Sanna's Bag

“I never seem to have what I need when I need it. I’m going to make a belt-bag that’s bigger on the inside than on the outside, and just carry everything with me.”

Friday, September 24, 2010

drilling pearls

I told you how DH spoils me by taking me to the place where you can buy an oyster that's guaranteed to have a pearl? These places are all over, and I have acquired a mess of pearls over the years. It costs $10 -$15 each to have someone else pierce them, if you can find anyon who will do it. The places that sell the oysters make their income by marking up the pretty settings and charging you to make jewelry from your pretty pearls. Some of my pearls are worth upwards of $80 and we paid only $13 for them. But then, the pearl place wants to sell you a $50 pendant and a $30 gold chain and son of a gun, you have paid right through the nose for your $13 pearl.

So DH set me up with a Dremel tool (a little drill) and a press to fit it in, and a set of little bits, and I visited my friends Julie and Jerry who are lapidarists and who taught me how to drill my own pearls.

Here is the set-up, ready to go. See that nifty rectangle with windows in it? DH built me a pearl-drilling jig! This way I can drill halfway through, turn it over and drill the other half, meeting precisely in the middle, producing a neat, straight hole. If you start at one end and drill straight through, you risk blowing the nacre off the back. It's heart-breaking when you do that. I have cursed and bellowed my rage and frustration over this more than once.

The jig has a pair of cavities with holes precisely in the middle of each. There are two jigs in my fixture, and each is a two-part device. One half is moveable, and one half is not.

Put the pearl in the bottom half.

(Black pearls are my favorite! They have the most fascinating lusters to them - green or chocolate or cinnamon or purple!)

Then put the second half of the jig down on top ot the pearl, catching it firmly between the two little cavities.

Drill halfway down from the top, flip it over, and drill halfway down from the bottom. Voila, another pearl for my eccentric string!

This jig is just the coolest thing ever and he is the cleverest, kindest, most thoughtful and indulgent man in the world for making it for me.

You can't rush this, because the pearls can overheat and fracture if you go too fast. ( Did that once. Had to go outside because the cussing was upsetting the cats). It takes about fifteen minutes per pearl, and I still haven't perfected my system. It would go a lot easier if I had three hands . . .

So I spent much of yesterday drilling, and now I am re-stringing. You want to tie a knot between each pearl. If, God forbid, the string ever breaks, the knots keep them from all slipping off and running away all over the street or the ballroom or wherever. And of course you want to get the knots tight up agains the previous pearl so there aren't gaps of naked silk thread to get grubby with wear. So this takes time. There's also the thrilling problem of arranging all these colors and sizes in a way that suits me. Pre-planning is essential. But, if I wind up unhappy with my results, I know I'll be adding to the collection next year. Every year it's a whole new necklace.


  • At 10:46 AM , Anonymous Dave Daniels said...

    Mmm, tools!
    What a guy, building you a gig and everything. You'll be drilling pearls for everyone before you know it.

  • At 11:29 AM , Blogger The Fibers of Life said...

    You certainly have a clever and devoted man there Roxie. Have you learned to tie pearls? It is a fun thing to do but takes patience, which you have I'm sure. Enjoy your new string of pearls.

  • At 12:29 PM , Blogger Rose Lefebvre said...

    Wow! What a set-up!
    You, cussing? Nah, not Roxie!!!!

  • At 5:33 PM , Blogger Alwen said...

    That's really cool. I remember trying to string watermelon seeds when I was a kid, and breaking/splitting them with the needle.

    If I had only known about teeny drills back then!

  • At 9:02 AM , Anonymous Lisa Nowak said...

    I'll bet your hubby had fun making that jig for you. The perks of being married to a machinist! Is there any way you can use a cooling liquid while you're drilling? Water or some type of oil? Or would that just be too darn messy? It's probably not too convenient to set it all up in the sink. But maybe if you did it on a counter top with one of those lipped rubber mats that goes under a dish drainer.

  • At 10:58 AM , Blogger Heide said...

    Holy moly! What an brilliant solution. This is daunting task of miniscule proportions and something I'd never endeavor for fear of insanity. Hope you enjoy this beautiful Saturday. Are you going to OFF? I'm staying home due to budget and time constraints so I'm hoping to live vicariously through those who go.

  • At 7:44 PM , Blogger Donna Lee said...

    That is such a cool set up. It looks like the big drill press we have in the garage. I like playing with tools like that.

    15 minutes to drill one pearl? That's dedication to craftmanship. I'd like to see the pearls after you string them.

  • At 2:55 PM , Anonymous Benita said...

    So, when can we see the necklace? I want to see all the colors you have collected!

  • At 5:46 AM , Blogger Amy Lane said...

    You have a clever, clever indulgent husband-- and an amazing, fun passion. That's so awesome--Must tell my dad about that, he's a sucker for and connoisseur of things like that:-)

  • At 8:05 PM , Blogger craftyjules said...

    Thanks so much for your post. I have been considering investing in tools to drill my own pearls, but haven't been able to find much about the whole process. 15 minutes per pearl! I had no idea it would take so long. And I want 2mm holes, which would probably take longer. Thanks!

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