Thursday, 23 December 2021

December Wishes



To my friends, followers & anyone wearing #DixSterling, 

I wish you a Merry Christmas and a Sparkling New Year.

Thursday, 25 November 2021

Swinging Topaz Pair

 November Birthstone Earrings

I purchased several 3 mm faceted topaz stones a few months ago. First, I set a couple into a pair of "chopstick" dangle earrings (recently sold). Next I started trying to design another pair of earrings. 

The Design

My final selection was this elongated diamond shape. I planned to tube-set the stones low on the sterling shapes, centered between the points.

A pair of rings at the top would allow these to swing from sheperd hooks. I love setting faceted stones in motion so their sparkle is accented.

These are the final sketchs. I applied glue to the back of each so I could attach them to a sheet of sterling silver.

Just Cut It Out

The saw is an artisan jeweler's best friend. Apart from wire work or cast pieces, pretty much every piece of jewelry is cut from sheet metal — in this case, 20 gauge sterling silver. 

In this photo, one earring has already been cut and I am about to start on the other.  You can see the "ghost" of one of my amber studs on the left edge of the silver.

Piercing (i.e.sawing) metal was the first skill I was taught and it took a long time to get the hang of it. The classic beginners mistake is to take a death grip on the saw handle and try to push the blade through the metal. I shudder to think how many blades I snapped over the years (and how many straight lines were anything but). In time, it got better as I learned to hold the saw lightly and let it move at its own pace. 

Testing the Plan

With the shapes cut out, I placed two of my stones, still in their protective plastic pockets, in posiiton to see if the dangles would end up looking as I hoped.

Also shown in this photo, the sterling tube I needed to set the stones and the 3mm burr that I used to prepare the tube for the topaz. 

Reamed Out

This picture shows the tube and the hollow that the burr created.

The black marks on the tube are from the rubber grips on my vise. The tube gets pretty hot while the burr does its work and that causes a slight melting of the rubber, making a bit stick to the silver. Not a problem as it burns off when I solder the settings to the background.

All the parts

Here are the prepared dangles, the topaz stones, and the shepherd hooks ready to become earrings. Well, there was the little matter of endless polisihing first (below).

And Done

Just waiting for me to attach the second shepherd's hook.

Thursday, 30 September 2021

New Design

How to Capture the Shimmer

Some time back (actually a few years ago), I picked up a tall cabochon of iridescent Laboradorite at a local gem show. From time to time, I would look at it and try to decide: a ring or pendant? The stone is feldspar and has internal layers which can be fractured if the stone is struck. A bit risky for a ring, then. 

Why Not Give It a Halo?

Some stones "speak" to me quickly. Others take their time. One afternoon this summer,  the stone sat shimmering on my bench along with various bit of silver left over from previous projects. A large circle of square sterling wire caught my eye. Hmmm, the diameter of that circle is a match for the length of the Labradorite. Why not?

Components Lined Up

Having decided what to do, I had to figure out how to do it.

Pretty clearly, I would need to capture the stone in a setting that could be mounted on the circle. I considered using a prong setting but decided a bezel would give the stone more protection. 

In this photo, I have wrapped the stone with fine silver bezel wire and marked where to cut it. Also shown; the stone, a piece of sheet sterling to back it, and, above that, the wire circle.

Parts: Backing, Bezel, Bail

A few more steps here: backing marked and cut, pierced (because letting light reach stones never hurts), and a bail formed of reticulated sterling. Just look at the blue flashes in that stone.



Assemble It All

Next step, solder the silver components together.   

That steel "T" pin is positioned to keep the bottom of the piece level with the top, which is raised by the thickness of the bail.

I was able to solder three joints: setting to ring (top & bottom) and ring to bail in one go. The ceramic honeycomb soldering block is ideal for this. Set atop my firebrick, it lets the torch heat penetrate under the piece.


Set the Stone

Two photos below: test the fit (whew) and use a burnisher to push the bezel over the stone.

I finished up with lots of polishing. Will this piece turn up for sale on etsy at DixSterling? I'm not sure yet. I'm kinda fond of this one. 😉

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.