Nancy Troske is a master goldsmith, trained in classical jewelry making techniques such as enameling, granulation, and chain making. She takes her inspiration from ancient designs and imbues her pieces with a modern sensibility. Her process of stone selection, metal work, and hand granulation respects the origins of this craft, which began in the third millennium B.C.
Every element of Nancy’s jewelry—from metal wire and sheet to clasps and hinges—is created entirely by hand. Because of this level of intricate detail and expert craftsmanship, some pieces can take weeks or even months to produce. Nancy likes the combination of silver paired with 22k gold, sometimes oxidizing the silver to contrast beautifully with 22k’s rich color to give them a contemporary twist.
After receiving her BFA, Nancy began her jewelry making career in the mid 1970’s at the Jewellery Workshop and Gallery in Soho, NYC. There she studied under Fredericka Kulicke and Joseph English, learning cloisonné enameling, ancient chain making and granulation. She continued her enameling studies with Gay Giannini-Huntley. After several years, she headed to the San Francisco Bay area to study under Alan Revere and also worked as a bench jeweler in a busy Bay area store.
Nancy eventually moved back to New York and has been working as an independent artisan ever since. Relocating to Princeton, NJ in 2009, she spent taught metalsmithing alongside her original instructor, Fredericka Kulicke. She has taught workshops at Princeton University, Princeton Arts Council and Brookdale Community College. Her work has been featured in private collections and art galleries around the country, including the Princeton University Art Museum, the Barnes Foundation and the Australian Maritime Museum.
Nancy is the inspiration behind the scenes for Fiona McKay, the fictional goldsmith in the March 2020 release of No Stone Unturned by the NY Times best-selling author Andrea Kane. She consulted with the author for over a year to bring to the story the modern day struggles of a working goldsmith in New York City. For the Irish story based book, Nancy designed the book's collection of Celtic inspired jewelry, incorporating her own ancient based jewelry making background into the pieces.
In October 2019, Nancy had a chapter devoted to her in the Princeton oriented book, Fallen Bedrooms by Dr. Donna Clovis. Dr. Clovis specializes in documentary work and storytelling heard from the people she meets in her travels. Being in the right place at the right time, she focuses on the synchronicity that occurred as she gathered the information through interviews and researching articles. This book is the fifth installment of a series centered on Princeton, examining themes of race, media manipulation, and time traveling via the subconscious.
Nancy also does custom work on her own offerings or by breathing new life into customer's unworn and forgotten jewelry.
Granulation or fusing involves raising the temperature of both the back sheet and the granules and wires to be fused, to the point at which they melt just enough so that they will adhere permanently to one another. It is done using a small kiln to heat the bottom of the piece while heating the top of the piece with a torch. It’s a very delicate operation. If the correct temperature is not reached, the items to be fused will not hold properly, making it necessary to reheat the whole piece and try again. If the temperature gets too high, too fast, meltdown can occur, which is irreversible. Needless to say, much skill is needed to bring both the back sheet and the object to be fused to the appropriate temperature very slowly. The artist will see a quick “flash” in the metal, which occurs for just an instant.
Granulation is a technique one must learn simply by doing. Most granulated pieces get a quick brushing with a brass brush to give them a nice buffed finish rather than a high shine.
There are many examples of classical loop in loop chains that have survived through the centuries. Today’s versions still look stunning and are made with the same basic techniques used long ago.
Each chain begins with links made from wire, called loops. Most begin with round wire formed into rings and fused with a torch. Only precious metal such as pure silver and high karat gold can be fused for an undetectable seam. The ring is then bent and formed, then woven into a chain. Chains can be woven into round weaves and flat weaves. The can be worn alone or used to attach ornaments. To create a chain, the artist must first draw the wire through a series of holes in a plate until the exact wire gauge is achieved. The wire is then wound around a small mandrel to make a coil. The coil is cut into individual rings. Each ring must then get fused. Hundreds or even thousands can go into one chain. Once the rings are made, they are shaped and woven, one by one into the chain. The chain will be finished with a hand fabricated “termination” or cap and matching clasp.
Cloisonné enameling is an ancient metalworking technique, is a multi-step enamel process used to produce jewelry, vases, and other decorative items. Cloisonné first developed in the Near East. It spread to the Byzantine Empire and from there along the Silk Road to China.
First, the artist forms silver or copper into the shape of the finished object. Cloisonné wire, which is pure silver wire (sometimes 24k gold wire) usually about .010 x .040 inches in cross section, is bent into shapes that define the colored areas. This done with small pliers, tweezers, and custom made jigs
The cloisonné wire is set in place using a clear enamel which tacks the wires to the surface. The surface must be fine silver, high karat gold or copper. Sometimes very thin silver or 24k gold foils are placed into the cloisons to add depth and luminosity to an area before filling with color.
Vitreous enamel (glass crushed to a powder) is packed wet into the cloisons (cells). After the enamel has dried, firing in an oven melts it onto the metal. Several repetitions of the process will build up the coatings to the height of the partitions. Various colors and transparencies may be used in combination within a single partition to obtain the desired artistic effect. It is a labor intensive process and can take many firings over many days.
The fully fired enamel then requires polishing for an even and smooth surface. There are several ways of polishing, fire polish or hand polish. Although both methods require grinding the enamel down to the top level of the wires, fire polishing is easier and faster. Once the enamel has been leveled by grinding it’s put back in the kiln and re-fired for a high, super shiny finish that is slightly bumpy.
Hand polishing is the method I use. Using different grades of sandpaper, from coarse to very fine, the enamel is ground down by hand until it starts to obtain a smooth, luminous quality.
Basse taille enameling (French: “low-cut”)is a technique in which a metal surface, usually gold or silver, is textured, engraved or carved in low relief and then covered with translucent vitreous enamel. This technique dramatizes the play of light and shade over the low-cut design and also gives the object a brilliance of tone. Developed in Italy in the 13th century, this form of enamelings was especially popular in Europe during the Gothic and Renaissance periods. I often use basse taille with cloisonne for a very interesting and unique effect.
Once the enamel “jewel” is complete, it is then placed in a silver or gold hand fabricated setting.
Ancient goldsmiths worked in much the same way as modern day ones. We have different tools, but the methods are the same. This video shows melting 22 karat gold into a “finger” shaped ingot. It is the beginning of making very thin wire for an ancient quadruple chain. It takes an ounce of 22K gold wire to form enough small rings to weave into the chain. The wire gets put through a wire rolling mill to its smallest groove. Then it is pulled through holes in a drawplate until the correct wire gauge is achieved. The wire gets wrapped around a small mandrel and formed into a spiral. The spiral gets cut into individual rings which are then fused together, by hand, one by one. Each loop is shaped and woven in a particular order into the chain. When the chain is the desired length it will become wearable by adding end caps and a clasp.
This metal forming technique dates back nearly 5000 years and combines two different processes: repoussé, meaning “to push,” pushes metal from the back of the piece, giving the piece depth, and chasing pushes metal from the front, adding detail to the piece. These two processes are combined to form intricate, highly detailed artwork. There are no molds, stamps or machines used in this process. These techniques, however, aren't only used on small decorative pieces. This is how both the face mask of the Egyptian pharaoh Tutankhamen and the Statue of Liberty were made!
Repoussé or repoussage refers to shaping metal by hammering from the reverse side to create a design in low relief. Chasing, chased work, or embossing refers to a similar technique, in which the piece is hammered on the front side, sinking the metal. Many different steel punches are used to decorate and/or texture a metal surface.
Chasing, originates from the French word 'chasser' meaning, 'to chase' as the technique involves pushing back the metal to make the design protrude forward. In a similar vein, repoussé is another French word meaning 'push up', referring to the action of hammering behind the design to bring it forward at the front.
Beginning with a drawing on a flat sheet of metal (gold, copper or silver) the artist creates a 3D design. Nancy Troske uses chasing and repousse to form flower and leaf forms, giving them movement and dimension; working the piece from front to back over several days. These small “wearable sculptures” are then oxidized to bring out texture and buffed to a semi-gloss polish. The back is left open to allow the tool marks from the process to be visible.