Making Maths Count
Maths making it beautiful
Anne Walker, a Jewellery Designer and Architect, talks us through some of the maths involved in realising her creative ideas.
I always liked the problem-solving and the puzzle element of maths. Although maths and design may appear very different on paper they’re both about problem-solving.
It doesn’t make sense to say that people are either creative or logical. A lot of the time being able to take something from an initial idea to a finished product depends on a whole set of skills, including maths. How much you use maths will vary. For example while a lot of beautiful jewellery can be created at the bench, a bangle I created for my graduation show (‘Not out of the woods yet’) was such a complex geometric pattern, with a rotating ‘apple pip’ design, I took up several pages of my sketchbook with calculations for the angles of rotation in two planes.
There’s a variety of ways I use maths when designing and making my jewellery. You’re sizing pieces, dealing with weights of metals, pricing pieces and there’s bits of physics thrown in like refraction when it comes to working with precious stones and understanding how to maximise their lustre, dependent on their refractive index – the way light is ‘bent’ through the stones.
After 20 years in architecture the recession forced me, like many others, to take a change in career and I studied Jewellery Design and Technology at Kelvin College in Glasgow.
We started out learning about the equipment and materials involved in creating jewellery, and getting to grips with the basics like setting stones and knowing how to calculate the length of metal required to make rings (if you’re interested, the formula is (A [inside diameter] + B [metal thickness])* x Pi). We were then introduced to the computer-aided design (CAD) software which immediately interested me as I had used similar technology as an architect. Jewellery design and architecture are very similar – it’s really just a difference of scale.
Manipulation of shapes
The way the software is set up it’s all about basic shapes and the manipulation of shapes – something you’re introduced to in maths at primary school. You’re creating 3D models, designed on a 2D screen.Once I get a brief from a client, together with a budget, I’ll draw and design in my sketchbook and then put it in CAD. As with many areas of work now, computer programmes may do a lot of the complicated calculations for you, but you need to know what figures to put in and how to interpret the results you get given back. In order to work out wax weights and accurately compute these into metal weights you need to understand specific gravity and the calculations required for different density of materials.
The software can calculate how much metal your piece will need and you can then work out what that will cost. If it’s going to be above the budget the client has, you can check what it would cost with another metal – for instance 9ct white gold rather than 18ct white gold – or you can tweak and refine the design very easily to bring down the amount of materials it will need. At the end of the day, like with any business you need to make money so accurately pricing up a design is really important.
Mathematical patterns in nature
As a designer I’m fascinated by how much of what is beautiful to the eye, whether it’s a man-made building or something in nature, fits with mathematical patterns. For example the Golden Ratio and Fibonacci code are found everywhere – from describing the pattern of petals on flowers to the length of our finger joints relative to the rest of or hand and arm. Numbers and maths do not get in the way of beauty! They’re often at the heart of it.
You hear people talk like maths is irrelevant, saying things like, “when will I need that”. But I actually think everyone is using maths a lot and perhaps not even realising it. Even down to basic book-keeping, which is relevant to any kind of business – it’s all maths.
I have my own jewellery label – heist jewellery – so on top of actually creating the jewellery I have all the usual administration and book-keeping that’s involved with running a business. The name heist is something I came up with in part to describe how I’m using skills I’ve taken from my previous career and maths skills are certainly amongst those.