Making The Discworld Necklace!

“In a distant and second-hand set of dimensions, in an astral plane that was never meant to fly, the curling star-mists waver and part . . .

See . . .

Great A’Tuin the turtle comes…”

-Terry Pratchett, The Colour of Magic.

If books are gateways to other worlds, the opening words of Terry Pratchetts’ first Discworld book are a well-worn threshold, polished by millions of travellers all heading out on a Discworld journey that for most, lasts a lifetime. The first lines of the greatest fantasy saga ever written, shaped by the creator some three and half decades ago, have welcomed countless readers to the Discworld. Truly, in the beginning, was the word… and the word was a world.

Great A’Tuin is the ultimate symbol for the innumerable hours that many of us have spent In Terry Pratchett’s fantastical imagination. The real world can be a serious place and so, we wanted to create a special piece of Discworld jewellery that would enable fans to wear Discworld close to their hearts each and every day. A reminder of the magic, wonder and wit of Terry’s words in theses interesting times and a talisman to protect against sense of humour failures… a small memento of Terry’s books as precious as the world turtle itself!

Making a World…

Depicting the entire Discworld is no mean feat. Not just because it includes multitudinous dimensions invisible to the human eye, or because there is very little visual reference for ancient world-turtles floating through space while covered in colossal pachyderms and geography. It’s actually very difficult to create a composition that incorporates adequate aspects of both turtle and elephants and shows a pleasing proportion of the Disc. If you gaze down on Discworld from above the elephants are obscured, except for a protrusion of trunk or tusk perhaps. If staring elephants in the eye, the surface of the Disc would be lost. To sculpt the world is all its dimensions would result in a pendant that would be rather uncomfortable and impractical to wear – a statement piece for the few and not the many.

We therefore decided to depict A’Tuin in detailed low-relief… but to legibly describe an elephant-borne planet atop a star turtle in a depth of 3mm or less is an unreasonably tricky task. Thankfully, we at the Discworld Emporium are not reasonable people. If working with Sir Terry Pratchett and almost thirty years of creating Discworld merchandise has taught us anything, it’s not to be constrained by reality. We gleefully began designing a brief, knowing full well that the actual mechanics of the producing the thing would be someone else’s problem…

The Right Tool For the Job…

Technology is a wonderful thing, and the advances in digital modelling and 3D printing would potentially have given us unrivalled control and accuracy throughout the sculpting and production process. The thing is, we’re good old-fashioned, old-school craftspeople who believe that the soul of a piece comes alive when forged by the human hand – the greatest tool any of us is ever given, and wonderfully imperfect. Perfection is, sometimes, overrated. A piece like this can be made so precisely that it might look perfect, it sometimes ends up feeling wrong. This little pendant was too important to trust to a cold, unfeeling machine. Thankfully, through Discworld, we’re lucky enough to know some of the most exquisite makers in the world, many of whom are still free to walk the streets. One such person is Bethan Williams, a delightful human being who, when not gardening, carves wax like no one else we’ve met. Not only is Bethan highly sought after by very important clients from all over the world (including a certain royal family here in Britain, who shall remain nameless), she’s also a massive fan of the Discworld books, So when we approached her with our designs, she was only too happy to set to work, building a weeny world!

To understand the level of skill required, it’s important to point out a few difficulties involved in creating a miniature Discworld that might not be mmediately apparent…

Firstly, Bethan needed to work at a tiny scale – they simply don’t make tools for cutting scales onto tiny giant flippers… so she made her own. From eyes to tail, A’tuin has been sculpted in incredible detail using Bethan’s bespoke techniques requiring intense concentration and control of hand.

Secondly, wax is a wonderful material to carve, but is soft and melts at low temperatures, so when working on such a small intricate piece consideration had to be given as to how to store and support the work whilst carving it! On warm days the wax was refrigerated for a while before it could be worked on successfully, and to avoid damaging the finished areas, sprues (small sticks of wax) were attached by which the piece could be held by hand piece without it getting too warm – even body temperature can affect the surface of the wax, making it sticky and difficult to keep clean.

Thirdly, sculptors rely on light and shade to decide on shape and form. Sculpting a bust in clay or marble, you know that the form will cast certain shadows. When sculpting in wax on a small scale, you must have good strong lighting to emphasis the carved lines, so that their depth can be seen. However, when worked thinly wax can bear a slight translucence, making things more confusing! It takes a huge amount of experience to able to imagine how the light will play on the finished cast piece, and to know therefore how to make each element clear and readable.

Despite aforementioned challenges, Bethan decided that a Discworld Necklace was such an important creation that is was deserving of elevation beyond the brief. Being so diligently attentive to detail, potty for Pratchett, and passionate about the piece, Bethan took the initiative to make the pendant double-sided so that the most distant elephants, and top of the Discworld were represented. Even Cori Celesti has been carefully carved to stand proud of the Disc and incorporate the chain loop to make this stunning pendant that bit extra special.

Casting Perfection

In his second Tiffany Aching book, A Hat Full of Sky, Terry Pratchett wrote the hallowed line ‘It’s still magic even if you know how it’s done’. Sometimes, we think it’s even more magic when you know how it’s done. It’s often tempting to think that the objects we surround ourselves with simply pop into existence. We’re so proud of our little Discworld that we thought we’d share a little bit of the magic that’s that goes into the production of each necklace once the original has been sculpted.

Bethan delivered the finished wax to our trusted jewellers in Birmingham, where fine silicone rubber that would pick up every minute detail was poured over the piece to create the first mould from which a master pattern could be cast in precious metal.

From the master, a production mould was made, enabling us to produce multiple copies of A’Tuin in a specialised casting wax. Using a hot knife and a steady hand, Twenty wax pendants were carefully attached via wax sprues to a wax column, known as a ‘casting tree’. This tree of pendants was then dipped repeatedly in a a specialised jeweller’s casting plaster known as ‘investment powder’ to create a ‘ceramic shell mould’ of about half an inch thick. When dry, this hard case was fired to melt out the wax, leaving perfect hollow impressions of our original patterns and a perfect production mould for pouring molten precious metal. This method of casting is known as the ‘lost wax’ or ‘cire perdue’ technique (as the wax is burnt away and lost for ever!), and has been in use for thousands of years.  Refined over centuries, the lost wax method enables the accurate reproduction of intricate details – perfect for a precious Discworld Necklace!

To create the final A’Tuin pendants, the finest sterling silver is heated and gently poured into the mould. Once cool, the ceramic shell is smashed to reveal the precious silver tree of pendants inside. The sprues are removed to be melted and reused, however the mould is lost forever – yes readers, for every casting a new wax tree of turtles has to be created and a new mould made! Once fettled and cleaned each piece is hand-polished to bright and shiny perfection and threaded with silver chain, its keeper ring lasered permanently onto the end. Our gold-plated edition Discworld Necklaces are then trusted to expert gold platers a mere stroll from the casting house to receive a perfect coating of precious gold, gold, gold. The finished necklaces are then sent to the Birmingham Assay Office to receive their official silver hallmarks and our exclusive DW Discworld sponsor mark.

Each Discworld Necklace is made to our exacting standards, by proper crafts folk here in Britain who we know and trust to bring our creations to fruition. It’s not easy making a living with your hands these days, but there’s no better way to ensure the quality of finish that befits this stunning little keepsake of Terry Pratchett’s books. We’re utterly thrilled with the finished piece, and all that it represents. If you choose to own this special piece of Discworld jewellery, we hope you’ll enjoy fruits of all that has gone into the creation of a little tiny world that you can wear around your neck!