Monday, 3 May 2021

Capturing Amber

Letting Light Shine Through

I purchased these 8mm natural amber cabochons some months ago and finally got around to designing stud earrings to show them off.  

My Design Idea

I decided to wrap the stones in stepped bezels so the maximum amount of light would shine through them and bring that golden glow to life. A tall diamond shape seemed perfect to hold them.

Pattern Transferred to Sterling Sheet

I made two of the pattern and pasted both onto a sheet of 20 gauge sterling silver.

I had already shaped, soldered and fitted the bezels to be sure these openings would be exactly the right size to support them.  

Cutting Out Studs

I used the paper pattern to punch out those holes first, then put the silver sheet on my bench pin and started sawing the outlines.

I set the patterns very close together so I would not be wasting much silver (especially as prices have increased considerably in recent months). 

Files and Filing

 Jewelers use different files for different edges, A good flat file works for the straight edges like the outline of these studs but I needed a half-round needle file to smooth out the holes.

Just Add Amber

Here are the studs, bezels in place and almost ready to set the stones (almost because I still had to add the ear posts).

My bench sports all manner of small plastic containers to hold stones or to contain all the pieces of an item while I am working on it. It's a good way to avoid losing anything and also protects stones. Lots of the tools on the bench would scratch most stones.

And Done

Is Amber a Gemstone?

In case you are not familiar with it, amber is not, in reality, a stone. It is fossilized tree sap. Although it can be found in a variety of colors, most amber occurs in yellow, yellow-green or gold tones. Most of the best amber comes from the Baltic regions and it has been mined (and treasured) for centuries. Because it is relatively soft, it is ideally suited to use in pendants or earrings. Bracelets or rings made with amber must be worn with caution to avoid scratching and dulling the stones (yeah, I know I just said they aren't stones!). Because of its organic nature, amber should be kept away from chemicals (so beware of perfume and hairspray).

The most prized pieces contain tiny insects that were trapped in the sap millennia ago. Sorry, these two contain inclusions, but none with legs!

Thursday, 18 March 2021

Simple & Sweet

 Dished & Dimpled Dangles

To make this pair of dangle earrings, I cut matching circles from 20 gauge sterling silver. These are 3/4 inch in diameter but could be any size.

First Things First

You can't get a great final polish on a piece of you don't start working on it from the beginning. And, yes, that is one of many lessons I learned the hard way. 😏

I sanded the circles with grits — ever finer  from 400 to 1200 — all mounted on paint stir sticks. As you can see, I use a piece of sticky side out painters' tape to hold the pieces while sanding. Even so, I sometimes find I am chasing a piece that has managed to pop off and spin across the bench — or floor.

More on Holding Small Bits

These will need holes near an edge so I can hang them from shepherd hooks when they are finished. I could set up my Dremel drill press but, when I only need two holes, it is hardly worth the bother. 

Another lesson I learned the hard way is that you can't just hold a piece on the bench pin with fingers while drilling. Amazing how fast silver heats up. Painters' tape to the rescue again. That disc in a jar lid is bees wax from a sewing supply store. Drilling goes faster and drill bits last longer if you use it to lubricate the bit. 

Hammered Texture

A chasing hammer and a steel anvil are the tools I used to produce the finish on this pair. The dimpled texture is just one of many finishes that could be applied. It can be left like this or treated with patina to darken the hollows.

Shaping Next

I have two of these hardwood doming blocks that can curve pieces as gently — or steeply — as the maker wishes. The work is done with wooden dowels that have smooth faces shaped to work in the various hollows. You can see the one I used here behind my hammer.

Note to self: I must clean up that hammer!

And the Final Polish

After many stages of polishing with 3M discs for the surfaces and a steel  burner to shine up the edges, the dangles are ready for their shepherd hooks and a listing at DixSterling on etsy.

Friday, 19 February 2021

Swinging Silver

Several Steps to Mobile Earrings

I have made several of swinging circle earrings over the past few years. They are fun to wear but a bit fussy to produce so here's how it's done.

I start with the parts: large circle with a cutout arc, small circle for the stud, plus a piece of tubing and a length of fine wire to create the hinge. All the parts are sterling silver.

Next Photo: Marking Position

Here I have used a sharpie to mark correct position for the tube. If this is wrong, nothing works!


This is where it starts to get tricky. With the tube soldered to the stud, I have to thread the fine wire through it and solder the ends of the wire onto the tips of the larger circle so the stud sits within that arc. The yellow ochre blocks solder flow. It ensures that the solder will not attach the wire to the tube. That would keep the circle from swinging. The last step is to solder on the ear posts and . . . 

. . . Polish — Lots of Polish

Friday, 29 January 2021

For February 14th

 Dainty Sterling Heart Dangles

It has been some time since I was seen here. Post Christmas ennui or COVID-19 depression? Whichever, I have been away from my bench far too long so decided to start with a simple, seasonal project — heart dangle earrings.

I hand-drew the design on a piece of 20 gauge sterling silver and cut the first one out then used it as a pattern for the second. 

Always, Always the Sandpaper!

Once I had both pieces, the finishing work began. My sanding sticks get a real workout. For anyone who has never worked silver, these are just wooden  paint stir sticks with various grits of sandpaper wrapped on tightly. You can't cut and work silver without making at least a few scratches (well, I can't). These make sanding those marks away fairly painless — dull, but painless. Each time, with ever finer grits, you sand at right angles to the last. All it takes is lots of time.

And Onward to Polishing

The 3M polishing discs come in finer and finer grits, too. They are color-coded so you can grab the right one for each level of polish. Fitted to a rotary tool, they take less effort than the endless sanding so you arm gets a bit of a break.

In this photo, you can see that I drilled holes for ear wires and used a tiny punch to scatter a pattern over one side of each earring. That adds a bit of sparkle.

Light as a Feather

At 1.3 grams each,  these will be easy on the ears 😃 as well as the eyes.  From design to finished dangles, now at #DixSterling on #etsy and ready as a gift for someone's Valentine.

Sunday, 25 October 2020

Earrings Always Fit

 Dished Dangles

My etsy shop <DixSterling> made several sales lately (Christmas shoppers, I think) so I am restocking my "shelves" this month.  I thought I would share the process for this pair of earrings I finished and listed yesterday. 

Simple = Sanding

This is a simple, clean design. Pieces with a lot happening (texture, stones, etc.) may not show a tiny rough spot but these certainly do. That means . . .

. . . sanding and sanding. Grits, in order, 400, 600, 800, 1000, 1200. You work the first across the piece, the second at right angles, third, same as first, etc. It takes time and is followed with a lot of fine polishing. For that, I use 3M discs, then jewellers' rouge and, finally, a buffing cloth. Not all creative work is actually creative!

Storage Tip

Pieces of sandpaper in use are wrapped around paint stir sticks but any jeweler has to have several sheets of each grade on standby. I used to be frustrated by the way, kept in a drawer, the sheets tended to curl. I finally came up with this solution:

I store them sandwiched between two pieces of pine shelving atop a cabinet beside my bench. When I need a new sheet, out it comes nice and flat and easier to wrap tightly around a stick.

I will close today's blog with the words of B.C.'s Provincial Health Officer, Dr. Bonnie Henry: be calm, be kind, be safe. 


Wednesday, 2 September 2020

Sunstones in Orbit

July to September Project

Bench work goes slowly in the summer. Some days, the grass wants cutting. Some days, the garden needs weeding. Some days, the shop is just too hot. Between such interruptions and its fussy nature, this project was started in July and finished on September 2. 


In July, I started on this and did get one pair made with Kyanite stones. These — the prototype — are mine. They are a bit tricky to make as you must get a solid join where the bezel-setting meets the wire circle. After wearing mine a few times, I decided it would be worth the time investment to make a pair or two for DixSterling's etsy shop.

Preparing the Bezels

Here are the parts: 8 mm cabochon sunstones, silver square wire circles, backings for the stones and bezel wire (here being marked for size).

I wound the wire circles on a one-inch mandrel and soldered them shut, then used a file to flatten a spot to attach the bezels mounts. 

Tools of the Trade

To make bezels, I wrap the stones, mark the length, cut the bezel wire and solder it closed. By that time, it is bent off round and is sometimes a hair too tight. Both problems are easily solved with a steel bezel mandrel and a rawhide mallet. It takes only a few taps (flipping the bezel to keep in even despite the mandrel's taper) to round and stretch the bezel until it fits. This is much better than if I have made the bezel a bit too big and that requires removing a small — usually very small — section and re-soldering. 

Almost Done

I love these 3M radial polishing wheels for my rotary tool. They come in many grits and the finger like parts get into most spaces — even tight ones like where these bezels meet the circles. 

Now at DixSterling on etsy.

Wednesday, 1 July 2020

July = Rubies

My Canada Day Effort

It's raining. No BBQ today! Did this instead.

For the full story of making these "chopstick" earrings, see my post of November 2018. This is today's work — final stages — of a ruby-set pair.

All that painters' tape protects the silver. The bezel pusher is steel, after all.


Happy Canada Day