Jewellery designer Tom Rucker reveals how his passion for innovation led to the pursuit of new technology and design perfection
London-based designer Tom Rucker is celebrated as an inventor of groundbreaking jewellery technology. Some breakthroughs credited to his genius includes the patented coloured platinum and micro-laser welding technology, which are processes that he creatively combines in his extraordinary jewellery. In this interview, we find out more about his creative process that results in jewellery design that’s quite ahead of its time.
Who or what nurtured your extraordinary innovative spirit?
I was born and raised in Munich, next door to a German facility that was building and testing space technology. Their rocket science fired my imagination with space fantasy and in turn, inspired me to stay on top of technology.
I am the fourth generation of master goldsmiths in my family, but my early childhood passion was to be an architect. Fate decreed otherwise. I had a learning disability and could not achieve the school grades necessary for architecture training. So when I was 16, I did the next best thing and started an apprenticeship as a goldsmith, working doggedly for over seven years to become a master goldsmith.
How did you perfect the process of micro laser welding for platinum?
My innovative jewellery journey started in 1994 when I heard that an engineering company in Munich had invented a micro-laser welding machine. Being the techno buff that I am, I knocked on their door with the intention of using the technology in jewellery making. The machine was large and complex and the scientists had not worked out applications. I gave them a lot of feedback and over time, they developed a small machine that could sit in my workshop. That was my eureka moment and it launched me on my journey of jewellery creation. Personally, I think the process is extremely precious and I exclusively apply it to create. I feel it should not be wasted on jewellery repair or such trivial applications.
Bringing colour to platinum has been a quest by many for dozens of years. How did you invent colours for this metal?
Ever since I started working with platinum, I have wanted to add colour to this fascinating and precious metal. Its unique physical properties prevent it from being alloyed to alter its colour; nor can it be enameled or electroplated.
My discovery to dye platinum happened by accident. There was a small explosion in my workshop and we had to evacuate. When I returned, I discovered that the platinum I was working on had changed colour! That became the starting point for a long and difficult journey of investigation that culminated in the patented Hyderian platinum colours. The process includes combustion of the alloy and the main colours I am producing are shades of blue, red, and green.
Can you describe your creative process?
When I create, I start with a thin platinum wire and laser-weld it under a microscope into a design that I visualize. The precision I desire is achieved by working under magnifications from 16 to 20 times and sometimes up to 40 times. It is a crazy creative process and is rapidly ruining my eyesight, but I am so fired up to create.
Is there a Tom Rucker specification for the ideal piece?
Perfection! Each piece I make needs to be perfect both in craftsmanship and design. I do not draw or sketch a design. I make the piece directly at the bench and thankfully, there has been very little failure on my path to engineered perfection.
Creatively, who inspires you the most?
US architect Richard Buckmister Fuller and his Geodesic Dome influenced my creative thinking, but strangely, I first saw Geodesic structures on a TV space fantasy drama and these were probably implanted in my subconscious long before I became aware of his work. A wonderful moment for me was when one of my geodesic pieces was purchased as a gift for his daughter by her friend.
Inventing is a lonely process. Were you met with resistance when you first introduced the new technologies?
Fortunately, my clients are into new ideas and were very excited about what they saw as being decades ahead of current jewellery trends. When I first showed at the Goldsmiths Fair in London in 2007, someone described my work as a “spaceship crash-landing onto the jewellery scene.” They were excited by what was futuristic technology.
You seem to love working with diamonds and gemstones to enhance your three-dimensional creations. What is your favourite?
My favourite gemstone is a fine blue sapphire, preferably from Sri Lanka, but these are so rare, so for now, diamonds of outstanding quality are my best friend.
What can the jewellery world expect from Tom Rucker in the future?
I am now starting to make objects and sculptures using my technology. Unfortunately my microscopic work is taking a toll on my eyesight so there may be an “expiry date” on my jewellery creation.