Article written by S.E.A Backpacker Ambassador Amy Burbridge of mychiangmaieverything.com
Have you ever wanted to make your own silver jewellery?
Forget about tacky souvenirs – beautifully jewellery crafted by your very own hands is a magnificent keepsake of your travels. Nobody else in the world will have a piece the same as yours, and when people ask about that unique pendant they’ve never seen before, you can proudly say that you made it yourself in tropical Chiang Mai. I’ve lost count of how many people have asked about my feather pendant!
Photo of the feather pendant from Amy’s Instagram account
NOVA ArtLab silversmith class in Chiang Mai is amazing!
NOVA is on Thapae Road, moments away from the famous Thapae Gate. The silversmith workshop, called NOVA ArtLab, is upstairs above NOVA’s jewellery shop and showroom on the ground floor. The class lasts all day and is really affordable – more details later.
When I arrived, the late morning sunshine streamed through the workshop windows, illuminating heavy machines, and workbenches stocked with strange tools whose purpose I could only guess at. A burnt smell lingered in the air, and I was so. excited. Before class began, I met my teacher, Nugoon. He’s been a silversmith for over twenty-five years. I’ve been alive for only a year longer than he’s been crafting silver, so I definitely trusted that he knew what he was doing.
Nugoon, experienced teacher at the NOVA ArtLab
Classes are held for up to seven people at a time, but when I went I was the only student and had Nugoon’s expertise all to myself. He held up a bunch of rings and pendants, and asked which I’d like to make. I chose to make a pendant, and Nugoon promptly gave me some paper and a pencil, and instructed me to draw my design to actual size. I like to think I can be quite artistic sometimes, but it took me quite a while to produce a design I was satisfied with – a feather. Nugoon scrutinised it carefully, without smiling. I nervously asked if my design was OK. “Yes, up to you.” he said. It wasn’t exactly encouragement, but I’d been given the go-ahead! How hard could it be to make a simple feather pendant?
I never appreciated how much effort and skill goes into making silver jewellery before.
Though it was tricky work, it was so much fun and I enjoyed every minute of it. There are so many stages! Each stage was described and demonstrated in meticulous detail – Nugoon is a quiet, rather serious man, but when he does speak his directions are concise and to-the-point and his English is great. If I had to ask for clarification on anything he explained patiently and showed me how to do it. Of course, with his years of experience, he made everything look effortless – but it’s really not! I appreciated that at many times, after Nugoon had instructed and demonstrated, he would go off and let me do it without looking over my shoulder. I felt like this time allowed me to develop my skills a lot faster, because I wasn’t nervous about doing it wrong in front of him.
Making silver jewellery is a hardcore process.
First, I had to heat the raw silver square with a super-hot blowtorch before using a machine to stretch it out and make it thinner, and therefore easier to work with. After blowtorching it again, I glued my paper design onto the silver, dried it with a hairdryer, and took it over to the sawing work-bench. I felt pretty badass using that blowtorch!
Nugoon showed me how to hold and use the ultra-thin, very sharp saw to cut out my design without sawing my fingers off. It was at this time when I realised why my design hadn’t made him smile – the ends of the feather were really fiddly! I had to cut out the general shape and then go back to cut out tiny, curved triangles of silver to make the ends look right. I tried to follow his instructions, but I got excited and… I broke a blade. I was a bit concerned that Nugoon might be annoyed, but when I fessed up he just accepted it and said I’d been sawing too quickly. He replaced it with the air of someone who is consigned to replacing blades often – I think that students must break blades pretty regularly! As I sawed my hands become covered in silver dust and I felt so cool and crafty.
After I’d sawed out the design, Nugoon neatened it up a little on the trickiest bits. Then I peeled off the paper design, engraved the back with the 925 silver symbol and the word ‘love’, had a lunch break, sanded the front, back and edges, engraved the feather pattern on the front, made a silver rod thinner using a huge pulling machine, flattened it, soldered the rod onto the feather to make the bit down the middle, bent the top of the rod to make a loop, heated and cooled the whole thing various times, buffed it, washed it, un-sharpened the sharp feather edges and finally put cord through the loop. Phew! It took all day, with some assistance and an hour’s lunch break in the middle. It was such a good day!
I love my pendant!
Yeah, one edge of my feather is a bit… wrong. And yeah, the spacing between the letters on the back isn’t perfect. But I’m not going to lie – I’m so utterly thrilled and delighted with it. Seriously, I love it so much, and if someone asks me about it I just can’t shut up about it. I’ve been in Chiang Mai for three years and this, along with Sati’s Chinese Tea Ceremony, is for sure one of my favourite things to do in Chiang Mai. I can’t wait to do it again.
NOVA ArtLab classes are definitely for girls and dudes.
On NOVA’s website there are lots of photographs of guys making their own silver jewellery. Apparently groups of friends often make silver jewellery together too – I *love* that idea! My close friend from the UK is visiting soon and we’re gonna make something together, and whenever we look at it or someone asks us about it we will be reminded of our friendship no matter how many miles apart we are!
Also, wouldn’t it be awesome to make jewellery as a couple, or as a surprise for your boy or girl? I think if Andy and I ever get married, I’d love us to make our own wedding bands here in Chiang Mai and inscribe the back of them with something lovely – it would make the whole thing somehow even more unique and special, don’t you think?
The workshop is really affordable, even for a backpacker budget.
I really expected that it would be expensive to make your own silver jewellery. The one-day workshop costs 1,750 baht, which at the time of writing is around $49 or £32. On top of that, you pay for the weight of the silver that you used at 30 baht per gram. A standard silver ring usually costs around 200 – 500 baht. After a brief Google search I found that in America, one-day silversmith workshops cost around $100, and more in the UK.
NOVA ArtLab hosts silversmith classes from Monday to Friday, but it’s closed on weekends. Class begins at 10a.m. and ends at 4p.m, with an hour lunch break in the middle. There’s a maximum of seven students in each class, and each has his or her own workbench and complete set of tools. NOVA has various courses available, including a five day one for people who really want to get into silversmithing.
To find out more and to book your place on a silversmith course, take a look at the website here.