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Designer's Notebook - The Story of My New Owl Ring

Published on Tuesday 14 November 2017

Designer's Notebook - The Story of My New Owl Ring

Inspired by Pets

July 2017

I’ve been thinking about the pets in J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series and the endearing touch that each student takes their pet with them as they head off to school at Hogwarts. There’s Ron Weasley’s owl Pigwidgeon, Hermione Granger’s cat Crookshanks, and of course Hedwig, Harry Potter’s faithful snowy owl. Hedwig was played by different owl actors in the films as you can see from the photo below taken at Harry Potter World.

It reminds me of another of my all-time favourites – Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials trilogy – where each character has a dæmon. Pullman’s dæmons, which usually take the form of animals, are external physical manifestations of your inner self that mostly behave as though they are independent of their humans – like a pet. I’m always drawn to pets and I’m known for enjoying canine visitors to my shop!

My Dæmon Would Be an Owl

Harry Potter World, Hedwig, animal owl actorsEarly August

It was while treasure hunting with my dear father at Ardingly Antiques Fair that the pieces of the jigsaw came together. I wanted to create a statement dress ring with glistening gemstones. I found a vintage owl ring at the fair and was inspired to create an owl ring based on Harry Potter’s beloved Hedwig. I like the idea of having your own special – and in this case wearable – dæmon companion!

A Surprising Discovery

Catherine Hills Jewellery design inspiration, vintage findsMid August

The owl I’d imagined for the design had small pointed ears, as in an illustration for a children’s book. But when I started to study snowy owls I realised they don’t have visible ears. Owls’ ears are on the sides of their heads behind their eyes and are covered by feathers. The ear tufts visible on some species are not ears at all but display feathers!

Owl Gazing

Brad Wilson owl photographLate August

I began researching owls and came across the most amazing varieties. I was mesmerised by the fascinating owl portraits taken by US photographer Brad Wilson, who I discovered through Audubon magazine. The personalities he captures in the birds’ direct gazes are astonishing. You can view more of his work here.

Why We Love Owls

Catherine Hills Jewellery, Owl ring research, vintage findsEarly September

It was while researching owls that I realised why I find them so appealing. Their huge eyes, small pointed beaks and feathered faces are so expressive – owls appear to be so much more human than other birds. It’s no wonder we seem to have such a soft spot for owls and they feature so heavily in children’s fiction – Martin Waddell’s slightly harrowing Owl Babies, Owl in A.A. Milne’s Winnie-the-Pooh books and the owl in Jan Pieńkowski’s Meg and Mog series are a few that spring to mind.

Recently I was lucky enough to be in the garden of the old house that AA Milne owned when he wrote Pooh and I came across Owl in the garden!

Catherine Hills Jewellery, Owl ring

Owl Designs

Catherine Hills sketchbook, owl ring
Late September

I finished my design and sent my sketches off to my specialist wax carver. When I first started sketching I’d wanted my design to have ear tufts but as my ring was to be a true representation of Harry Potter’s snowy owl Hedwig I focused on creating beautiful feathers around the sides and top of the head to give the piece interest from all angles.

Wax Carving

Catherine Hills Jewellery design, original wax form, hand carved wax masterCatherine Hills Jewellery design, original wax form, hand carved wax masterEarly October

Most jewellery is now visualised using computer-aided design (CAD) but I still hand-make all my jewellery masters or work with my specialist hand carver to create a wax master form from which my design is cast. I’ve worked with my wax carver for over seven years – she’s incredibly skilled and specialises in animal images so I knew I had to work with her on this piece. I approved the wax master and then sent it to my specialist mould-maker so the rings could be cast in sterling silver.

Choosing Jewels

Catherine Hills Jewellery, Owl RingMid October

One of the things I love about being an independent jeweller is the flexibility it gives me to customise designs to be completely individual for the end wearer. I can personalise the eyes of the owl ring with any precious or semi-precious stone a customer likes, but for my ready-to-wear piece I wanted to use glistening orange-yellow tones. I sourced some scintillating precious yellow sapphires and exquisite orange-toned semi-precious madeira citrines to offer two choices.

Finishing Touches

Catherine Hills Jewellery, Owl RingLate October

The cast rings are returned to my workshop and jewellery shop in The Pantiles in Tunbridge Wells in Kent. I felt excited but also slightly nervous when the parcel arrived. I immediately set to work oxidising the sterling silver of the rings to accentuate details such as the feathers and big, kind, expressive eyes.

I now have a very limited number of owl rings available. You can order your owl ring here with darker stones or here with the lighter stones.  Or do stop by to try one on. You can find my shop in the lower Pantiles in Tunbridge Wells and I’m open from Thursday to Saturday.

Catherine Hills Jewellery, Owl Ring

Catherine Hills Jewellery, Owl ring

Catherine Hills Jewellery, Owl ringCatherine Hills Jewellery, Owl ring

Catherine Hills Jewellery, Owl ringCatherine Hills Jewellery, Owl ring

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