Metal Engraving, Jeff Parke
Photo by Jeff Parke

Metal Engraving 101 With Hand Engraver Jeff Parke

It seems like every morning is Christmas when we arrive at the studio and crank on the computers. There is nothing better than getting a “Dude, you have to check this guy out!” email when we open our inbox. Finding unique craftsmen like a metal engraving badass is the #skillsetfam mission and featuring them in our magazine is our No. 1 priority. 

Jeff Parke: Metal Engraving Extraordinaire

As soon as we saw Jeff Parke’s work, we knew it was our duty to show our fans his amazing skillset. There are master engravers, and then there are master engravers that are entrusted to carve on $100,000 family heirlooms. It’s an unnerving task that would have most people sweating bullets.

Check out our quick interview with Jeff and then go follow his work via Instagram. Jeff Parke and Skillset are once again proving to the world that you can still make a phenomenal living working with your hands. Enjoy!

Q: We have featured some of the world’s top metal engravers in previous issues, but your level of “macro engraving” is something we’ve never seen before. How did you get into this line of work?

A: My dad started selling diamonds when I was a kid, and I had two brothers open jewelry stores. One brother brought me in about 10 years ago to do bench work, stone setting, goldsmithing, repair work, etc. While honing my skills there, I took an ornamental hand engraving class at the New Approach School for Jewelers taught by master Jason Marchiafava. Something in my brain clicked that week, and I’ve been cutting metal ever since.

Q: How long does a typical wristwatch job take, and how many of those hours go into the planning and layout process?

A:  A watch completely covered with 24-karat gold inlay can take anywhere from 150-200 hours or more. Layout mostly takes place in my head, then I draw straight onto the piece through a microscope and ultra-fine pencil.

Q: Walk us through the special engraving tools you use.

A:  I use mostly air tools made by GRS. One is an air-driven handpiece with a piston inside. It acts like a hammer and chisel. For tough watch steel, I use carbide points with special geometries to cut out the steel.

Jeff working at his shop.
Photo by Jeff Parke

Q: We know there really isn’t a set monetary amount per engraving job, but for our audience, what’s a ballpark figure for your work?

A: Pieces end up being double or triple what a watch initially costs and no, I don’t engrave Nixon or Timex — ha-ha!  

Q: Let’s talk about your client base. Are they mainly stateside or do you do a lot of work internationally?

A: I have clients all over the world. I recently shipped two pieces back to London. I’ve also had a lot of success in Russia and China.

Q: We all make mistakes and being able to fix or cover mistakes is a crucial part of being a craftsman. How long did it take for you learn the art of turning an accident into something that looks intentional?

A: Luckily, I spent a decade as a jeweler, and I mainly focused on repairs. I became an expert at fixing almost anything. You don’t want to make major mistakes in metal engraving but if you do, it forces your brain to think creatively and out of the box. Sometimes a mistake can lead to something really cool.

Q: Where do you draw your inspiration from?

A: Music! My first love is the electric guitar! I played in bands growing up, and that’s where I wanted to be. Although I didn’t make it in the music industry, I’ve been fortunate to do a lot of work with some great musicians. Also, I’m inspired by anything from the 1980s or related to my childhood. In some ways, I’m basically doing the same stuff I did as a kid, but I’m getting paid for it.

Catch all of Jeff’s work in Instagram @j.parke1. We search far and wide for craftsmen of his caliber! If you enjoyed this article, you’ll love our metal fabricator feature titled Cold Hard Art! You can also purchase back issues of Skillset at OutdoorGroupStore.com.

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