Making of… hinged dragonfly pendant

Paul came to me looking for a dragonfly-themed piece, as an extra-special gift for his wife’s significant birthday.  It seemed the perfect excuse to revisit my hinged dragonfly pendant concept from 2008, but in my now favourite medium – wax carving and casting.  As discussing various design options, we chose a theme of stylised realism, with moving, articulated wings and with the dragonfly’s body itself as the clasp pin.

I hybridised these two designs

I began as usual by researching the subject, including looking at close-up images of dragonfly wings.  I simplified the body plan, omitting the deep keel and legs to streamline the design and ensure the piece would sit well against the wearer’s body.  I planned for it to be 80mm (3”) wide – not quite matching the largest I’ve seen in the wild, but certainly substantial enough to be a statement piece without overwhelming the wearer.

I started construction with the head and body, by threading thin slices of wax onto a drill bit and carving, filing and sanding them as a single piece.  I use a ‘wax pen’ – a small battery powered hot wire – to melt and weld wax scraps together.  This allowed me to build up the shape of the head for sculpting.

Testing the body against
paper wings

I glued design printouts onto slabs of wax, cut the wings out roughly then carved them down to the final size.  Continuing to work in 2D I thinned the wings down to about 3mm overall, then welded them onto the wax body. 

At this point I began sculpting the wings to be 3D.  I wanted to echo the independent, twisting movement of a dragonfly’s wings, without compromising the structurally important overlap.  I got the wings down to 1mm thick, with a 2mm ridge at the leading edge for stiffening and to reinforce the overlap. 

I held the wax up to the light frequently as I worked – you can see by the tone how the thickness varies, and if different parts match.  It is also very helpful for spotting stress cracks in time to patch them with a tiny weld. 

Checking wing thickness and spotting a crack at the junction between the right side wings

Once I had the weight and shape of the wings refined, I worked on the body.  I drilled out the core to its final size, and used a brass test pin to ensure the proportions were pleasing. 

I rounded the individual knuckles of the hinge, reducing friction and creating a stylised, segmented look.  I extended the final segment to better mimic a real dragonfly, with the added benefit of extra stability for the hinge. 

Refining and extending the body shape

Now for the fun part – detail!  As the dragonfly was near life-sized, I had the room to replicate the pattern at life-size.  I used techniques I’d honed carving scales onto some of my dragon pieces, which looks especially good when highlighted with a dark patina against a bright polish. I copied the wing’s main structural lines onto the wax with a fine marker, then VERY CAREFULLY scribed the vein lines with a pointed tool. 

Detail, done!

I welded on very fine loops for attaching the chain to the back of the wings, and that was the piece ready to send to the caster.

Testing the action of the hinge with a temporary brass pin

I was delighted with the parts when they came back, requiring minimal clean-up to get the hinge fitting and working.  The fabrication was largely routine, except for shaping the pin.  I wanted to add some textural detail to the tail, help sell the illusion and integrating it with the body portion.  Dragonfly bodies are quite varied, so I selected elements that would work within the constraints, and took a few liberties.  I used my drill as a lathe, supporting the piece with a (well protected) finger or two as I filed and sanded it to shape.  Once complete, I soldered it into a socket in the cast head. 

The finished piece

Oxidising the piece brought out all the details just as I hoped, and it’s ended up a really eye-catching piece.  At the commissioner’s request I added a card with a sketch, to make sure that the recipient knew he’d had it especially made. 

I’m happy to say she was delighted with her new piece!  I’d love to do more dragonfly-textured pieces in future.

Thanks to Paul’s patronage, I’m delighted to offer this piece for general sale and shipping worldwide.

It’s available to pre-order in my shop now, shipping in time for Christmas – for more info and photos of the finished piece, visit the shop page here: