BTS : STARLESS Handcrafted Mother of Pearl Moon Necklace



Witchy jewelry - Starless Moon Necklace story by Elemental Child


Starless Necklace

In peak isolation:  I was hammering metal and laying out endless crystals 

Come behind the scenes of the making of the Starless Moon Necklace. 

It was deep in the dog days of lockdown, 2020, when I began working on the Starless design. Peak isolation was being reached in my little house of one. We all experienced this time so differently, and my version was total solitude. For about ten years previous to the pandemic I’d been traveling constantly. My band, Ex Reverie, was located in Glasgow, so I’d be over in the UK for about a month both every spring and fall. The rhythm of leaving and being in motion was a big part of my identity, as well as the primary ace up my sleeve emotionally. Relationship getting difficult? Well, that’s fine because I’m getting on a plane in a week. See you on the other side! 

In order to pull off this lifestyle, I’d been living in all kinds of different spaces. Renting a spare room in a friends’ houses, etc. For two years I had a full Elemental Child studio in my friend Jeff Zeigler’s space, which also housed his famous Philadelphia music studio, Uniform Recording. He’d be recording bands on the bottom floor and I’d be hammering metal and laying out endless crystals into the designs for our crowns up on the main floor. That was a fun chapter. The rest of the years, Elemental Child came with me as a mobile studio whenever I lived. Huge shout out to the movers who had to carry those tubs filled with rocks up however many flights of stairs into my new spaces! 


I strayed out of thought and time. Everyday was as long as a life-age of the earth.


In the late summer of 2019, I’d finally decided to put down my own roots again in Philadelphia, and I found a tiny little dollhouse of my own in the heart of Fishtown to rent. I’d reached the point in the personal sine wave along the freedom/security axis where I was ready to stay still for a minute and dig deeper into projects. I went through a big breakup that fall, and I decided it was time to go fully into the woodshop of art. I said no to every invitation and frankly gloried in the autonomy and privacy of my own space and work. “I’ll come up for air around daylight saving’s time,” I thought. That, of course, would have been March of 2020. I’d essentially entered a lockdown of my own volition months ahead of the global one. 

Very quickly into the pandemic it became obvious that Elemental Child was not going to be able to stay open. So many of our customers are brides, and all of the weddings were being canceled. For the first time since I launched the business in November of 2013, we shut down. And then…“I strayed out of thought and time. Stars wheeled overhead and everyday was as long as a life-age of the earth.” Days melted like Dali clocks. All of the forwarding mail of memories from a decade finally caught up to me, stuck in one place as I was. It was deep, it was scary, it was beautiful, it was unhinged. It was the first time since 2013 that I didn’t have a queue of orders. We’d been so lucky with Elemental Child, orders always came in faster than I could make them. 


I finally had time to get back to wax carving


I realized it was an opportunity to dig into the fine art of various projects for the first time in a long time. First with music, I took myself back to school, so to speak. As a former jazz guitar major, I hadn’t practiced scales in many years playing in psych rock bands. So I set up my guitar by my couch and ran scales for endless hours while watching BBC detective shows. 

After a couple months of letting myself *not* think about Elemental Child for the first time, I decided to start work on something that would be a true labor of love again. I finally had hours to devote to a complicated lost wax carving, one of my favorite parts of the business and one I rarely had time to do. 

While playing around with materials on my workbench one evening, it came to me fully-formed: the gorgeous 30mm mother of pearl disc was…a moon. How best to represent this moon in its glory? Well, to me the moon is at its best in the full drama of an October night. Emerging from the silk gauze of clouds, beaming clear in the crisp cold air. All of the associations of the lunar body are there for me in those moments: the mystery and magic of the light in the darkness, the illuminated pearl of truth being born from the obscuring clouds. A whirling of witchy ideas came, I started sketching. 

Starless moon necklace sketch

 First sketch of Starless Moon Necklace 

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Over a period of weeks I refined the sketch. How would this work as a necklace? I knew it would be unusual in many ways. It’s rare for a necklace to be such a horizontal design, but I like its sculptural idiosyncrasies.I added a few stars around the clouds, and these allowed the piece to reach for the chain that would hold it.  

Starless moon necklace sketch progression

 Sketch progression

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How tos of lost wax carving


Lost wax designs involve many drafts of sketched designs. When I had one I liked I cut it out and was able to hold it up to my own neck and imagine how it would look when complete. I was getting excited - this would be a truly unique design if I could pull it off. That was a big question, though. Would this work in three dimensional reality? It was up to me to make it. 

I began working in the wax itself. The first step is taping the design onto the wax and carefully tracing the design into the smooth sheets. I always end up with a fairly chaotic and unclear design, so I take time once the design is removed to deepen and clarify the linework. A little baby powder rubbed into these lines helps me see the lines more easily. A permanent marker like a sharpie can help too, but my favorite carving wax to work with is the dark green variety, which makes black lines difficult to see. Green is the hardest format of wax. It makes it more brittle, and therefore high stakes (snapping a piece feels pretty tragic), but it holds detail much better than the softer waxes. High stakes, high rewards. 

Next I cut the rough shape out using my jeweler’s saw with a wax blade. I personally prefer to finalize any design when my hands are “in the clay”, so to speak, so I leave a wider margin and give myself room to keep removing material with my large file. I primarily use the subtractive method of wax carving, in that I’m removing material to reveal the shape rather than adding it (such as melting wax and dripping it on to build dimensionality). My big wax file does most of the work, and then I move to smaller and smaller files until the end, when I’m taking tiny scraps of sandpaper and sawing them into impossibly small cut-outs to finish the design. I also have a splendid set of Kate Wolf carving tools that serve me invaluably. These tiny and precision made tools are absolutely perfect for working with hard green wax the way I do. 


The days kept melting and morphing


For months and months, I filed and tooled away at the design. As the world exploded around me, in unexplained sonic booms and helicopters overhead. Philly felt like a war zone to this lucky woman who has never lived in one. We protested the George Floyd atrocity and terrifying men with machine guns menaced the protests. We read about methods of getting pepper spray out of your eyes fast. I worried about my parents, who were at a high risk age. The days kept melting and morphing. When I could focus, I turned on an audiobook and filed away at this design. It became an emblem of hope to me. Can the light come through the clouds? I hope so. I hope. 

Starless moon necklace drawing and wax

Lost Wax carving of Starless 

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As a wax design gets near completion, it becomes thinner and thinner. You start to hold it up to the light to see the darker areas that still need to be thinned out more, as a uniform thickness is important for casting. It becomes an ethereal thing, ever more delicate and elegant, and with that extremely, increasingly fragile. There’s also an element of guesswork to this ancient art. What will successfully cast? As the name implies, this wax model is lost in the initial casting. Melted. There are occasions when the casting is unsuccessful, a bubble of air or some other impurity can ruin the whole thing. Towards the end of the process, I broke the most delicate point, a star to cloud connection. I repaired it with wax but these repairs are exactly when something like an air bubble can happen. 


Starless moon necklace Wax carving


 Lost Wax development 

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Starless moon necklace sketch and finished piece


Starless was a meditation for me, an escape into the flow state


Starless was a meditation for me. It was an escape into the flow state. I listened to the Great Courses lectures on the historical background of the Arthurian legend and I found peace in carving tiny curls of wax away, smoothing this design to a silk-like finish. I spent, in short, a totally insane amount of time on this wax model.

Finally, it was as close to done as it would get (much like when making albums, I find it hard to decide when a piece is truly done). The casting company was reopened enough to take in projects in person. This was one piece I really didn’t want to trust to the mail. 


Starless moon necklace studio space


Starless Wax in the workshop 

Most of my experience in jewelry making has been self-taught


I brought it in, and explained how much I hoped it would successfully cast. I should mention here that I’ve taken a class in wax carving and casting, but I did not train as a jeweler. I went to music school! Most of my experience in jewelry making has been self-taught, though after these many years it’s pretty comprehensive. But I always approach the casting company with a beginner’s mind and am open to suggestions.

They looked over it carefully and seemed optimistic it would cast. I waited the usual week or two to hear and was overjoyed to get the message that it was done. I went in and got to experience one of the most pure and exciting moments of the jewelry process: seeing your long-labored wax carving reborn in gleaming, solid sterling silver. ( I later added a brass version to the collection as you've seen in the photos above) I exclaimed with joy and gave them the go ahead to make the mold and put the piece into production.

At which point I heard “Oh no, this can’t be molded and produced.” When they told me the piece would cast, they had not meant that it could also be molded and reproduced which was, of course, my intention. As much as I appreciate fine art I was not spending months carving something that would be a one off. 


I learned that my unusual and idiosyncratic design was unusual for a reason


We entered into intense negotiations and I learned that my unusual and idiosyncratic design was unusual for a reason: it was not at all an easy thing to pour metal quickly and thoroughly into a wide and thin design with lots of little details. It was close to physically impossible. I pleaded and they put work into adding extra sprues to allow metal flow, and I had to sign off on the fact that all that extra work might be done and still be unsuccessful. 

Well, as you all know from the photos, it worked! The labor of love that carried me through the dark clouds and back out again worked, and exists today. I named it Starless, after one of my favorite songs by King Crimson. The song is as epic a piece as the necklace experience was for me. I hope that this unusual design brings with it some of the magic of the process, and that it can mean something to the people who wear it. 

 Visit our site to own your own Starless Moon Necklace

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