A self-taught Butetown goldsmith handcrafts wedding rings with fine metals to create a sustainable finish and the ideal fit.
It takes less than a second for the poured Sterling to sizzle and cool over the sand, a second for the metal to fit perfectly.
For Stephen Cichocki making things fit perfectly is more than a preference. It’s a livelihood.
“It’s all about wiggling your shape in, you know?” says the young goldsmith and owner of Butetown’s Woodengold, an alternative rustic hand-cast jewellery business specialising in sustainable wedding rings.
The Manchester-native ties an ash-grey apron around his 6-foot-3-inch slender frame, his calloused fingertips nimbly finishing the knot behind his back with a swift rote tug. Cichocki pauses, takes in the lingering evanesce of split wood and old propane teeming the studio. Then he gives his body a good shake before easing into the unwavering full-toothed grin that defines every work day.
“Everything has to fit juuust right,” he says.
Which is precisely how Cichocki runs his business: on the notion that fitting inherently means that no one size fits all.
“We live in this time where things are cheap yet poorly made, abundant yet disposable,” Cichocki says. “But every person, every relationship, it’s all unique. Why would you want to express it with something mass produced?”
One of 30 tenants of the Sustainability Studio, the ecological artistic collective in Butetown’s warehouse district, Cichocki rents a small square room nestled in the corner of the industrial warehouse’s third-floor stairwell. Upon the floor lay half-empty coffee cups and sanding residue. Taking up the remaining space are a massive yellow lathe, a key lime green couch preferred by his two-year-old son for afternoon naps, two work benches contentedly cluttered and troves of wedding rings.
“It’s pretty messy, but geniuses are messy. I heard that somewhere,” Cichocki says with a spry smile.
Cichocki spends his days moulding, welding and hand-crafting inimitable rings from precious metals and wood like Sterling silver, red mahogany, marble and gold. The rings sell for £70 or £350, depending on the material, the in-lays and the castes, but the effort never falters.
Cichocki hones his metalworking on individuality and purpose, ensuring no materials go to waste and each ring’s arc curves the customer’s finger just right or that the sand cast’s patina boasts a perfectly natural brushed look, which could attest for the nearly 1,000 sales Cichocki has had all over the world.
Goldsmithing is a squint-demanding and unavoidably noisy pursuit, one that Cichocki blushingly admits was entirely self-taught via YouTube videos less than four years ago.
“But don’t tell my customers that,” he says. “They think I went to silversmith school or something.”
Before WoodenGold, Cichocki graduated from Cardiff University with a BA in Fine Arts sculpture, eventually making his way into the film industry. However, the industry’s unyielding use of fibre glass, styrene and other non-recyclable resins brewed an ever-growing frustration within the sculptor. A desire to push past the material waste fused with a nascent faith in Christianity led Cichocki to metalwork.
The only problem? Cichoki had never worked with fine metals before.
“Praise the Lord, right?” Cichocki says with a laugh.
A small wooden cross on the far right wall overlooks Cichocki’s studio. In his work desk’s top drawer, a Bible sits dog-eared at Exodus 31:5, the verse calling for Bezalel to cut and set precious gems and work with wood.
“I’m not Bezalel, but I used to say ‘that’s me, that’s me,’” Cichocki says. “So either I moved myself into the story or God did, but now, I’m a goldsmith.”
Like any new career, goldsmithing came barring teeth. Cichocki’s first sand cast rings were patchy, shallow, thin, too coarse to be considered good. His coin rings sold for little to nothing. A job lag dried out months of savings. Before buying his first lathe, Cichocki had never laid a hand on one and learned very quickly that when a piece of metals splits the wrong way, it sounds like a gun going off.
“But the thing is, you can learn loads. You have this capacity for learning that’s massive,” he says. “It’s just that everyone is scared of getting it wrong, so they often don’t try it.
“But I think that’s testament to this walk of life,” he says. “Finding how you can fit and working with that.”