In Freemasonry this is most often a Past Master’s jewel, a Knight Commander of the Court of Honour jewel, a Thirty-third Degree jewel, or some other past presiding officer’s jewel. Jewels or “decorations” are also found outside of Masonry. The Medal of Honor is the United States of America’s highest award for valor in action against an enemy force. Other US awards include the Presidential Medal of Freedom and the Kennedy Center Honors. In the UK there are awards from the Queen, such as an Order, Member, or Commander of the British Empire (OBE, MBE, CBE) and the Distinguished Service Order. Creating jewels of this caliber is a complex process that involves the input of a number of highly skilled craftsmen and women, each of whom is proud of their contribution to the final product.

Toye & Co, founded in 1685 in England, produces both Masonic and civil awards, and takes us behind the scenes for the production of a Masonic jewel. The process begins with design. Using the latest computer technology and immersed in the symbolism of Freemasonry, the team of designers interprets the description (and sometimes guides the customer if they do not have a specific idea of the final jewel). Explaining the value of the drawing created by the design team Gary Hiley said: “The drawing is the foundation. At each subsequent stage the craftspeople build on this foundation, perfecting every subtlety and nuance to create the final jewel.”

Next the die sinker turns the two dimensional image into a subtle three multidimensional die from which the many jewels can be manufactured. “We have well over 250,000 different dies in our stores, some going back to the 1800s,” explained Nick Ellwood, Business Development Director at Toye Kenning & Spencer. “There is a die for everything from Spitfire badges produced during WWII to raise money to build the fighter planes to Football Association Cup Winner Medals.” Jim Baker is the company’s senior die sinker. “You may think cutting a die is simply a case of connecting a computer controlled milling cuter to the computer aided design and letting it do its work. We could do it this way but the final die would lack the richness that determines how the gold reflects the light. A good example is the KCCH cross for Southern Jurisdiction where each arm of the cross has a hand-finished pattern cut into it to reflect the light through the translucent vitreous enamel. The laurel wreath also has a raised centre and the inside leaves are slightly higher than the outside ones, giving the piece depth. Achieving this subtlety depends on the experienced eye and judgment of the craftsman. “Production then moves to the stamp shop. The company has a number of drop hammers and large and small presses including a 400 metric ton friction screw press. Stamper Mick Puusta works this press with such skill that at times it seems to barely touch the metal. This means he can be incredibly precise in transferring the design from the die to the metal. “It’s easy to deform the metal with the press but very hard to draw out the detail we’re looking for,” he explained. “Often several strikes are needed to get the full detail and I may have to anneal or soften the metal between strikes to counter the work hardening. “Tools are manufactured to match each die and it is at this stage that they are used to clip the piece, removing the excess metal aſter it’s been stamped, to pierce it, and to remove any unwanted metal on the inside. “We have to locate the holes for the mounting pin precisely, “explained Roy Badger, Toolmaker. “If we get it wrong, the jewels will be out of kilter and the job of mounting the other components impossible. Hand engraving is also done at this stage by David Hacker. “As with many of my colleagues I have worked for the company for several decades after following in my father’s footsteps into the trade.” Each piece is then hand finished before being plated. Imperfections left at this stage are amplified by the plating process so again the eye and judgment of the craftsman is essential. A little like a witch’s kitchen, the plating shop is full of all sorts of substances bubbling away. Whatever the finish, the piece must be clean before each plating process and thus many of the stages in the plating shop involve cleaning the piece in an ultrasonic bath with detergents, acids, alkalis, and clean water. If a warm gold is needed, a substrate of copper is typically used, and if a bright gold, nickel. Ten the gilding, gold or silver, is plated on top. Next, if required, artists enamel the piece. Vitreous enamel is powdered coloured glass in suspension and the craftswomen hand-paint it on to the piece. “We often apply many layers to get the right depth of colour,” explained Brenda Davis. “Between each layer we fire the piece over an open flame so we can see exactly what’s happening; there is little difference between the melting point of the glass and silver, and a kiln lacks the sensitivity required. Cheap enamels have neither the translucency nor the hardness we can achieve.”

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