Ever since I was small, I have always liked to collect small and odd objects. I got them mostly from second-hand shops, flea markets, and sometimes from friends. I am always fascinated by their connections to the past. I would imagine what had happened to these objects, and let my mind roam freely. I am not a true collector though, as I quite often would dream up ways of infusing new life into them. Time lay traces of history on old objects, and to me, they are much more approachable than new items.
A few months ago, I re-discovered a little mesh bag that I have almost forgotten about. I found it at a flea market in Paris many years ago. It is about seven centimetres tall and not quite five centimetres wide. Its clasp at the opening has long fallen off, and a dot of solder is all is left. I bought it originally for its exquisiteness. After some background research, this bag is likely to be for loose coins, and this kind of mesh can have its root traced back to the Middle Ages, where knights would wear metal mesh for protective use. The making of this type of clothing, called mail or chain-mail, was very labour intensive. A good quality one could be consisted of 250,000 individual iron rings. I feel a little bit more connected to the people of that era. The bag I have was machine-made, and apparently was very popular earlier last century. The mesh-making machine was only invented in 1909. All of a sudden, my thoughts started to wander.
Is this broken bag still useful? The rings forming the mesh are all intact, and the overall proportion of the bag itself is tasteful. It is only missing a clasp. For a jewellery piece, the usual consideration would be on its aesthetic. We praise a bracelet as being “beautiful”, but rarely would we proudly proclaim it “practical”. But for this small component – clasp, it always has to be pragmatic. This is the most basic, and the purest, and often the most overlooked component.
I still remember the times when I was studying fashion design. My teacher would passionately explain, how to properly prepare and attach buttons and catches. These should never be afterthoughts, but should be an integral part of the original design. Orientation of the fabric should be taken into account, plus interfacing should be added when necessary. Each and every tiny steps should be performed meticulously. A properly designed and attached button, she said, should last the lifetime of the clothing. This level of dedication burned an everlasting impression on me.
Being a jeweller, it automatically means friends and relatives would bring in their damaged jewellery pieces and ask for advise. More often than not, the damage area is around the clasp. I still remember a rather thick necklace that I used to have as a child. It had a well-proportioned M-clasp, in which a piece of jade would hang. I was a naughty child, but this necklace survived all my tricks. Today’s designs, however, usually use too thin a chain, and let the pendant freely slides. Over time, damage is almost inevitable.
From the basic theory of jewellery-making, a clasp should be reliable, comfortable and easy to use. I once made a leather bag for a family member. I only wanted the best, the most sturdy, and the most reliable. I first observed his habits and routines, and designed the bag around his needs. The strap of the bag was made with his height in mind. All the details and colors were carefully finalized. The outcome was a classy and handsome bag, made from solid tan cowhide, with soft sheep skin for backing. Of cause it was all hand-made, down to the last stitch. I even made the clasp from a single piece of 3mm thick sterling silver sheet, stamped with the intended owner’s initials. It was the best leather piece that had I ever made, and I was happy. All these well intentions resulted in one comment: It was too heavy. It made me realized that in life, we are not always searching for the best, but the most suitable or appropriate.
My husband does not like to see things going wasted. He is the official repairman of our home, and will save up all spare parts, raw materials in his little treasure box for later use. Every time his “treasures” find new lives in a repair, the glow of happiness on his face is so sincere. A few years ago, he took a small piece of brass from his treasure box, and made a rest for my blowtorch. It was a simple hook, but the design and placement took into account my habit and the nature of my work, and also the functional requirements of the torch. When I now casually put down my torch, I still feel the comfort of the alignment between the body, the tool, and the work at hand.
Reliability, comfort, and ease of use are the basic requirements for a clasp. Extending these to our approach to daily living would mean a relationship of moderation and appropriateness with out surroundings. It is simple, unassuming, and timeless. I really have to thank this little mesh bag for giving me a chance to reflect on our modern ways of living.