Curiosity Cabinet.

It’s nearly full which means I might have to get another one đŸ˜‰

Here are some of the latest additions.

Bronze Sparrow

A bronze bird from France. I read somewhere that actual birds were moulded then cast. I am not sure on this one but the piece is thick bronze with plaster inside. It is also signed underneath. Here it is from another viewpoint.


Also for the cabinet are these two delightful small prints. One is hand coloured and both are small enough to fit in your hand. They are probably from a small book.


And a beautiful 18th century miniature painting set into an ivory frame. When looking at it with a magnifier, it is possible to see the brush strokes which quite possibly would have been made with a horse hair or similar.


Although not new to the cabinet, I wanted to share some of my daguerrotype collection. These old, mid-19th century photographs were common before printed photos were popular. The image is printed onto glass, and sometimes the faces had tinted cheeks and jewellery was highlighted in gold leaf. Sometimes the image comes off the glass, such as in the first photo below, and you are left with a distortion, but the sentiment of the original picture is undiminished. Although the frames are similar in design I do not believe these people are related to each other. The frames are in pressed brass sheet – a thin metal sheet moulded into these delightful frames.


Waverley Antiques Bazaar

It had been a while since we last visited Waverley Antiques Bazaar. Located in the middle of a major residential area, in a drafty old warehouse next to freight depots is this huge venue for multiple sellers to offer their vintage wares. You need to dig deep to find a bargain or something you could actually use, but if nothing else it’s a few good hours of wandering around reminiscing.

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Crazy About Coral

If I was to choose a favourite material for my jewellery designs, and the jewellery I wear, it would have to be coral.

Despite the age of the pieces I own and use, the brilliant reds and oranges of the antique coral is still as bright as the day it was first set into a jewellery design.

Coral was very popular in the early part of the 19th century, and much of what I own comes from this era, and in particular from France. The ‘Empire’ style of jewellery was refined, classical and not overly ornate. Personal adornment took on a simpler, more refined style after the excesses of the lavish 18th century fashions.

Coral buckles

Above you can see three coral buckles or cuff links. They are in various states of completion, with the one on the left having only the coral frame. The centre one is missing its coral centrepiece and the one on the right is complete. It’s rare to find these with all of the coral framing beads intact. There are lots of possibilities with these pieces.


Another example of a coral buckle is shown above. This time the buckle has its mate, as they always came in a pair but it is so hard to find a complete pair these days. This set had a sweet little snake ‘S’ clasp joining the two together and they would have most likely been sewn onto a velvet or cloth belt that was worn just under the breast. This set also features mother of pearl discs that have been carved out on the underside to produce the starburst pattern you see here. This buckle set has been repurposed into earrings. I love the deep red of the coral beads.

Coral and diamond earrings

Dating to a good 50 years earlier than the buckle earrings, above is a pair of mid-18th century coral, silver and diamond earrings. The coral beads are quite big and of a deep rich salmon colour. The setting is silver, with rose cut diamonds. I think they could do with a clean!


Complete coral necklaces are hard to find, and when you do find one that has large beads, it will be very expensive. Upwards of $1000 for large beads on a long necklace. Coral is often sold by weight. Below is a much less expensive example of an early 19th century coral necklace, this time with numerous strands of coral seed beads. These are tiny little beads made from real coral, and hand cut and drilled. Despite the hours and hours that would have been employed to make this necklace, the coral weight is not substantial and thus the necklace is not overly pricey.


I do also occasionally see coral buckles with little faces cared into the coral. Coral cameos were popular in the late Georgian and Victoria eras, and cameos came in all styles. In the example below the cameo is a in gold plate brass, and is little Aztec style face. The piece came to me as one half of a buckle set – the other half was missing. To create the necklace you see here, I used a French ormolu coral tiara which was missing about half of its coral beads. I harvested the beads, then used the remaining tiara frame to form a collar style necklace. The Aztec cameo piece was affixed onto the collar, I added chain and voila! A very unique necklace made from extremely rare 200-year old elements.




More readily available are coral charms. These are also often sold by weight and therefore the price can vary according to the size of the piece. I like to use coral charms on a charm necklace with other antique elements such as little lockets and mini wax seals. Below is one such example which features a coral branch lucky charm, a carved coral hand charm, a small French wax seal and an 18th century vinaigrette locket. Coral and gold go so well together, and it’s a vary classic colour combination.

charm necklace

Another necklace I created features an unusual coral tassel. You do see a lot of antique beaded tassels with closed looping ends, not the open frayed ends common on most tassels. This lovely little necklace also features an antique wax seal and a tiny mourning locket with woven hair set behind glass  on the other side.


I tend to use coral quite sparingly in my designs – mainly because it can be expensive and is quite scarce. Antique coral is only going to get more valuable, so if you want to start collecting something that is not quite as pricey as gold, consider coral…antique of course!

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