The Workbench of the Alchemist – or The Goldsmith’s Table
If one wishes to fuse valuable materials such as gold, platinum, and precious stones through an elaborate and delicate processes and refine them into jewelry, one requires in addition to skill and a keen appreciation of art two more crucial ingredients: complete calm and a laboratory perfectly tailored to the needs and habits of the craftsman.
In the case of the goldsmith this means a delicate, smallish table with many drawers to the left and right and a semicircular recess on the top. The jewelry maker doesn’t sit so much at, but as it were in the table.
The goldsmith table is the place where the magic happens: around it are located all the devices and tools exactly at arms length. They are small, refined and oriented to the outermost precision. Located on the lap of the goldsmith, where one must tame fire, hammers, drills, pliers and file metal and stone, is a so-called “lap coat” round in shape, attached in place, and made of goatskin. Gold dust filings accumulate here and precious stones are protected by the soft leather. If a still unfastened diamond were to slip out of the hand and fall the floor, it could break or split and eternity would no longer last forever.
Thomas Hauser’s table is made of sycamore wood specifically for his bodily measurements. It ensures that he will be able to reach his tools without looking up even during the highest concentration. The jewelry maker sits like and organist before his instrument attending to the organ stop, the pedals, and the keys. And just as a musician can never take back a wrong note, so too the goldsmith can allow no mistake. One wrong move and a stone can shatter. A short moment of inattentiveness and the piece being worked could melt into itself.
The centerpiece of the table however, the axis so to speak around which all the action revolves, much like the file, small pliers, the calipers, and all the other precision instruments is actually quite inconspicuous—almost artlessly simple: it is the hardwood filing nail that is mounted directly over the lap coat, and is as important and intimate for the goldsmith as the mouthpiece is for the trumpeter. It is the contact surface for the processing of precious items. Over time it becomes sanded down into a miniature landscape which the goldsmith knows so precisely that each valley and every hill can be used.
Thomas Hauser sits at his goldsmith table on a very low chair so that he finds himself at eyelevel with the work piece: “the filing nail and I establish a strong affinity. It is the grounding point on which everything takes place, and if I ever work again somewhere at an unfamiliar table, I take it with me like a piece of myself, and in this way I can be everywhere at home”