Bradley Dymond sits at a table in his small workshop above the jewellery store on Stratford's Broadway.
In front of him is a delicate gold chain lying on a block of pumice. He puts on magnifying glasses, picks up a tube that has a flame on the end and puts it in his mouth. He controls the gas with his breathing as he shortens a chain and reattaches a clasp.
Using the gas to solder jewellery was one of the first things Mr Dymond learnt to do when he began his five-year apprenticeship as a manufacturing jeweller 50 years ago on Thursday.
He had wanted to be a farmer like his uncle and studied agriculture at Stratford High School.
But his father had other ideas and one day said: "I've got a job downtown for you. Would you like to go and see if you like it?"
His father and Doug Butcher, the owner of Butchers Showcase Jewellers, were volunteer firefighters in the local brigade.
"I did a trial for two or three weeks," he said. "At the time it was just a job."
Using the saw and cutting on a straight line were early basics drummed in to him.
"And learning how to suck and blow at the same time. You can suck for about five minutes without taking a breath," he says as he puts the gas pipe in his mouth. The wee flame at the end gets bigger.
"It's just like playing the bagpipes. You hold the pressure in your mouth. When I first learnt to do it I'd end end up with the odd mouthful of gas. You do your fine soldering with that. For anything that is large, like silver, we use hydrogen. It needs more heat."
He still uses the same method, except he now wears magnifying glasses.
The small tools laid out beside him are the same ones he started with all those years ago. These days he uses an electric drill, as opposed to the small Archimedes drill he once worked with.
One of his first pieces of jewellery was a brooch, which he crafted out of a penny by cutting out the bird, cutting around it and scalloping it.
He made a lot of pearl jewellery and marcasite jewellery back then, he says. And he and his colleagues made the medals for all the fire brigades in New Zealand.
The most expensive piece Mr Dymond ever made was worth about $100,000.
"I made a necklace for a woman who owned the Rarotonga Resort. It was a full necklace of black pearls and we had 18-carat inserts and a diamond clasp at the back."
The biggest diamond he ever set would have probably been about a carat and a half, he says.
"There are not many of us manufacturing jewellers left. Some can make rings, but send them away to setters who set stones. There are a few of us who can still do everything."
Making things from scratch is what he still likes best but it is no longer the main part of his work. Back in the day there were four apprentices learning their trade in the room above the shop. Altogether there were seven in the workshop, which supplied most of the jewellery in the store.
Now it all comes from China, he says.
"Not a lot of what I make goes downstairs. I can't compete with the big boys. I make a one-off, these people make 100 or 200 of them in one go. We like to think people would spend money and have hand-made jewellery and have it done properly, but they seem to like the stuff made in China. Whether it's a sign of the times, I don't know. I prefer to have people come in and make things from scratch."
Most of his time is spent doing repairs.
He quotes the old saying "You can't make a silk purse out of a sow's ear" and says it applies to repairing old jewellery.
"There is only so far you can go with it. We ask the customer if they think it is worth it. You are paying for time and gold is not cheap."
When the Daily News visits he is shortening a gold chain and is designing badges for the Fire Service.
"I'm making a pearl necklace at the moment," he says holding up a black pearl. "It's very expensive.
"You might have an engagement ring and want a wedding ring to fit round that. You can't go to an ordinary jewellery shop and buy that. You have to get it hand made so it will lock in tight and not move."
He picks up a small silver charm. "Mt Egmont. That's mine. I have also made a kitchen sink charm. Pick up a women's bag, it's that heavy, there's everything in there but the kitchen sink, so I thought I'd make the kitchen sink. I've just had a woman bring in her wedding ring. She wants a disc made to make it into a pendant. So I melted it down and I'm making into a pendant. I'll put a diamond into it."
A lot of women have very narrow wedding rings, he says. They want to make something out of them for sentimental value instead of melting them down. He sometimes suggests they have their initials made out of it to wear as a pendant.
"It's quite a lot of fun making things. There is satisfaction to start with nothing and end up with a beautiful piece of jewellery . . . it's good to be able to create something."
Part of his training was to learn to design. "I suppose in some way you have to have some sort of an eye for it (design)."
Back in the day he used to design the pieces himself, but these days people come in with a picture or a drawing. But he still gives them ideas, something else to think about.
Channel-set diamonds are in fashion at the moment. That is setting diamonds in a groove, in an open channel set.
"It's a bit beyond teaching this old dog new tricks."
But while the fashion may have changed a bit, the of making of the jewellery hasn't.
"Because of the price of gold a lot of the stuff I make now is made in silver first. Then we cast it to save the wastage in gold, otherwise it would be too dear to buy."
The mark he puts on the bottom of his jewellery is still db for Doug Butcher.
Doug Butcher was his first boss. Since then Mr Dymond has worked for Mr Butcher's son and now his grandson.
"He won't let me retire," he jokes.
Not that he wants to or he would have when he turned 65.
Mr Dymond was a volunteer fireman for 28 years.
"Doug Butcher was chief of the brigade and asked if I wanted to join. I'd never thought about it and he said, 'you're in, be at practice tonight'. Every time the siren went I'd be out that door like a rocket and down those stairs."
The plan to mark the milestone was to take the staff for a few drinks at the fire station on Thursday and celebrate further with a meal at the Mountain House tonight.
"I suppose it's an achievement to still be here."
- Taranaki Daily News
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