How Lila Rice Crafted Her Of a Kind Earrings
These tiny little studs take some serious work.
The miniature masterpieces.
“What’s really cool to me about the process of making these studs is that none of the steps require tools that are new-fangled or high-tech whatsoever,” explains Lila Rice Marshall of her ah-mazing Of a Kind edition. “These are very old metalsmithing techniques—the whole shebang could be done without plugging anything in. I think it’s amazing that you can work with metal using just fire, files, hammers, a saw and some elbow grease.” Well, guess what? So do we. And we can’t wait for Lila to show us how it’s done. —alisha prakash
“This is a piece of double-clad, 14-karat gold-fill sheet. It’s 14-karat on both sides with a thin layer of brass in the middle—hence the gold filled with brass.”
“I heat the metal with my oxyacetylene torch in order to anneal it, before adding texture. This heats and softens the metal—the heat loosens the molecular bonds in the metal, allowing it to be worked or textured more easily. There is a moment while heating the metal that you can see it ‘relax.’ Pretty cool.”
“Here, I’m cleaning the metal in an acid bath, called ‘pickle,’ in order to remove oxidation caused by the extreme temps needed to solder metal.”
“My favorite tool—the rolling mill! Here, I pass the sheet metal through the mill with a piece of mesh to print the texture directly onto the metal. I love using the rolling mill to add texture to the metal because no two pieces are alike. In that way, it’s different than stamping.”
“After drawing on the shape, I cut the metal. I use bone-cutting shears, intended for the kitchen.”
“I use a sanding disc to remove sharp edges.”
“Ta-da! This is the blank—the shape to which the ear wire will be soldered—for the stud.”
“Here, I’m soldering on the 14-karat gold-fill ear wire.”
“Next, I use a cup bur to round the tip of the wire so it’s not sharp.”
“This is the polishing machine, for cleaning and getting a brushed finish.”
“And then into the tumbler it goes—it gets many thousands of tiny beatings from the little bits of steel for a final polish and to harden the metal.”
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When her painter mother gifted her a pair of jewelry-making pliers at eight years old, Lila Rice Marshall became an elementary schooler with a real skill for fixing best-friend necklaces and making trinkets for her pals. Zip ahead a few years, and Lila forgot all about her knack for crafting and, in 1996, headed west from Portsmouth, New Hampshire, to UC Berkeley to study sociocultural anthropology. “I did an interdisciplinary study that focused on ornamentation—the things that we wear and the meanings we assign them,” she says.
Spoiler alert: That coursework helped lead her back to jewelry. “When I graduated college, I couldn’t find a job. I was waiting tables and thinking about grad school when I started doing a little bit of metalsmithing, as a therapeutic outlet,” she explains. In 2001, her dabbling became a line, Round Designs Jewelry, a collection that focused on, well, circles. “I think it’s a very universal thing to be attracted to certain shapes,” Lila explains, but in 2010 she had enough of all those orbs.
Now, in Bushwick, Brooklyn, she embraces angles, making fierce cuffs, geometric hoop earrings, and arrow-accented necklaces her namesake line by hand—just like she did in her recess-crafting days. “I like having a personal connection with every piece, but I also think part of it is that I’m a control freak,” she says. “Honestly, it’s just me being weird by myself in my studio, playing with the materials. I never have a plan of what’s going to happen.” —alisha prakash
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Dive Into Lila Rice’s Elementary-School Collection
Really: It doesn’t get much cuter.
Little Lila, crafting away.
Long before jewelry wonder Lila Rice Marshall started playing with mixed metals—brass, copper, silver, and gold—as a big kid, she was whipping up amazingness with beads, seashells, and chains for her friends in grade school. Here, Lila talks us through some of her earliest work. —alisha prakash
“This kooky little thing was the very beginning of my playing with metal wire. What else can I say about it? Kooky.”
“A very early specimen. I made this button necklace—from my stepmother’s vintage button cache—around age 5.”
“Remember seed bead daisy chains?”
“A clay jewelry box—you can see my early obsession with geometric shapes!”
“I had an amazing skeleton key collection as a kid. I wore this one as a pendant for some time.”
“For a couple of years, I was really into making paperweights and brooches from seashells, sea glass, and two-part epoxy. This is one that still lives at my mom’s house. I remember a dear family friend included some of these in an opening at her gallery. I made thirty bucks!”
“I used to take apart vintage pieces (I know—for shame!) to repurpose them into ball-chain necklaces. Oh-so nineties.”