30 JunLost Earring Gets New Life as Pendant

A client came to me with a nice gold hoop-style earring with channel set diamonds. She had lost the mate and purchased a new pair, so now she had three earrings. Having only two ears, we decided to put the diamonds from the third earring to good use and finish in time for a wedding that she was attending over the weekend.

Sticking with the channel-set theme, I designed a new channel setting pendant with a very simple design and reset her stones. Now she has both earrings and a matching necklace. Hurray!

Channel-Set Diamond Pendant

OK, I did mention that this was a rush job, so I didn’t have much time to take a great picture, but you do get the idea 🙂

03 AprFinishing the Amethyst, Diamond Gold Stacking Rings

It’s time to finish off the amethyst and diamond rings in 18k royal yellow gold (first part here). It took a bit of time for the customer to sign-off on the amethysts I selected for her, but once that was done, it was time to create the bezels for the stones and place them into the rings that were completed in the first step.

To make sure that the bezels are cut to the right dimension for each stone, the stones should be measured. This is a 4mmx6mm oval stone that I ordered, but it’s really 4mmx5.9mm.

I much prefer to do the calculations for the length of bezel strip to cut when I can. For this project, I am going to cut a tall and thin strip of wire which will be used to hold the stones in place (the outer bezel) and a seat on which the stones will rest that sits inside the outer bezel, which I’ll call the inner bezel. For ovals, I use some basic geometry to figure out what the length of outer and inner bezel strip will be needed.

I use a saw to cut the bezel wires, making sure that the edges are perfectly straight so that they’ll butt up against each other for soldering. Proper soldering requires tight fits with no gaps. Using both straight-sided and round-sided pliers, I form the cut strips into rough oval shapes. It’s more important at this stage to have the edges perfectly aligned than it is to have the shapes perfectly fit to the stones, since that shaping will come later once the soldering is finished.

For some stones, it’s easier to form the bezel wire by “eye” rather than to calculate the fit mathematically, and I find that’s the case with marquise and pear stones, since their curvature dimensions are a bit unpredictable. Using pliers and my fingers, I form the wire into a close fit for the marquise amethyst.

A test fit shows me I’m pretty close to the desired shape and can cut and solder the wire for this bezel. There is a bit of a gap on the upper right, but I’ll be working that out to fit closer to the stone after soldering. With some experience, I know the fit will be snug as the rest of the stone is still resting on top of the wire right now, so the “gappy” bit will average out with the too-tight bit.

Similar to the marquise, I use pliers and fingers to rough-shape the pear bezel.

The diamonds are all circular, so that math is easy. I’m going to make 10 bezels (5 inner and 5 outer) for the diamonds. Like all of the other bezels, the edges must be flush to each other for soldering, so it makes sense to take the time to cut and shape these bezels as perfectly as possible for a clean solder seam.

After soldering, it’s time to shape the inner and outer bezels to fit the stones. With the outside bezel, you want a bezel that fits tightly to the outside of the stone. Tight is better than loose, as I can cut a bit of metal using burs when I’m ready to set the stones. The inner bezel needs to fit snugly inside the outer bezel so that it can be soldered in and create a nice, level seat for the stone.

As well as pliers, I use mini-mandrels and soft-faced hammers to do the shaping work, test fitting the stone as I go. A bit of wax makes holding the stone easier.

This bezel looks good. There is a consistent thickness of metal all the way around the stone, which just barely rests on the top edge.

The inner bezel is formed and soldered into the outer bezel. The bottom of the setting is checked to make sure the solder has flowed all the way around.

Similarly, the marquise bezel is also reshaped to fit the stone…

… as are the diamonds’ settings.

In this picture, you can see the inner bezels are all into position. After all bezel work is done, the individual bezels can be joined together. I’ve set up a slight curve on my soldering block to fit the settings together into a slightly arced shape.

Now that I have the bezels joined in the positions I want, the settings need to be fit into the gold bands. I mark around the outside to provide cutting lines for sawing.

Fitting the settings into the ring takes some time to shape with files and burs. I keep test fitting the setting and ring together until there is a close match between the two.

You can see that the bottoms of these bezels are a bit rough, but that will be cleaned up soon. The setting is soldered into the carved-out seat in the ring.

And then the flat portion of the bezel bottoms are reshaped to the curvature of the ring. In removing the bottoms of the bezels, cleaning of any rough edges is done.

With the settings and rings joined, rounded and ring size checked, the stones can be set. A bur is used to cut a slope into the inner bezel that matches the stone’s. If necessary, a small bit of outer bezel may also need to be cut so that the stone fits into the setting. There isn’t too much extra metal, so care must be taken to only cut enough for the setting to fit the stone.

The diamond is set and the bezel is burnished over the edge of the stone to hold it in place.

In this marquise setting, the points need to be thinned out so that the stone fits and that there is very little pressure required when moving the metal over the stone. Pointed areas in stones are delicate and need gentle treatment during setting.

I also cut a circular pocket in which the points will sit. This is another step that helps ensure that the points will not break in the setting process.

With a seat cut, the marquise is set into place. The setting looks a little ragged, but that will be cleaned up with a graver.

The setting is now cleaner. The customer wants these rings to be rustic, so I won’t go overboard in making things too perfect. Sometimes, you want to maintain that hand-made look.

The cutting and setting is repeated until all stones are in their new homes. The rings are then polished.

The customer can wear these rings stacked in any number of configurations or individually. It’s her choice. She loves her new ring set and wore it right out of the store.

17 FebHammered 18k Yellow Amethyst/Diamond Stacking Rings: Part 1, Creating the Bands from Stock Wire

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:

18k stacking rings: Design Rendering

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.

Before filing:

After filing:

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…

01 DecEnameling on PMC

OK, I admit it. I’ve been dabbling in PMC (Precious Metal Clay) just so that I can have a base for my enamel experiments. Perhaps I should explain…

“Fine Silver” is another name for 100% pure silver (well, realistically more like 99%–there are typically some impurities that are nearly impossible to refine out of the silver), whereas “Sterling Silver” is an alloy (i.e. a mix) of 92.5% silver and 7.5% copper. Enamel doesn’t readily fuse to sterling silver, but it “sticks” like a champ to fine silver, and that’s just what you get with fired PMC.

“What the heck is PMC?” you might ask. It is the brand name of a metal clay product from Japan, a mix of very finely ground metal particles and a clay binder. This metal can be copper, bronze or 22k yellow gold, but I have been using the version that is made with fine silver. To use it, one forms the clay into the desired shape and then fires the piece in a kiln, burning away the clay and leaving the fused metal behind. It’s great for free-form shapes and other techniques that would be difficult to achieve using bench fabrication processes, but the downside is that the fired metal piece is porous and therefore quite soft comparatively. So, it’s not great for making jewelry that would be subjected to a lot of impact, say a ring or bangle bracelet, because any time you bumped your jeweled hand into something hard, you’d probably affect the jewelry with deformation, dents and dings. But because fired PMC is porous, it also gives those little enamel particles something to “grab” when firing. So it is a great platform for enamel work.

I wanted to do a few simple and carefree pieces to enamel, so I’m into flowers and hearts right now. Here are a few of the items I’ve finished:

Freeform flower earrings
I am planning on doing a whole series of these little stud earrings. They are such fun!

Blue scattered flowers pendant

Ruby pinwheel slide pendant
This was my first try at embedding stones into PMC. The synthetic ruby is an accent that pops next to the enameled star-burst design.

Heart ring
Did I say no rings in PMC? Yes, I did. OK, this is probably not practical, but it is adorable!

I am as busy as an elf with Santa season fast approaching, so not sure how many more of these I will get to before the holidays, but I am excited to play more so I’ll have some new items eventually.

31 AugNew Kiln!

I have been wanting to get back to enameling and glass work for a while, so I finally bit the bullet and purchased a new kiln. Actually, I purchased it about 6 months ago, but I only finally got the time to set it up and test fire it this week. It is a real beauty!

Kiln with Bead Door

The kiln has a bead door, which was a must-have for my lampworking projects. Yes, you can lampwork beads without a kiln, but you run a risk of them cracking and shattering from heat-shock if they cool too quickly and a fiber insulating blanket is only moderately effective. If you’ve never heard of lampworking, it’s the process of shaping and manipulating glass in an open flame (usually a torch). I love making whimsical and colorful projects with my lampworked creations.

Lampworked Satellite Necklace

I took some enameling classes a few years ago with Margaret Langdell. Her work is beautiful and inspiring and she’s a great teacher. Ever since, I’ve been hoping to work more enamel into my pieces, and the kiln will enable me to do it.

I also plan to do a bit of PMC experimentation. While I don’t believe that PMC is the right choice for a lot of jewelry because the finished pieces are porus and soft and easily damaged, I appreciate that many things can be done more easily in PMC than by straight fabrication or wax casting. So I think a mixed-media approach, incorporating PMC with other fabricated pieces, might be an exciting way to embellish art jewelry.

So now you all of the fun ways I’ll be experimenting and spending my fall (well, just as soon as I get through the piles of custom work and repairs that I have to finish…)

19 JulMan’s Tanzanite 3-Stone Hollow-Ring

A customer came to me with 3 tanzanite stones, all of different sizes, that he wanted to make into a ring for himself. We discussed a variety of designs, all with a masculine feel, to use the beautiful, although non-standard-sized stones. He decided he liked an alignment with the three stones in a line, and the largest one in centered on the finger.

Using CAD, I created a pattern that could be used to cut out pieces on a sheet of sterling silver to form into the ring. To ensure that the largest stone would be centered, the sides of the ring are aligned with one side slightly wider than the other:

Ring pattern template

The pieces were cut and filed into a the pattern’s shape by my assistant Jen, who did a very nice job of making sure they fit together perfectly with no gaps. I then soldered everything together and hand-made bezels, which I formed into crowns using a variety of filing techniques. The heads were soldered on to the ring’s top platform, and a ring liner was added to the interior of the ring for a smooth fit.

And so, the finished piece:

Tanzinite 3-stone Man's Ring

Another view of the tanzanite 3-stone ring

19 JulNautical Pendant: The Final Product

I did finish the nautical pendant a while ago, but haven’t had much time to post results. So let’s fix that now!

Here it is, with the horn fossilized horn coral centerpiece in place, set from the back. This setting style was a bit tricky, since the inside frame to fit the stone needed to be cut carefully to fit the one-of-a-kind coral cabochon. But it was the best way to have the other gold elements overlap the stone and the result is quite pretty.

Gold Sea Pendant with Orange Sapphires and Horn Coral

I also chose a variety of shades for the orange sapphires, to highlight the subtle differences in the range of “orangeness” that can be seen in sapphires. The graduation of color also nicely plays against the bright red-orange of the coral and the yellow of the gold.

The piece came out very well, if I do say so myself. And so does the customer 🙂

09 DecNautical Pendant; a study in an evolving custom design

Perhaps some of my more frequent blog readers will remember the designs I posted some time ago for a nautically-themed pendant. As it turns out, the design has gone through many, many revisions as the customer’s vision of what she wanted for this piece has changed and evolved. Here is a little glimpse of some of the designs that I’ve created during the process.

The customer’s original request was to create a pendant that would feature a coral cabochon accented with a few yellow-orange sapphires. I added a few of the customer’s favorite sea shells, a starfish and scallop, to the design. To balance out the design, I created a seaweed accent to sweep across the bottom of the pendant.

Nautical pendant, first version

The customer liked the basic idea of this design, but decided that she wanted the pendant to be much larger than the initial concept piece. I suggested that we use something besides coral, because it is nearly impossible and cost-impractical to find a pink coral cab that would be the inch-and-a-half to two inches that she wanted. So I found a piece of groovy fossilized horn coral to use instead. This one-of-a-kind stone would provide plenty of color and interest as well as meet the size requirements for the piece. Overall, the pendant would be much larger, so more sea shell elements were created for new design options.

Revised nautical pendant design, option A
Revised nautical pendant design, option B
Revised nautical pendant design, option C

After reviewing the revised designs that featured the horn coral, the customer requested additional changes. She liked the original design that featured a scallop shell on the bail through which the chain would be threaded. Because the new pendant would be heavier, I suggested that putting a bail on each side of the pendant would better balance the weight of the piece for more even hanging. So we agreed that two scallops would act as the pendant’s bails. We removed most of the other shell components and shrunk the starfish to make room for a sailboat, which the customer decided would be the perfect accent for the piece, since she loves sailboats. And she wanted more sapphires added. We also discussed that since the pendant would be special, it needed a special chain made for it, and some of the added sapphires would be incorporated into the chain.

Nautical pendant with sailboat and sapphire chain

The result is this new design, which I think is really spectacular. I thought that the boat needed some waves to linearly connect it to the pendant, and I also added some “sand” bumps around the bottom of the piece. To allow for many of the design elements overlap the top of the pendant, it is designed to be set from the back. I hope the customer likes this new design as much as I do. I can hardly wait to get it milled and to work on finishing it.

06 DecNew Tools! Cool!

My new drawplate arrived today. I am so excited! This thing is so swanky that it comes with its own carrying case.

drawplate in case

Drawplates are used to pull metal wire into the desired thickness (see one in use here) and an accurate drawplate is important. The old plates that I was using were worn out and it was almost impossible to draw the wire into the right gauge I needed for some projects. This new plate should help eliminate that problem and the carbide-lined holes will help produce a nice, smooth, bright wire. Sweet!

drawplate front

drawplate back

I also splurged on a new saw. This is the “Knew Concepts” saw and from all of the reviews I’ve read, it’s a vast improvement from the old designs. It’s curious that something that so many jewelers use all of the time hasn’t changed much in hundreds of years until now. If it saves me in the hassle and expense of frequent replacement of saw blades, it’ll be worth the investment.

Knew concepts saw

I’m ready to get back to my bench and start using my new tools right away. Ye-haw!

21 NovRings for Two Sons

I always like making jewelry that has special meaning or a story behind it. A recently-finished pair of aquamarine stacking rings is one such project.

A customer contacted me with a request for ring that was similar to one that she had admired. She liked the modern look of a square wire shank with a pear-shaped bezel-set stone at the ring’s top. We discussed stones and found that the bright blue color of aquamarine would be suitable, as long as the stone was small and the ring sturdy enough to wear every day.

So we discussed a few design options, with a small faceted pear-shaped aquamarine as the design focus, and as we started tossing some ideas around, the customer got excited about the idea of stacking rings, with one stone each as a representation of her two sons. I thought that if we rotated the stones a little on the ring, the aquamarines could nestle together, as if in an embrace of family togetherness.

Now Mom can wear her “Two Sons” rings every day and think of her boys when she glances at her finger.
Two Sons rings

(So cute; as we were finishing up our design sessions, my customer told me that one of her little boys is already excited about the prospect of passing on one of the rings to his future wife. I like a kid that thinks ahead!)

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