Kern Valley puts a ring on it

Photo by Grace Harrison / Special to the Sun; Michael Mercado (pictured right) helps Briley Cushman (left) solder her own unique pendant at the Silversmithing Class at the Nuui Cunni Cultural Center last month.

By Grace Harrison
Special to the Sun

On a sunny day during the last week of October, jewelery lovers alike gathered at the Nunni Cunni Center with aspirations of making their own piece of jewelry. And that’s exactly what happened at a new silversmithing class taught by local jeweler, Michael Mercado. “This class here is a new class. We’ve just recently started it in the last three months. This is our second class that we’ve held,” said Mercado. At this class, participants get to decide between making a sterling silver ring or pendant. Mercado, owner of MGM Jewelry and Loan, is with each participant every step of the way, demonstrating and helping students with each step in the silversmithing process.
Mercado’s own customers inspired him to start teaching the class. “I’ve had a lot of people come to me and ask what got me into doing jewelry and they saw the equipment and said ‘I’d love to learn how to do this!’ and I go, ‘Well there’s no reason you can’t learn how to do this. Let’s set a day and a time and then we had enough people to set a day and a time and Wayne at the Nunni Cunni Center says ‘We got a facilty that you’re going to be able to teach at,’ and now we got a jewelry class!” Mercado stated.

Participants start by selecting a gem of their choice. There are a variety of gems from quartz to turquoise to amethyst. After selecting a gem, students then pick decorative metals to embellish their piece of jewelry. With the help of Mercado, students shape and solder their pieces of metal to a base for their jewelry. Those who chose to make a ring then use metal to create their band, customizing it to their own ring size or the size of their loved one. Meanwhile, those who created necklaces bend metal to create a clasp that their chain will run through. Following this step, participants can now put their gem into their finished base. After a little fine tuning, the final step in this process is polishing the finished product.

Mercado’s favorite part about teaching the class is seeing the expressions of his students once they see their finished piece. This is also his students’ favorite part of the class. Courtney Miller took the class with her 12-year-old niece, Briley Cushman. When asked about how she found this class she said: “I saw it on Facebook and was really interested in it because, you know, to make your own piece of jewelry, that was exciting, and they said it would be a sterling silver quality piece. And in this valley I’m always looking for things to do!” Cushman decided to take the class so she could spend some quality time with her aunt. Debi Maloy, another student, decided to take this class because she’s always wanted to do something with jewelery.
Some might be wondering if silversmithing is a hard skill to learn. Set your fears aside because all the class participants agree that Mercado makes the workshop both fun and interesting. “It’s easy because Michael explains everything just step by step so I don’t think it’s a high difficulty level. I brought Briley, she’s 12, and last month I brought my daughter, who was 10, and they completed projects,” said Miller. Maloy added, “It hasn’t been hard. It’s a little challenging, but it’s been a lot of fun. Anything fun is usually a little bit difficult. Otherwise, it’s not fun. It’s been a lot of fun.”
All of the students clearly loved the class and would encourage others in the community to take it for a variety of reasons. “In one day you go from nothing to something that you take home. You don’t have to keep coming back, (but) you can, and you learn more skills, but you can just come once, and you walk out with something really neat at the end of the day,” said Miller. Cushman agreed with her, saying “Yes!” and would also encourage others to take the class. “It’s always fun to learn something new,” added Maloy.
Upon first learning about this hands on workshop, some may be scared to take a silversmithing class because they are not artistically inclined. Mercado disagreed with this philosopy saying “I am not artistic. I’m more mechanically inclined. This is something you’re going to be working with more metals than arts.” He added, “It’s available to everybody and that it is not just a class for arts and crafts, it’s a class to build a career. People see this as just ‘Alright, it’s just an arts and crafts type of class, like you know, I can go paint a rock’ kind of deal, but can you do painting rocks and turn that into a career, a profession? This you can turn into a profession.”
Those interested can sign up for the next silversmithing class in two ways. They can sign up in person at the Nunni Cunni Center or at MGM Jewelry and Loan located at 6749 Wofford Blvd in Wofford Heights. You can also sign up through MGM Jewelry and Loan’s FaceBook page at https://www.facebook.com/mgmjewelryandloaninc/.

Photo by Grace Harrison / Special to the Sun; Courtney Miller soldering her very own unique ring at the Silversmithing class at Nuui Cunni Cultural Center last month.

Photo by Grace Harrison / Special to the Sun; Cushman and Miller showing off their jewelry at the Silversmithing class at Nuui Cunni in October.

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