Jewelry box

By Yves Lemay Apr 18, 20

Hand Made Jewelry Box in Sterling Silver Set With 811 Gemstones, 18K Yellow Gold Plated 



The history


The history of the box starts with the history of one of the oldest gemstone trading families in Sri Lanka. 


The family business beginnings date back to 1890, when two young men from the famous Port City of Galle, Ceylon decided to go to the New World - Australia to sell the world-famous Ceylon sapphire. 


Not long after their first expansion, they managed to achieve great success in their business, having expanded to the United States and Australia. 


In the early 1930s, the family increases their share of the Ceylon gemstone market by several business acquisitions. 


The family further increased their shares in the cutting, polishing and trading business, with growing exports to Australia. 


With the increased sales in Australia, the family expanded their business by establishing their office in Hong Kong. 


By this time, the family supplied cut & polished gemstones to buyers from America, Australia, Europe and Japan, which proved to be highly successful. 


In 1967 the family opened a lapidary employing, among others, 30 Chinese cutters for the cutting of calibrated Ceylon star sapphires and Australian opals.


With finely cut gemstones in stock, an intricate jewelry box was made by the famous Kandyan Goldsmiths, Sri Lanka.


No documents regarding the commission of the jewelry box have been saved, but the history of the jewelry box can be documented by the historical photographs of the family members with the jewelry box. 


By 1973 gem mining in Sri Lanka increased and many valuable gemstones were found. 


The buyers wanted to buy directly from the mines. 


With years of family experience in the trade, the family further increased its share in the Sri Lankan gemstone market and established a new cutting and polishing company in Colombo. 


The company increased the share in purchasing and cutting of rough sapphires to bring out the best in each stone. 


By 1975, many overseas buyers were buying through the Sri Lanka office. 


Today, the family has become a dependable supplier of good quality gemstones. 


Box description

Picture of the Jewelry box from 1967

Picture of young  Shamil Sammoon with the jewelry box,1975





The design style of the jewelry box is called KATAYAM, in Sinhala language, and comes from the royalty of Sri Lanka (Ceylon) going back to the 15th Century. 


The jewelry box was made of 18K gold plated sterling silver. It consists of 4 main parts, each separately hand made and joined together by riveting, hinging and screwing components. 


The box originally included 811 (805 at the moment GIA produced the monogram/certificate) round and oval, faceted and cabochon cut gemstones.

Conditions before restoration

Throughout its lifetime, the jewelry box has been in use by the owner’s family members. 


During the inspection before the restoration, it was revealed that the bottom of the box has incurred some deformations due to the weight/pressure, applied to the box from top. 


The main setting that holds the star sapphire was loose and the part of the lid under it was deformed. It also had some misalignment where the lid met with the frame of the box, making it very hard to close properly. 


Other issues included some missing gemstones as well as deficiencies in the quality of the surface areas.

Conditions Before Restoration of the Jewelry Box
Conditions Before Restoration of the jewelry box
Conditions Before Restoration of the jewelry box
Conditions Before Restoration of the jewelry box
Conditions Before Restoration of the jewelry box
Conditions Before Restoration of the jewelry box
Conditions Before Restoration of the jewelry box
Conditions Before Restoration of the jewelry box
Conditions Before Restoration of the jewelry box
Conditions Before Restoration of the jewelry box
Conditions Before Restoration of the jewelry box
Conditions Before Restoration of the jewelry box

The restoration

The Jewelry box restoration has been placed to my hands since I specialize in the meticulous art of metal polishing and have 21 years of experience in jewelry design, manufacture and restoration and I am also a fine armors enthusiast, hence my strong interest in fine metalwork as brilliantly displayed on the jewelry box.

Yves Lemay portrait photo

Master jeweler Yves Lemay





The first time I had been shown me the GIA monogram of the box, I was struck by the sheer beauty of this antique work of art with its extensive engraving, chasing, and repoussé. 


I also realized, based on my previous restoration experiences, that if a major restoration work could be undertaken, I would be able to dramatically improve the quality of the surfaces, literally giving the whole piece a new life and a very different visual impact. 


The biggest part of the whole process would be to have the lower surfaces uniformly sandblasted and the embossed details, along with all the settings, high polished, effectively bringing a lot more life to the piece as a whole, but also putting in value the 6 months-long processes that the 

Sri Lankan craftsmen spent hammering out all these delicate shapes and vegetal patterns, greatly accentuating the bas-reliefs effect.

The original production & subsequent restoration

The restoration’s first step:


The very first thing that was done on the box, after the detailed assessment of the work to be done, has been to take off all the red velvet linings that were made and fixed by the Japanese antiques restorers in early 1980s.


The detailed plans of each part/faces of the box found in the GIA monogram were then printed, and then the gemstones were unset, one by one, to get them glued with a double face tape on the numbered plan. 


This step started on the first day of a high-profile cultural event held in Shanghai by the Québec government, directly organized by the Québec representative in China, Mr. Jean-François Lépine. 


The Québec Prime Minister himself took part in the event and had a brief discussion with me regarding the box, congratulating me for my skills and professionalism required to take care of such a project.

jewelry box restoration drawings
jewelry box restoration drawings
meeting with Yves Lemay and Quebec Representative and Prime Minister

From left to right: 


Master jeweler, Yves Lemay

Québec representative in China, Mr. Jean-François Lépine

Québec Prime Minister, Mr. Philippe Couillard

Stage 01: Hand-made lid of the jewelry box

The production:

Approximately 1000 grams of silver were melted to form a silver slab about 3.0 cm X 9.0 cm – 7 mm thick. This slab was fed into a motorized rolling mill which reduced the thickness to about 3.0 mm. 


This sheet was then hand-beaten down to approx.: 1.5 to 2.00 mm thick and approx.: 30 cm x 20 cm and shaped with a slight dome as seen in the top of the jewelry box. 


The edges were then cut with a metal cutting scissor to take its present shape. 


This sheet was then fixed on to a wood plank. A doping wax (Silec) was poured onto it. 


At this stage, it was ready to work on the design layouts to begin the chasing and repoussé processes.


The outline design of the dome of the jewelry box was then marked with a fine tool and then certain points are beaten down with a blunt metal tip about 3 mm in diameter to give depth to the design. 


This process is called “chasing”.


Once this was done the lid was removed and fixed top side up.


Then certain areas were beaten down to refine the outside lines and other details. 


This process is called “repoussé”. 


Finally, more detailing was achieved with a fine blunt tool the design was made into a 3D effect. 


The smaller garnets & spinels up to 6 x 4 mm were cut to calibrated sizes and the frames made according to those sizes. For the sapphires & rubies the frames were handmade to fit the gemstone. 


Other frames were also made to match the shape of the gemstones. 


The frames were then soldered as seen in the jewelry box. 


Subsequently, the setting of the gemstones has been done. 


The lid was once again fixed to the waxed wood panel and the gemstones are set.

The restoration:

The lid was separated from the frame by pulling the silver wire out of the tubes of the hinge. 


It was then carefully straightened up by hand, but also using pliers and soft hits on the inside with different sizes of rubber hammers. 


The top center was also straightened. 


Additional soldering material was added both with conventional soldering process and laser welding on the junction of the tube/hinges and in some areas of the outline of the lid. 


A setting with an orange garnet was also cut flush from one side of the lid to allow the new stainless-steel pin to be inserted in the hinge. 


That same setting was then modified to be screwed back on the centerpiece after the stainless-steel pin has been fixed back.

Jewelry box during restoration process
Jewelry box during restoration process
Jewelry box during restoration process
Jewelry box during restoration process
Jewelry box during restoration process
Jewelry box during restoration process

After fixing the shape, each prong of each setting was fixed by adding sterling silver of filling off some for each of the aforesaid prongs to have the same proportionate shape and size. 


Additional soldering material both with conventional soldering process and laser welding was also added in some areas that were slightly broken open during the original making of the work of art. 


Then, all embossed areas, along with the flat surfaces and each setting’s surfaces, including inside, were sanded out with sandpaper grit 800 as a first step. 


Following this first sandpaper step, all the lower surfaces were sandblasted with fine sand to achieve a flat and non-shiny finish, which helped in hiding small surface irregularities. 


The last sandpaper step with grit 2500 was then done as a preparation for polishing. 


The inside of each setting was then polished and the gemstones re-set in their original setting, alongside the replacement gemstones we have selected. 


Each prong was then properly shaped in preparation for the polishing.



Polishing was done by first using a silk ribbon with mildly abrasive polishing compound around each of the settings, with a special emphasis on hard to reach areas with conventional tools. 


Small bristle brushes were then used, mounted on a flexible shaft motor, to reach all the small areas to at the same time sharpen details as well as to limit as much as possible the used of bigger tools which tend to take off too much material when used extensively. 


The aforesaid bigger polishing tools (big bristle brushes and cotton wheels mounted on a polishing lathe) were then use with the same mildly abrasive polishing compound to complete the first polishing step. 


The piece was then thoroughly cleaned using an ultrasonic bath and an industrial steam cleaner. 


All the above steps were then repeated once more, but this time using a fine finishing compound, then cleaned again using the same process.


Stage 02: Hand-made walls of the jewelry box

The production:

The same process, as with the lid, was repeated. 


This piece was much more demanding to work with as the 8 sides are made of one long silver sheet over 100 cm in length and 10 cm in breadth. 


Then bent 7 times to make the octagon shape and align with the lid and soldered only at one point which is the back of the box.


The smaller garnets & spinels up to 6 x 4 mm were cut to calibrated sizes and the frames made according to those sizes. 


For the sapphires & rubies the frames were handmade to fit the gemstone. 


Other frames were also made to match the shape of the gemstones. 


The frames were then soldered as seen in the jewelry box. 


Subsequently, the setting of the gemstones has been done.


The walls were once again fixed to the waxed wood panel and the gemstones are set and each frame was hand-polished with a polishing tool.

The restoration:

As with the lid, additional soldering material both with conventional soldering process and laser welding was added on the junction of the tube/hinges and in some areas of the outline of the centerpiece, along with the areas that were slightly broken open during the original making of the piece. 


3 bars of silver were also added on top of the existing ones to provide a proper resting place for the lid when opened. 


The whole centerpiece had to be straightened up to fit perfectly inside the lid when closed, especially at the back with the hinge, since it was deformed and as a result, the lid couldn’t close completely.

An improved closing mechanism (better shaped, stainless steel instead of iron) has been fitted into the center part of the jewelry box, alongside with the 3mm parts at the bottom of it, which were then drilled and tapped to receive the specially designed screws that would replace the rivets that were originally used to fix the centerpiece with the bottom part.


After fixing the shape, each prong of each setting was fixed by adding sterling silver of filling off some for each of the aforesaid prongs to have the same proportionate shape and size. 


Additional soldering material was also added in some areas that were slightly broken open during the original making of the work of art. 


Then, all embossed areas, along with the flat surfaces and each setting’s surfaces, including inside, were sanded out with sandpaper grit 800 as a first step. 


Following this first sandpaper step, all the lower surfaces were sandblasted with fine sand to achieve a flat and non-shiny finish, which helped in hiding small surface irregularities. 


The last sandpaper step with grit 2500 was then done as a preparation for polishing. 


The inside of each setting was then polished and the gemstones re-set in their original setting, alongside the replacement gemstones we have selected. 


The piece was then thoroughly cleaned using an ultrasonic bath and an industrial steam cleaner. 


All the above steps were then repeated once more, but this time using a fine finishing compound then cleaned again using the same process.

Stage 03: Hand-made base of the box

The production:


Once the sheet had been beaten to the required size, the bottom of the base has been hand-engraved. 


The 4 legs were carved out of wax, then cast and soldered on each corner of the base. 


The base has been then attached to the centerpiece of the jewelry box using sterling silver rivets.

The restoration:

Re-shaping of the box’s legs was done by filling and using both 800 grit and 2500 grit sandpaper. 


The whole outside surface of the bottom was prepared for polishing using only 2500 grit sandpaper to prevent the hand-carved details to lose their definition. 


Small bristle brushes were then used, mounted on a flexible shaft motor and using a mild polishing compound, to reach all the small areas to at the same time sharpen details as well as to limit as much as possible the used of bigger tools which tend to take off too much material when used extensively. 


The aforesaid bigger polishing tools (big bristle brushes and cotton wheels mounted on a polishing lathe) were then use with the same mildly abrasive polishing compound to complete the first polishing step.

The piece was then thoroughly cleaned using an ultrasonic bath and an industrial steam cleaner. 


All the above steps were then repeated once more, but this time using a fine finishing compound then cleaned again using the same process. 


After the restoration of the base of the jewelry box, it has been reattached to the centerpiece using custom-made screws instead of rivets, thus making it easier to disassemble and reassemble the 2 parts in the future.

Stage 04: Hand-made silver setting for the star sapphire and the 2 rows of chrysoberyl cat’s eyes

The production:

The 3 separate parts were first carved in wax and then cast in sterling silver, a screw was then soldered on the base (for further fixing on the lid), the 3 parts were tightly fit for assembling, and then set with all the gemstones.

The restoration:

The 3 pieces were separated for polishing and plating then re-assembled and plated.

Stage 05: Guilding (electroplating) in 22K yellow gold

The production:

Water-based potassium cyanide (KCN) bath. 

Warming of the bath for better electrolysis.

5 grams of 22K yellow gold were dissolved into the acidic solution to electroplate the jewelry box, which was connected to the electrode and the part of the jewelry box was connected to the cathode.

Stage 06: Electroplating

Plating was then done in 4 steps, namely: a flash of 18k yellow gold, a layer of palladium as a protective barrier, a layer of rhodium for the extra shine and brightness, then the final layer of 18k yellow gold.

End Result

Picture of Shamil Sammoon with the jewelry box, 2018

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