Jewelry Repair Taos, Los Castillo Candelabra Repair by David B Anderson
Earlier this Summer I had an opportunity to work on a pair of vintage Los Castillo Candelabra. I have no idea of how old they were but my guess is that they were made somewhere between 1950 and 1960. I base that on how much wear and damage is present. I have worked on several of Los Castillo pieces of jewelry but never something this big. I love the work that they produced! I find that they made jewelry of consistent quality and workmanship. Any piece of jewelry that is loved and cherished will show signs of wear and tear. That is where my repair skills come in to play.
When I first saw these pieces I was intrigued by the scope of the repair. I wasn’t surprised by the shape they were in being as old as they were.
There were 2 candelabra. One was together and one was taken apart and in pieces. The sticks were made of brass that had been plated with silver. About 1/2 of the silver plating had been removed by continuous use and polishing. Each of the elements had chrysocolla inlayed into different parts. They were a mess! In the photo you can see that quite a few of the chrysocolla stones were missing. Some of the candleholder parts were bent from being knocked over and hitting hard surfaces. The glue under the stones has dried and almost disappeared creating great voids under each piece. The brass had also oxidized quite a bit and there was a huge amount of silver polish compound leaving a white residue under the stones. One of the candelabra was in pieces because the threads of the upper elements were worn out and stripped so a previous owner or shopkeeper put silicone glue on the threads to hold them together.
In the process of assessing the damage and coming up with a procedure for repair I had to take into account lots of different things. First and foremost was the condition of the stones that were original. Many of them were so soft and broken that the mere act of picking up the candelabra could dislodge the stone from its glued position. Next if I were to bend parts of the candelabra back into shape I could break off lots of different stones. Then there is the repair of the stripped threads on two of the upper parts. The sticks are silver plated so the act of heating up the brass could cause the silver to oxidize and disintegrate. I had to decide if the glue under the remaining stones could be strengthened and stabilized or if I should just remove all the stones and start over. I made the decision to strengthen the original glue and support the stones.
The first thing I did was to carefully clean the sticks and try not to dislodge or damage any old stones. I spent hours with a toothbrush and soap cleaning and scrubbing. There was a lot of oxidation behind the stones and I had to carefully scrape the metal to remove the old glue and oxidation so the new glue would hold. I also had to carefully cut the broken and crumbling sections out so new sections could be cut to fit. There were voids in glue on every piece of existing stone. I located 3 nuggets of stone I thought would make good replacements for the missing stones. All in all I had to recut and replace 40 or so stones. I built a jig to gently put pressure on some of the parts so I could bend them back to the original shape without crushing the rounded ball form in the middle or break stones. I had to bend 3 of the pieces back into shape. I held by breath and worked very, very slowly!
I had to slab the stones and get a thickness appropriate to be able to contour them to fit the curved sections. I made paper templates of each piece of stone that had to be cut and fit. The cutting of the stone was very tedious. I would cut several stones at a time. Each stone had to be contoured to fit that particular space. Because the chrysocolla is a copper bearing stone I took special care to protect myself from the toxicity of the material. I used an apron, earplugs, rubber gloves, a respirator, towels and an optivisor for magnification. At one point I had to take a studio selfie in all my protective gear!
One the stones were cut I would clean them carefully and glue them in place. Then I would move on to a new section and do it over and over again.
I finally got to a place where I had to do something with the threaded parts that were stripped. I figured out what threads the original makers used. I made two pieces of brass tube that were the exact size I needed. I machined threads into the inside of the tube to fit the threaded stem. Machining the worn out threads to the new brass tube and soldering it in place was next. That part done and polished I could finish gluing more stone.
Once the stones on a piece were glued and set I could carefully grind off the excess stone. I had to be extremely careful not to hit the metal and grind off what was left of the silver plate. When the rough work was done I basically ground down the stone to the final shape very slowly to match the original contour of the first stone. The original stone was not finished to a very high degree so I matched the texture of the old stone and the new stone. Once I got it to the shape and polish I wanted I used some good old floor wax to seal the stone and give it all a fairly good protective finish. The whole project took me close to a month of work to finish.