DAMSCUS STEEL: Q&A with Green Lake Gold, Platinum, and Blacksmith Celeste Tracy

August 7th, 2012
Categorized under: Artists, Jewelry

Carbon steel Damascus band with a silver liner – A growing specialty from Green Lake Jewelry Works

Here at Green Lake Jewelry Works, there’s been an increase in requests for Damascus steel bands –sturdy rings patterned with organic waves and reminiscent of antique weaponry. It’s no wonder; they’re super cool. Not just any jeweler can craft this sort of ring either, as forging steel this way requires specialized training and tedious practice. Celeste Tracy, a jeweler and blacksmith with a background in larger scale architectural metals, is Green Lake’s go-to artist for these Damascus steel pieces. To find out more about this specialty metal, we ask her: What is Damascus steel, anyway?

 C: Damascus is an ancient process of steel making which is similar to what blacksmiths make now. The proper term is pattern welded steel.  Most people (guys anyway) recognize the term Damascus because of the history and that is why the name persists.  Damascus was in ancient times the center of steel making where legendary blade steel was made.  Steel was made from iron by hot forging together layers repeatedly which introduced carbon from the forge into the iron making it harder.  The layering could be seen in the finished steel blade as a byproduct of construction long before it started becoming a decorative technique. In modern times ancient techniques are replicated by newer methods of manufacture.  The fact that layers of steel are hot forged together, then etched to bring out the pattern is the only thing in common between the modern and the ancient.

In the Green Lake Workshop – each artist at the bench possesses their own niche and specialty. From front to back jewelers Jeremy Dunn, Adrienne Krieger, and Celeste Tracy.

 Why is Damascus more more expensive than plain steel?

 C: Well, it’s labor intensive, and the specialized large, hot, noisy machines needed all require an appropriate shop space.

 At Green Lake, we only make-to-order one ring at a time. Do you think Damascus steel jewelry can be mass produced?

Yes there is even ” Damascus” jewelry on the market that has a fake surface pattern etched in (or lasered in), this will wear off and then it’s just a plain steel or titanium ring.  If real damascus jewelry  – where the pattern is throughout the steel  – is being mass produced, it would come down to quicker machining methods.

Real, hand-forged Damascus steel band where the pattern is one-of-a-kind

Damascus steel rings from Green Lake are often wavy in their pattern, whereas more of a ‘leopard’ print  is displayed on fine knives. Is there a reason for that?

Whatever pattern you want can be made. Most clients want patterns in their ring that makes them think of sword steel, ancient and organic.  But now blacksmiths can make pretty much anything you can think of, just takes time and imagination and experimentation.

 

Damascus steel blades from Oregon-based knife maker, William Henry

 How did you learn to work metal in this way? Is it easy to learn?

Carbon steel Damascus band with a silver liner

When I saw a class offered in Damascus Steel at Pratt Fine Art center in Seattle, I was so excited. I had no idea one could take a class in this.   Damascus was considered the epitome of the blacksmith’s art and the methods were somewhat secret.  When some blacksmiths started sharing their knowledge with new people it was kind of a heresy. Now there are workshops, youtube, and books available, but it still requires specialized equipment and hard work.  I have spent a LOT of money for classes and have the use of the equipment at Pratt where I’m the only one who continues doing it. I worked very, very hard in exhausting conditions to really learn it.  Now I can pretty much make whatever I want (if I have the time).

 About the artsist:

Celeste Tracy

Art, engineering, and manufacturing are all one in the same for Celeste. The steps are identical: Investigation, education, planning, and process—these are the means to an end. So it should follow that Celeste’s background and education are rooted in both engineering and fine art. From constantly drawing throughout her childhood, to being captivated by jewelry making in high school, to rebuilding and furnishing a home with art and metalwork, making things has occupied Celeste’s whole life. Having studied jewelry as an art form at the University of Washington, she has continued to train in blacksmithing as well as the process of making Damascus steel, and thus brings a broad range of artistic experience to Green Lake. Prior to joining with Green Lake, she worked in architectural metals. She says, “The only difference is the scale. Metal is metal.”