A customer contacted me to have a set of stacking rings created. Her requirements were that the rings would be in a high-carat yellow gold with amethysts and diamonds. She wanted the amethysts in the rings to be a bit different from each other and the rings to have a rustic finish. Here is my playful design that she wanted to run with:
The first step in this process is to create the bands. Even a relatively simple exercise, such as making bands, should be done with care and attention to detail. This is what defines a heirloom piece of jewelry and what a customer of custom jewelry work should demand. Attention to detail takes time and effort, but when the finished piece shows the craftsmanship and quality of careful fabrication, I know it’s worth it, both in satisfaction for the jeweler of a job well-done, and for the wearer. I’ve taken a few pictures of the process to show the steps involved.
I chose a 2.25mm square wire in an 18k gold alloy called “royal yellow.” I chose this alloy because of the rich yellow color and the thicker wire dimensions will ensure a nice, heavy ring, adding to the rustic feel and plenty of metal to hammer finish.
This is this wire as ordered from my favorite refiner:
First, a bit of math is needed to figure out how long to cut the wire for the proper sized rings. Because I know I’ll be hammering the rings on a ring mandrel, I know that they will stretch out a little. So my plan is to cut the three lengths of wire slightly smaller than calculated to leave room for some stretching:
It’s important to inspect the ends of the wire to make sure that the two edges will fit together without gaps. This piece of stock has a slightly rounded end, so it will need to be filed straight so it fits flush to the other end.
I measure the lengths of wire as per my calculation:
And then I use a tube-cutter and saw to make precisely flat cuts so that the joined edges will fit cleanly:
After the lengths of wire are cut, I use a rawhide hammer and ring mandrel to bend the stock into a round-ish shape. This wire is thick, so my goal here is just to bring the edges together rather than shape precisely round bands (that will come later when the edges are joined and forming can be done on the mandrel. I use a rawhide hammer at this step because it has a soft face so that I can avoid scarring the metal with tool marks.
Forming wire this thick takes a bit of force, and the metal can harden and get more difficult to move in the process, so annealing is required to re-soften the metal for easier manipulation.
Finally, I get the edges of the wire to meet with NO GAPS. A clean connection is necessary for a good, strong solder join, which I will do next.
Here are the rings, ready to be soldered. I am using hard plumb solder. You can see two solder pallions on the charcoal block ready for placement, and a third pallion is on the bottom left ring ready for soldering. The rings have been dipped in saving solution and the solder joints have been painted with flux, which enables solder flow.
With the solder joints completed, I can now use the rawhide hammer and ring mandrel to form the rings into rounder shapes.
As I’m forming the bands into their round shapes, I see that one of the solder joints is looking a little weak and starting to crack. I am going anneal ring and and re-solder the weak joint to make sure the bond is strong enough to withstand the hammering I will do in the hammer-finish step. You can also see that the rings aren’t precisely round yet, but I’m not going to worry too much about that now, since I know they will get further formed during the hammer-finish/stretching step.
Here are my rings, solder joints inspected and corrected as needed, in their roughly round forms. Right now, they are a smaller ring size than needed, which is exactly what I want at this stage so that I’ll have room to round them up later. Eventually they will be close to the US size 8.5 that I want.
I inspect the joints on each side to make sure everything still looks well-joined:
And I check them on a flat steel block to make sure they are flat and not warped, gently hammering them flat if needed.
I’m happy with the results so far, now it’s time for putting that hammer finish on the bands. Sometimes, this sort of finishing might be a step done at the end of fabrication, but I have chosen to do it now, while I can have access to the entire band and not worry about hammering the stones or settings. I can get the hammer texture right up to where the settings will go later, and if I put the settings in prior to hammering, I would not be able to hammer at the top of the ring, where the settings would be in the way. I might decide to do a bit of hammer finishing at the end, but I’ll do the majority now.
The type of hammer and its condition will influence the marks made on the metal. I want crisp, overlapping facets, so I will chose a flat hammer with a smooth finish. Inspection of the hammer I’ve selected shows a somewhat dull face:
So I will polish the hammer to give me a nicer finish. I use green rouge and a dedicated tool-polishing buff on my polishing wheel to shine it up a bit.
And now the hammer’s face is much smoother and will leave smoother and crisper marks:
I hammer each ring using overlapping strokes of the hammer to leave the little facets I want on the ring’s surface. As the ring is hammered on the steel mandrel, it starts to stretch up in size, so I have to be careful not to go over my goal of 8.25 ring size (I will still leave a little buffer for possible further stretching later).
And here we are, right on target. The hammering has left the desired facets and brought the ring to the size that I want:
I check the rings on the steel block again to make sure they have stayed flat and haven’t warped during the texturing process.
And here they are. Consistently sized, nicely round, and evenly textured. Even unpolished, they are looking pretty good.
One last step before I cut seats for the bezels. The hammering has made the metal hard again, and I want to make sure that future cutting does not spring them out of shape. So I’ll anneal them again and then put them aside for the next step.
Once I get the stones back from the customer’s review, I will start working on the custom settings for each stone, and once completed, I will cut a seat into the rings to hold the settings and solder them into place. That comes next. Stay tuned…