While I was making that agate ring, I decided to make another to showcase one of a set of oval garnets I purchased some time ago. I like to have more than one project on the go at my bench because of the wait times for annealed or soldered items to soak in the pickle pot.
The Early Stages
I began this project by cutting a strip of sterling silver about 1/4 inch wide and long enough to make a size 5 1/2 ring — a good size for a woman.
I wanted an interesting texture for the ring so I ran two fine parallel lines around the band and selected my riveting hammer to provide the texture. I am not showing the somewhat dull business of bending the strip into a circle and aligning the ends for soldering. That always takes a huge amount of fussy filing as the cut ends never, ever want to meet perfectly to start with. Because you also have to keep bending the ends together to check the fit, then pulling them apart to file a bit more, you also have to repeatedly anneal the piece. If you do not, the silver becomes "work hardened" so that bending it takes way too much effort. Keep working it too long, and it may even get brittle enough to crack. If that happens, you have to start all over!
Nobody wants a ring that irritates their finger, so the finish on the edges and inside is every bit as important as on the face.
This file has a flat face on one side and a curve on the other. It is the only file needed to work a ring. Here, I am using the curved side — flat — on the inside of the ring. The same side, worked on a 45% angle, rounds the inside edges so the ring will be comfortable even when worn all day. I use the flat side of the file to go through the process of smoothing and pre-polishing the front face and edges of the band.
As always, a lot of sanding comes next, before soldering the bezel in place. After that, lots of polishing and buffing.
If you are curious about those numbers along the front edge of my bench, I use them to check length when weaving chain bracelets.
A Gleaming Garnet and It's Ready for DixSterling on Etsy
Several months ago, a family friend asked if I could make a ring using a stone from a piece of jewelry she inherited but didn't want to wear (see my January 24, 2017 post).
First, Find a Design
One of the factors I had to take seriously was the relative softness of malachite. Any design had to provide a degree of protection for the stone. I came up with some sketches and she thought she liked "D" (top & side views shown here).
A few months have drifted by as I contemplated just how to create such a ring. This week, I decided on a general approach and set about making a prototype. Later, I will use half-round wire for the real ring but, with none on hand, I decided some heavy round wire would allow me to test the process. I had a cabochon of slightly off-kilter agate in my stash I could use as a stand-in for the malachite.
My Super Cool Tool
My beloved husband is an enabler – he often gives me jeweler's tool as birthday or Christmas gifts;-) This disc cutter was one of them and it's a real winner. Before it arrived on my bench, any time I needed a silver circle, I had to saw it from sheet by hand. That is a slow, tedious and demanding process. It is all too easy to get a hair off and end up with a slightly lopsided circle. If you are making a backing for a bezel, that is not a good thing. With this tool, I position my silver between the steel plates (this is 22 gauge), tighten them up and drive the steel cutter through the matching hole (and, of course, the silver).
Build the Bezel
Once I cut the circle, I had only to solder the circle of bezel wire atop it, file the edges to a perfect fit (left) and, of course, smooth everything with several grades of sandpaper.
Ring Parts: Shank, Bezel, and Cabochon
Here are the three pieces that will make the ring. I had a lot of fun bending that length of very heavy gauge silver wire. I had to re-anneal it a couple of times and still wound up with sore fingers! I got it to this point with forming pliers and pure physical effort. "I am Woman, Hear Me Roar"!
Creating a Seat for the Stone
Once I bent the shank into a horseshoe, it was time to create a seat to hold the bezel.
Left, I positioned the shank in my small vise to hold it while I filed matching cuts into the outside of the ring. I used a triangular jeweler's file and just kept working at it until I was a bit more than 3/4 of the way through the wire. At that point, it was possible to make the ends point up, forming posts. More sore fingers plus some hammering on a ring mandrel brought the wire into a pretty good circle with a gap to set the bezel into.
I forgot to take a photo of the next cuts — small ones on the inside of the upright posts. I made them to secure the bezel and they did not need to be nearly so deep. Great, I was getting pretty darned tired of filing be then!
Time to Solder It All Together
Right, the ring on my ceramic honeycomb soldering block. A pair of cross-lock tweezers held in a "third hand" stabilized the ring, with the bezel tension-held in the shank, so I could solder both sides in one operation. Sequence: position piece and solder chips on block, apply flame, quench in water and into the pickle. Pull it out, rinse, and tug at it to be sure the joins are solid.
Time to Shine
While the ring was in the pickle, I re-set a stone that had popped off a pendant I made many years ago for our daughter. Next, I set the agate in the ring and polished up my day's work (I re-polished the kid's earrings, too).
You Make a Prototype So You Can Learn
So, what did I learn from this one? First, that this approach will work for our friend's malachite. Second, that I will need to make the wire for the posts longer than these because we want them to actually come down over the edges of her stone (greater protection). Third, that this ring – with its round wire and slightly lopsided cab – may go up for sale some day (I need it here until that malachite is set), but it is probably only suited to accessorize someone's medieval costume. But, for that purpose, it might be just awesome!
Not that there have been many blue skies in my part of the world lately. March has been stubbornly grey and wet — really, really wet. I suppose one good thing about that is, since the garden is basically underwater, I have lots of time to work at my bench. Maybe it was a longing for blue skies that prompted me to order a pair of tiny (3mm) turquoise cabochons to make into earrings.
First, Assemble the Parts — and Do Not Lose Any!
Every time I work with really tiny gem stones, I am grateful to my friend Debbie from TheHandmadeForum <https://www.etsy.com/pages/thehandmadeforum> who sent me several storage options. She uses these tiny pots for her excellent, all natural lip scrubs – see some here <https://www.etsy.com/ca/listing/228261395/lip-scrub-cherry-sugar-lip-scrub-lip?ref=shop_home_active_49>. They are also perfect for keeping wee stones safe. Rio Grande uses sealed bags to ship stones. Good for mailing as they cannot escape into the shipping box but, once I open the bag, I need a way to corral the stones. You can just imagine how easy it would be for these 3mm beauties to "vanish" leading to a long, frustrating search or bench and floor!
Safety Gear for a Jeweler
To make these dangle earrings, I need to use some high powered tools.
I have a hobbyist's drill press the lets me accurately position small holes for the ear wires and I use a jeweler's rotary tool (seen here) with a sharp steel bur to ream out holes in sterling tubing so I can set the stones into them.
Both operations produce dust and fine shavings of metal. The mask and safety glasses protect me from those. I also have an industrial respirator that I wear when polishing finished pieces as that requires a finer level of filtering for the compounds used.
Tube Setting for Small Stones
This photo shows the tubes, reamed out, cut to length and soldered onto the reticulated sterling earrings. The ear wires are on standby. I attach them last.
Three mm is Not Always Three mm
As you can see, one stone dropped into the tube perfectly. When I went to mount the second, (here held on a bit of Fun-Tak) I found the stone was a hair too big. I used that cylindrical diamond point bit — hand twisting it to avoid damaging the tube — to make the hole a bit wider and deeper. I bought a set of those several years ago. I have not used them often but they sure solve problems nothing else will tackle.
Stone Setting Tools at Work
These tools are what I use when bezel or tube setting stones. The lower one is a bezel rocker and I use it — as the name suggests — by placing it against the top of the tube or bezel and rocking it back and forth to press the metal onto the stone. I start by working on opposite sides of the stone while pressing the stone into the setting with my thumb. That anchors it. Then I move around the stone being sure that all of the circumference is settled.
The other tool, my curved steel burnisher is great for giving the top of the setting a final smoothing. I also love using it to give a bright polish to the edges of a piece. That touch is especially nice on the smooth edges of reticulated items as they have a more muted finish.
I have been fooling around with ideas for wedding bands (a friend will be needing a pair in the near future). Although she wants white gold, I do my experimenting with sterling silver. Here is one experiment.
A Silver Strip for Starters
Making a ring is a fairly simple process. After deciding on a width (this one will be about 3.9 mm), you cut a piece of silver just a touch wider (there will be a bit of filing and sanding as you go). You also need to find the length needed for a ring of a given size (DUH!). You can find ring blank sizing charts on line or, if you just love math, you can find formulas to calculate the length.
Creating a Textured Surface
Various jewelers' hammers can be used to give the surface a textured finish. A dome-headed hammer creates a subtle pattern of round dents. For this ring, I used a cross peen hammer to give the surface a cross hatched pattern. The sharp edged lines help the silver sparkle when the light hits the ring. Either way, you work with your metal on a steel anvil.
Joining the Ends
Oh, drat; I forgot to take a photo of the next step! I used forming pliers to bend the ring and bring the ends together for soldering. If you lack forming pliers, round nose or stepped pliers will help with the task. That is best done by creating a D shape so you are soldering a flat join. Just make sure everything is clean and that the ends are a tight fit.
Rounding the Ring
No matter what other tools you have, you cannot make a ring without the aid of a rawhide mallet and a steel ring mandrel. These let you bring the ring to a perfect round without leaving hammer marks on your work. You can also stretch it slightly if you find it is a bit too small. Once it is round, a bit of filing and sanding will chamfer the edges for comfort and a bunch of polishing will make it shine.
Slim Band Done & Polished
If you live in the Greater Vancouver area, there are a couple of great jewelry events coming up soon. For lovers of rocks, loose gems and finished jewelry, the BC Gem Show, sponsored by the BC Lapidary Society, runs April 7, 8 & 9 at
Central Fraser Valley Fairgrounds
32470 Haida Drive
For lovers of finished jewelry and metal objects d'art, the 4th Annual Artisan Jewellers Show & Sale happens again on Mother's Day, May 14 at VanDusen Botanical Garden on Oak Street in Vancouver.
With spring close and summer coming, I designed a different pair of earrings. These dangles will look great with those bare shouldered summer fashions. Here is how I made them.
Using My Jeweler's Tools
Artisan jewelers use lots of tools but I find there are a few I use on almost every project: my saw, hammers, files and torch. I used the torch to reticulate the sterling for this pair of earrings. The process is simple, but time consuming: heat the metal until it glows a dark red at least eight times. Sterling is an alloy of silver and copper and this process brings a layer of pure silver to the surface. As a final step (this is the fun part), you heat the metal until that surface layer starts to melt and use the flame to push it around until you have the textured surface you want. I cut these shapes from the reticulated silver.
To pierce the openings, I marked the shape to cut out and drilled a hole near one corner. Opening the jeweler's saw, I threaded the blade through the hole and cut out the pattern. I used my file to smooth all the edges. Over the years, my saw control has improved so I do not have to spend nearly as much time filing to get the edges perfectly straight!
Solder on the Ear Wires
I cut lengths of 20 gauge sterling wire to make these and used the file and sandpaper to round off the ends. I hammered the attachment end a bit to get a flat surface. It just takes a few small bits of solder and a short burst of flame to attach the wires to the back of the earrings.
And Shape Them
That pair of stepped forming pliers are so useful. They help me start the shape for most bezels and they make shaping ear wires a simple task.
Soldering the wires softens the metal (heating always anneals — softens — silver) and that is not the best thing for ear wires. Any sort of working on metal hardens it. Indeed, if you bend or hammer it too much without re-annealing, it can become brittle and break. The shaping process does work harden the wires to some extent. To complete the process, and make the wires as tough as possible, I ran the finished earrings in my tumbler loaded with water a tiny bit of pure soap and steel shot.The tumbling hardens those wires and also burnishes the pieces to a nice shine.
Hope someone will enjoy wearing these to a party some day this summer.
Last week, I framed an amethyst (my birthstone) in a curved diamond shaped pendant. I liked the effect so much, I decided to make another one (or more) for my shop <https://www.etsy.com/ca/shop/DixSterling> and I started with an 8mm moonstone. For those who like process, I am posting how I made it.
Start With a Pattern
It's a bit like sewing; if you want to be sure of the outcome, it is much better to start with a pattern ;-) but, instead of pins, you attach it to your "fabric" with glue. In this case, I used 22 gauge sterling for my "fabric". Normally, that would not be strong enough for a pendant this size, but I am adding a frame and that makes all the difference.
Building the Frame
I created the frame from square 16 gauge sterling wire.
The photo shows the first piece of wire in place and the second being bent before marking the length and cutting it. The rawhide mallet and steel anvil help me flatten the wire to lie flat on the backing. To shape it, I use those forming pliers (boy, I wish I had purchased that tool years ago!). The file cleans up the cut ends of the wire and lets me shape the ends for a good fit.
Fitting the Final Piece
The final section. I have used a sharpie to mark the top of the piece of wire because, as I move these small pieces to the soldering block, they can flip. The mark, which burns off under the torch, helps me position things. The main piece is white because that is how silver looks when you bring it out of the pickle (a mild acid bath that cleans the metal). Many people working in sterling wish there was a way to retain that frosted white on parts of an item, but there isn't!
Creating a Bezel Setting
In this photo, I have bent a strip of fine (99.9% pure) silver around the moonstone, marked the place to cut it, made the cut and soldered it closed. Fine silver is used for bezels because it is so pliable. You could make the circle from sterling but bending it down over the stone would be very difficult — and exhausting. I use the rawhide hammer on that steel mandrel to round the bezel and (if necessary) stretch it to give a good, snug fit.
Here, I am checking that the fit is right before soldering the bezel to the pendant. Never solder a bezel on without doing that first.
Polishing the Frame
For a nice contrast, I elected to give the background a frosted finish — done with a brass wire brush dipped in a touch of liquid soap. That steel burnisher serves to give the raised frame a mirror finish.
The painter's tape is to avoid marring the back of the piece while I am working on the front. Boy, that stuff is useful. I guess painters use it too ;-)
Ready, Set, and Set
Yes, that's more blue tape. This time, I am using it to secure the pendant to a soft suede sandbag and to cover the face of the pendant while I use the curved steel burnisher to slowly push the bezel down over the edge of the stone. I learned, very early, that failing to protect the silver can lead to disaster. It takes a fair bit of force to bend even fine silver and — no matter how careful you are — force can cause a tool to slip. When it does, says Murphy's Law, it always hits the silver, not the sandbag! The stone looks flat white in this shot — something about the lighting the shop, I guess.
Once I had given the pendant a good polishing, I put it on a chain and tried it on.
Now, I just need enough light to take proper photos by the window so I can list it for sale. Might be a great gift for someone with a June birthday.
First, we have had an unusually cold and snowy winter (for Vancouver). It wasn't that I had to shovel much (very short driveway), but I felt the cost of electric heat for the studio would be excessive.
The next reason: the old lock on the studio door malfunctioned (i.e. jammed) and I could not get in! Once the weather moderated, a local carpenter was able to cut a hole, access the lock, and remove and replace the door. Whew.
The final reason was a short, but utterly wonderful, escape to CannonBeach on the Oregon Coast. I adore that place.
The photo was taken from our balcony at the SurfSand Resort, looking north toward Ecola Head. I loved walking along that beach every morning, listening to the surf and admiring the patterns of wind, wave and cloud. Almost as good as Maui – but certainly not as warm😉
No Bench Time = Lots of Camera Time
I have been planning to start updating my product photography for some time. Being locked away from my other tools inspired me to get started on that project. Over the years since I began selling on etsy, I have tried many approaches to photography. I experimented with studio lights — best left to professional photographers, I think. I bought a white box. It's cumbersome to work with but essential for domed silver pieces as they will reflect everything around them.
Eventually, I realized that natural light works best. Our dining table on a lightly overcast day (or a sunny one with blinds set to keep direct sunlight off the table) is ideal. Several years ago, I invested in a good Canon camera and a inexpensive, but perfectly adequate, tripod. Everything else is super cheap.
Here's the setup. A large square of white card for the overall background cancels out the dark oak table. Happily, our ceilings are white. I use an off-white piece of ceramic tile (left over from our shower installation) to place the items on. That chunk of cardboard, wrapped with aluminum foil on the right serves as a reflector when needed. Sometimes, for an extra pop of directed light, I use that mini reading lamp.
A Closer Look
With spring and summer coming, I am using a spray of white and yellow silk flowers as a photo prop. Sometimes, I use a sea shell.
One of the reasons I bought a good camera was for the micro photo function. As you can see, jewelry photography is closeup photography. Today, of course, even my iPhone can shoot up close and personal. I use it for my work in progress shots for this blog when I am working in the shop.
The End Result
Here is a sterling pendant, set with three purple iolite cabochons. I used Photoshop Elements to brighten the shot a bit (the sky was a bit too overcast for ideal results) and I selectively brightened the bottom stone. In real life, all three are a close match but the shadow of the pendant itself kept some light from reaching the underside of that one. The adjusted photo is much closer to reality.
I have a couple of projects on the go. Next time I come by, I will post some silversmithing.
There are some interesting the things to consider when designing a piece of jewelry.
Someone recently brought me an old brooch. Although she liked the green stone (a malachite cabochon), the setting is dated and she prefers silver jewelry. She asked if I could create a ring featuring her stone.
Photo: about to free the stone from the gold-tone brooch.
Of course one can create any piece of jewelry to hold any stone but some considerations come into play. The major ones are:
1. will the owner love the design and get pleasure from wearing it?
2. can you actually make what you designed or are there technical booby traps?
3. will the design properly protect the stone?
In this case, the third point is especially significant. Malachite is a soft stone, ranking 3.5 - 4 on the Mohs hardness scale (diamonds are 10; talc is 1), so it is easily scratched. I used my saw to cut open the old setting because any attempt to pry the cab out of the bezel would certainly cause damage.
Such a pretty cabochon
Here is the stone, after I got it out of the setting and gave it a gentle polish. It is unusual in that both sides are gently domed (cabs normally have a flat back). The best thing about that is, since the side that was the the front on the pin is slightly scratched, I can use the other side for the ring. This stone also has an unusually wide girdle. That will make securing it easier (possibly why it was cut that way so long ago).
A round, faceted stone is a round, faceted stone and is amenable to any number of settings. Stones with individual character are a bit more fun to design for. Malachite is characterized by the darker lines that run through it. This one is also an interesting, elongated oval shape — ideal for a ring. Below are a few rough sketches I made to explore ideas. All of these feature a tapered shank, widening as it approaches the stone.
The top sketch features a bezel setting and dark lines carved into the the flat back plate to draw attention to the lines in the stone. I like it but it offers very little protection to the surface of that stone. Some alteration would be required.
The second one is a bit harder to visualize. The stone is held by four small claws and surrounded by a wall of wire tall enough to guard the stone. The side view shows it as if the wall were transparent.
Design C is like B but slightly open at top and bottom. That offers the same protection but a bit more visual interest. "D" has the tapered shank extended over the sides of the stone (but leaves to top and bottom exposed). I think D would be a great look for a tougher stone.
Time to ask the owner if any of these hold any appeal for her. If not, the old saying is, "Back to the drawing board."