Meet the Masters: Tom Herman, Seven Fingers Jewelry

by Metalwerx on April 11, 2013

The work of Tom Herman is ornate, but not flamboyant. Romantic yet modern, evoking classical metalworking traditions from long ago. No two pieces of Tom Herman’s jewelry are ever alike, because he designs and carves each item, taking for inspiration organic forms such as leaves and flowers, or the cut of a stone he’s created. Tom’s heirloom-quality jewelry is not the kind of work that will sit in the bottom drawer of your jewelry case. But to hear him talk about it, his work is “so simple, anybody can do it.”

Brooch by Tom Herman

To someone other than an accomplished jeweler, it might be intimidating to attempt a design with ornamentation such as is found in Tom’s work. But he insists it can be learned if the student has the desire. “If you don’t have it, it can’t go the long run,” he said.

Jewelry by Tom Herman

He’s on his cell phone, shopping at a large grocery store near Woodstock, NewYork, on the hunt for gallons of olive oil. His passion for jewelry making comes through loud and clear, excitedly making the case that piercing, chasing, and engraving techniques can be mastered with properly adjusted tools and practice.

“People stop themselves, oftentimes. This kind of work looks complicated, but it’s been done for centuries, thousands of years.  In fact, it’s been done the same way for three thousand years. And if I can do it, anyone can do it,” he said.

Transofrming Vessel with Bracelet and Earrings by Tom Herman

The Minnesota native might slyly be referring to how, despite not having five digits on one of his hands—his business is named Seven Fingers Jewelers—he has become an internationally renowned master jeweler. He started his career in San Francisco at Van Craeynest Jewelry, an atelier that follows the European-style apprenticeship system. All lesser-experienced staff receive training needed to keep alive the revered traditions of jewelry craft—even, according to its website, “skills for which we have no current use.” Tom worked at the venerable company for four years, which he said was “like getting paid to go to college.”

It was there that he learned the techniques he will share in an upcoming workshop at Metalwerx, “Carving Techniques for Gold and Other Metals,” June 19-23, the first offering in Metalwerx’s 2013 Summer With The Masters series. Using chisels, hammers, chasing tools, and a couple of gravers, students will practice bas relief techniques to turn metal into dimensional forms with geometric balance.

Tom Hermans Gold and Diamond Rings

“My job is to stand there and say, ‘One two three, ready set go, and take off. They (students) already pretty much know what to do–and I’m surprised at how many do know this–but they’re only waiting for someone to tell them it’s okay to do it,” he said. “It’s in all of our DNA!“

Tom recommends that students come prepared with a design, which is then transferred to metal sheet with a tracing punch. He uses a method to give the developing piece support without using pitch, which allows you to chase it and really move the metal.  “You get the drama mostly with the chasing punches,” he said, and no, you do not need super-human hand strength to get your metal to come to life. “The strength is in the hammer, that’s the beauty of chasing.”

Brooch in process by Tom Herman

Tom learned to make specialized, lightweight chasing hammers while an apprentice at Van Craeynest. Almost every chasing hammer on the market is two to three times too heavy for this kind of work, he said, 35 to 40 grams as opposed to the 17-gram hammers needed for chasing silver and platinum. Tool making, he stressed, is something you have to invest in. “They say, ‘the better the tool, the better the outcome,’” and he wholeheartedly agrees.

Students will learn to modify hammers, make chasing tools, to sharpen and mount gravers, and use chisels, which Tom says takes away “the fear of driving that graver right through your hands. I’ve done that many times.” Additionally, the anatomy of the saw frame will be discussed, as blades will be used not only to cut metal, but to file and shape it.

Tom will take his workshop students on a field trip to view the jewelry and tsuba collection at the Boston Museum of Fine Arts. He hopes the visit will spark a discussion about what kind of work they want to make, and to come up with plans to “focus their desire.”

2011 Trip to MFA with Tom Herman

“I think the most important thing that someone can bring to class is desire. So many of these things take so much time, it’s only your own self that gets you through it.  You have to be able to look at something and say, ‘I could do this better,’” he said. “It takes a lot of personal responsibility. It takes commitment and purpose, for this kind of work is about precision. This is all about detail and, basically I teach how to effectively work with detail.”

To register for Tom Herman’s workshop, click here or call Metalwerx at 781-891-3854. The entire Summer wit the Masters Series may be viewed here.

–by Yleana Martinez

{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

Metalwerx June 26, 2014 at 1:59 pm

Here is a link to out contact page — Glad you enjoy our blog! Our website has undergone a complete redesign, and the new version will be launched soon.

Dana Evans April 12, 2013 at 4:10 pm

Tom is a superstar!!!!

Jennifer Smith-Righter April 12, 2013 at 2:59 pm

I had the great fortune of taking two classes with Tom. His inspiration is infectious and he truly is a master at his profession. He’s also selfless and a terrific teacher. Take his class if you get the chance!

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