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Meet the Makers: Our Polisher, Ben

Tell us about your position at Taylor & Hart.

As a polisher, I’m in charge of polishing all the jewellery that comes through the workshop. Applying different finishes, like matte or rhodium, and making sure everything’s ready to go through the final stage of quality checks.

Would that mean you’re the last person to handle a piece before it goes to the customers?

I’ll be the last person in the workshop, yes. It’ll come to me and I’ll make sure it’s looking as good as it possibly can. They’ll then go through QC, ready for final approval and then, yes, it’s shipped to the customer.

So, no one can touch it after you touch it?

Hopefully not. Hands off, haha.

How did you get started in the industry?

Well, I’ve always, always been interested in jewellery, but where I’m from, it’s never been something I thought was achievable. But then an opportunity opened up and I just thought, you know what, why not now? So I went for an apprenticeship. Got it and then haven’t looked back since.

Ah, wonderful and what did your apprenticeship entail?

A lot of mastering the basics of polishing, using the equipment, all the stuff I do in my day-to-day work now.

And what are the basics of polishing?

Depending on what the stage is, because pieces can come in at different stages, like pre-polished, which is nice for me, it makes my life easier. But they can come in quite rough, so that would mean buffing rings up to a certain standard until they’re ready to hit the mop.

Ooh, what’s the mop?

The mop is one of the main utensils we use to polish jewellery. There’s a harder mop you’d use first and a softer one to finish. So, it’s just bringing them up through the gradual stages until it’s sparkling and ready to go, and then that’s it.

You mentioned applying different finishes, can you tell us a bit more about them?

As well as just a regular, clean polish, you can also apply a matte finish, which is more muted and less shiny. It’s either applied by hand or by a special matting brush. If a piece has bevelled edges, I’ll apply it by hand with sandpaper, to keep those bevels nice and sharp. We also do a satin finish, which is a slightly coarser matte. They’re the main finishes that we do here at Taylor & Hart, so it all depends on the design of the ring.

Do you remember what was one of the first rings that you worked on solo?

It was just plain wedding bands for the first few months. It takes a lot of practice to work up to more complex designs, especially those that feature gems. If you’re not trained well enough, it’s quite easy to damage the stones.

Oh no, have you ever had a close call?

I’ve never lost or broken anything beyond repair, haha, but I’ve had some close calls. One comes to mind when a stone nearly went in between the floorboards. If it falls through, you’re basically finished. Luckily that didn’t happen.

I also once had a fine necklace and, by this point, I’d polished 100 necklaces so I was not worried about it. And then it got caught in the mop, just a bit too far under. It pinged around, against my hand, and the whole entire necklace smashed into a million pieces. It was quite scary, but it really taught me to be reactive.

Oh, my goodness, that’s quite scary.

People can lose fingers, those that do heavy links especially. If you catch one of them in the mop, you’re losing a finger. There’s no two ways about it. So it is quite scary and you have to be paying attention and certainly know what you’re doing. That’s why they make you do about a thousand jobs before you get to use the mop.

Do you have a favourite piece of jewellery? Obviously not necklaces, haha.

Definitely not necklaces, haha. My favourite thing I’ve ever polished was a gold ring that had, I think, 200 microset stones and a £400,000 ruby set in it. Once I saw it finished, it was one of the most stunning things I’ve ever laid eyes on.

That’s amazing. How big are we talking?

I’d say it’s probably about three and a half to four carats and such a deep red – pigeon blood is what it’s called. It was just mesmerising.

I’ve polished many, many million and multi-million-pound rings and it’s a lot of pressure when you’re the last person touching it. Because everything is now on you, you bear the burden of it all.

What does your typical day look like?

When I come in, turn all the equipment on, make sure that the water’s changed in the ultrasonic machine, have a clean-up of the general area. When I’m polishing, it gets so dirty so quickly, so I have to make sure to keep on top of it. Then you just prioritise which piece needs to be done and just get cracking.

How many would you do in a day?

Probably around 40 jobs is what I’m looking to do. That’s a good, productive day for me.

Do you have to wear any special protective gear?

I wear a magnifying optical visor because I need to see the pieces very closely. I wear a respiratory mask because of all the chemical compounds that I’m constantly around, and gloves because the hands get absolutely filthy. At the end of the day, my face and neck are covered in the stuff and my hands are practically charcoal, so that’s awesome.

So straight to the shower as soon as you get home?

Haha, exactly.

Do you have any stones that you’re super afraid of working with?

As a polisher, it’s an emerald or tanzanite for me because they’re so soft and fragile but have to go into the sonic machine. If there’s one small fault or blemish it can just shatter. That’s why we make sure we source only the best gemstones.

Have you ever followed up on what happens after you’ve worked with a piece?

It’s nice if I polish a ring that’s stood out to me and I’ll see someone wearing it on the Taylor & Hart Instagram. They’ll look happy and excited, and I’ll know I was the one to put the finishing touches on it before they got it. It feels like really nice closure.

Overall, what would you say is your favourite aspect of what you do?

By far, it has to be restoring something a bit old, like an heirloom or a well-worn piece. Nothing comes close to it. When I get a ring that looks years and years old and I can see how rough it is with massive dents, then I get full control over it and I can buff it nicely, and shine it up again. I essentially turn what is effectively an old, battered ring, into a brand new ring. I love it so much. Especially when you see a customer’s face and almost as if ‘is that my ring? There’s no way that could be mine.’

A bit like at the Repair Shop.

Exactly, I love making that happen for people.

Ben spoke with such passion and enthusiasm about his work and it was a joy to see how much of a perfectionist he is. With so many fascinating, dangerous and heartwarming stories, it’s clear to see he’s got a wealth of experience which he applies to every facet of his work. It’s safe to say you can be confident that your ring is in great (and steady) hands.

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