Rob Coppage and his wife bought Aylen and Son Jewelers in 2017, less than a week before their own son was born. ISLANDER PHOTOS BY SARAH HINCKLEY

A test of metal: what the right chemistry can bring to life



SOUTHWEST HARBORWeeks of staying home this spring to protect against the novel coronavirus were tough on jeweler Rob Coppage, but a new design and the idea that sparked it inspired a return to the studio. 

A pendant of Mount Desert Island, with a heart stamped in the area of Southwest Harbor or of Bar Harbor, became the design idea that helped not only to get his creative juices flowing again, but is one that will also help a few local causes. 

“It’s the pendant that helped me get out of a funk (during) this pandemic and helped me get back into making things,” said Coppagewho presented an incentive to purchasers of the item.

This design pulled jeweler Rob Coppage out of a creative ‘funk’ during the pandemic and has become a way to help other businesses on the island. Twenty percent of the sale of the pendant can be sent to any business, restaurant or artisan to help out during these tough economic times.

Through the Facebook page, It Takes an Island, Coppage offered to contribute 20 percent of the amount of the pendant to a local ‘charity, restaurant or maker’ of the buyer’s choice. In a little more than a month, he has sold about a dozen to people as far away as Ohio and sent nearly $700 out to local organizations. Most of those purchases were online, where Coppage’s business, Aylen and Son Jewelers, continues to grow its presence.  

Without the foot traffic of tourists that businesses like the jewelry store count on, Coppage is also one of the businesses in a precarious situation this season. 
“If you really want to help a small business, a small purchase can buy a tank of gas or keep the lights on,” he said. “If it doesn’t pick up, a lot of businesses are going to fail.” 

Shown here is a ring from the display case at Aylen and Son Jewelers. Gems and stones for jewelry sold at the store are purchased from cutters based in the United States.

Coppage got into working with metal because of his love for swords and knives, but the product he creates with his skill has a much softer look. After earning a degree in fine arts from Virginia Commonwealth University that focused on metalsmithing and jewelry design, Coppage was an extra on the show Legends & Lies. There, he met his wife, Maddie, who was part of the costume crew. They went on to work together on the show Turn,” which is about Revolutionary War era spies.  

When they tied the knot in 2016, the new Coppage couple honeymooned on Mount Desert Island and met Peter Aylen, who was ready to retire from operating a jewelry shop on Main Street. Just four days before their son, Ronan, was born in 2017, Coppage and his wife Maddie purchased Aylen and Son Jewelers.  

Their experience and similarity in skills to the Aylens made them a great fit for the business. While Coppage came into this new endeavor with a small catalog of original designs, he also had nearly 40-years-worth of designs that were created by Aylen. And, with her talent for beadwork and for being a great sounding board for Coppage’s designs, Maddie is an integral part of their business. 

Shown here is an example of a wax mold made with the injector machine. This will be covered with plaster and cooked at a high temperature that will burn off the wax, leaving a mold for the metal.

Working with metal is a lot of chemistry and geometry, according to Coppage. There is a process with the right chemistry that can bring to life a stunning work of art. Understanding the scale and scope of a design is where geometry becomes an essential part of the process. And, even if a piece comes together perfectly, it may not be one that sells or achieves heirloom status. In that case, what makes metal attractive to work with is that it can be melted down and made into something altogether new, which is a service Coppage offers.  

“I had one lady come in with five engagement rings from when she was younger,” said Coppage. “She, apparently, was a heartbreaker. She said, ‘I want (you) to make them into something.’” 

Beginning with wax for the majority of his designs, Coppage can craft a myriad of rings, bracelets, tie studs, earrings and pendants. On average, he will come up with five to six original designs each year. He also creates custom pieces or one-offs, which are one of his designs with a small change made at the customer’s request. A custom engagement ring can take Coppage up to seven hours to make, if he is able to sit and focus, which can be difficult when he is on toddler duty.  

Most of the items in the display cases around the intimate space on Main Street are the result of a multi-step process that includes wax, plaster, metal and often stones or gems sourced from cutters in the United States. A common theme in the designs is aspects of nature.  

All designs begin with wax, either a small strand or a block from which to carve his next design. Jeweler Rob Coppage employs a multiple-step process using wax, plaster and metal to create fine jewelry.

It all begins with wax. There are several kinds of wax, but it comes down to a soft type that can be molded or a hard version that can be carved. A design is formed with the wax and that design is then covered with plaster. Once the plaster is completely adhered to the wax, it goes into a kiln where the plaster cooks and solidifies into a mold and the wax burns off. Next, hot, liquified metal is poured into the plaster mold. Once it is cooled, the plaster is cleaned off and the piece is buffed and polished for presentation to the public.  

When a design comes out as a perfect prototype, Coppage takes the metal piece and makes it into a mold with vulcanized rubber. With that mold, he can then inject wax into it and repeat the process.  

Making jewelry is not the only way Coppage works with metal. He has tried his hand at weaponry and has a hand-crafted dagger to show for it. Recently, in partnership with Ian Leies, who owns All Point Fine Finishing, Coppage has started refurbishing antique doorknobs and locks. Most of the ones he has worked on are brass. Because of his expertise, he is able to highlight the original designs carved into the doorknobs and its accessories.  

What Coppage most enjoys creating, though, is heirloom jewelry to mark those special moments in people’s lives.  

“Metalworking and jewelry (aren’t) about that one gold engagement ring or that one expensive piece,” he said. “It’s about making something that will last and the story around it.” 

 

Sarah Hinckley

Sarah Hinckley

Former Islander reporter Sarah Hinckley covered the towns of Southwest Harbor, Tremont and neighboring islands.