Inspired by motorcycles, and the people that form the lifestyle around them, Steve West’s Silver Piston jewelry is the embodiment of the more bad-ass end of the culture. In a world saturated with mass produced products and unoriginal designs, Steve’s work goes against the grain entirely with incredible craftsmanship, for a bespoke finish that looks the mutts nuts on even the hairiest of fingers.
After chatting with Steve for a while through our Instagram, we saw how much love and hard work went into the production of his Hobonero Nickel Rings alone, we knew we had to showcase his work to our readers.
Steve kindly took the time to talk us through the process and skills behind his work below.
The Interviews: Silver Piston Jewelry
Hey Steve, how are you doing today?
Not bad, it’s the start of the holiday weekend in the states. I’ve spent the last couple of days in the studio working on a wholesale order for a new store opening in Raleigh, North Carolina called Devolve Moto. I’m really stoked to be in the store, it’s a well thought out concept with an investor putting in an amazing build and inventory.
Tell us a little about yourself…
I’m originally from Asheville, North Carolina but moved around with the family and eventually in the military. After 12 years in Chattanooga, Tennessee, I moved to Atlanta 10 years ago.
Right now I’m a jewellery maker taking a break from being a graphic designer. I’m a year round motorcycle rider. Unlike a car, it’s really therapeutic riding bikes even after all these years.
At the moment my two bikes are an ’05 Monster S4R and an ’82 Moto Guzzi V50 cafe bike. I’m getting ready to sell the Ducati because it’s just too much work when you ride 12-18K miles a year mainly in the city. The Guzzi is 80s Italian and not running because of electrical issues in spite of new wiring. It’s the charging system, we didn’t change that.
How long have you being producing jewellery?
I’ve been making jewellery for 6 years. It started as a hobby to do something with my hands that didn’t involve a computer. I took some classes locally for a year all the while buying tools as I needed them.
Where did the idea for the Hobo ring originally come from?
In 2013 I started cutting out Indian heads from American nickels made in the 1930s to put on rings. One day someone on Instagram told me about Shane Hunter on eBay making hobo nickels. His stuff was amazing, so I reached out to him via email. I sent pictures of what I was doing and we worked out a deal to get custom designed hobos from him for Silver Piston. To this day, we’ve never met face to face yet I’ve built part of my business with our collaboration. He’s gotten so much custom work partially from our collaboration it’s rare he puts coins on eBay right now.
With Shane producing the carved nickel, do you see any other future collaborations between the two of you?
I’m not really sure we will do much more than coins. He’s recently expanded his engraving to doing handguns and already has a list of 15+ customers waiting for him to do theirs. He recently sent me his old engraver to play with and try my hand at it. I’m wanting to learn engraving to be able to do more designs on the rings and have no plan of making my own hobo nickels. It took Shane years to get his technique down and I don’t see any reason to try to change something that isn’t broken.
How long does the process from a coin to being ready to wear usually take?
The first indian head I cut out of a nickel took me roughly 20 minutes. It looked pretty good but I was just really slow and trepidatious with it. Over time I’ve gotten to where I can cut the head out in about 2 minutes or so.
The rings used to take me about 3 hours to make. I kept doing all these extra steps in between each part with pickling in acid and cleaning each time I did something. Eventually I realized all those extra steps didn’t need to be done until the end.
As I started growing the business I was still working a full time UX job at Home Depot so I would invest my money into tools. Things like a belt sander, metal bender and ring sizer made the system more fluid and efficient. Today I can take a ring from start to ready to wear in about 40 minutes. It also doesn’t hurt that at this point I’ve done hundreds of them each by hand. The process was going to get faster and I think I’ve about gotten it as fast as I can do it.
Can you talk us through the full process?
Sure, it’s pretty detailed, but here it goes…
The excess from the head is also sawn off.
With the sides sanded down, it’s more sanding and filing to clean the edges and ring.
After the outside is finished, it’s onto the inside. First thing is to use a burr grinder to take the corner off the inside so it isn’t uncomfortable to wear.
When the inside is complete, it’s time to soak it in a light acid pickle to get the impurities off the nickel from soldering.
All finished and ready for oxidisation.
Oxidised and ready for brushing and final finishing.
Wow, that’s a really intricate process, where did you learn your skills?
I started taking a jewelry making class that I found on the community ed section of the Savannah College of Art and Design’s site. It was project based class using silver and started basic then got as difficult as you wanted it to be. After the first quarter, I was having so much fun I signed up for another quarter. After 4 quarters I set up my own little studio and kept making different things for fun. I just gave my stuff away to family or sold it to coworkers to buy more materials and tools.
What’s next for Silver Piston?
The immediate future has Lana MacNaughton from the Women’s Moto Exhibit coming to Atlanta for a few days. She’s riding with the Highway Runaways cross country this summer. It’s a trip sponsored by Harley and they’ll be in Atlanta for a few days and I’m playing host. It’ll be lot of around town to meet people, see a lot of Atlanta as well as doing some day rides.
After that it’s just keep growing the business and get into more stores. I’m in several including Iron & Resin, See See Motorcycles, The Selvedge Yard and want to get into Deus. Not just Venice Beach, but all of them. Lofty goal I know but goals are what keep us going. I’m also getting back into photography because I need a new hobby since last hobby has turned into a job. Ha ha ha.
That sounds like a lot of fun, Lana’s work is great too so no doubt there will be a lot of great visuals to come from the trip.
Good luck with the business and we’ll check back in with you in the future to see what else you’ve been up to. Thanks for stopping by!
Check out the rest of Steve’s line at silverpiston.com with more rings, pendants, zippo’s and keyrings, all made with the same care and attention as the Hobonero above.
Also take a peek at Steve’s Instagram, it’s always filled with shots of cool custom builds, process shots of this work and the odd meeting with a celebrity.