Thursday, 26 February 2015

February 26

When Dix Met Lapis Lazuli

I was aware of lapis but had paid little attention to the stone until a dear friend (you know who you are) brought me some from India. With those gems in my hand, my passion for this elegant blue stone was born. The International Colored Gemstone Association states: "Lapis lazuli is a gemstone of the kind that might have come straight out of the Arabian Nights: a deep blue with golden inclusions of pyrites which shimmer like little stars".

From adorning Egypt's pharaohs to being ground to produce Ultramarine pigment, the most costly paint known to Renaissance artists, lapis has always offered us the bluest of blues.

I had no intention of grinding up my treasures. After studying them for a time, I set two of the teardrops in earrings, hanging them below purple Iolite studs (see photo). The design was intended to be a permanent reminder of the exotic origins of lapis lazuli.

Now and Then, Something for Me.

The earrings were barely off my bench when a friend of my daughter's purchased them ;-)  Not wanting to part with all the stones my friend had carried so far, I turned two more into a pendant for me and picked up a pair of round lapis cabs to make myself a pair of stud earrings. I much prefer the intense color of the stones in the pendant but it makes a nice set.

I wear these often — and with great pleasure. How appropriate that lapis is considered the stone of friendship ;-)

Lapis Revisited

Recently, I picked up another pair of cabs to create more studs. These are for my etsy shop, DixSterling.

This time, decided to use round, hammered silver stud backings. The photos below show the latter part of the step-by-step process.

Build, Fit, Polish and Set.

You might wonder why I chose to finish one earring at a time. The answer is simple. Even machine-ground stones can vary ever-so-slightly in size. I prepared the backings (cutting, annealing and hammering) together, then shaped a bezel to each stone and completed one stud at a time.

I am happy with these but sure wish I could find more of those beautiful teardrop cabochons. Maybe I will have to go to India!

Sunday, 22 February 2015

February 22

Some Random Thoughts

The Pacific Northwest has been getting strangely spring-like weather for the past few weeks. Makes me glad we went to Maui in January as I'd hate to miss it.

See What I Mean?

We have crocuses and daffodils opening all over the place. Crocuses in February make perfect sense in this part of the world. Daffodils, not so much. As for the beautiful pink Camillias blooming against a neighbor's house, I just hope they know what they are doing!

This sure makes it hard to be appropriately upset with global warming!

Good News, Bad News

Of course, all good things have their price. Last fall, we planted a lawn out front in place of the rock "beach" the previous owners had created. All those west-facing rocks just gathered heat on a summer's day and threw it back against the front of the house. We were pleased to see the grass take hold and to have a dry enough October to give it a first cutting before winter's rains arrived.

Guess what? All that lovely sunny weather that gave us the February flowers also got the lawn growing. First time ever, we had to cut grass on February 17.

We are really happy with how the lawn looked after cutting but, the way I see it, instead of the usual Vancouver lawn mowing season of May-October, we are looking at February-October. Once a week for an extra couple of months will seriously dent my bench time.

Of course, we wanted that grass to grow. But be careful what you wish for!

Now, Speaking of My Bench

When one is fitting tiny jewelry elements together for soldering, lots of light is essential. On the other hand, when you fire up the torch to anneal metal or solder a join, you want it pretty dim so you can properly judge what is happening to your metal. To anneal silver, for example, you want to heat it to a dark red. Pretty hard to judge that under a bright light.

When I first set up my bench, I put it at the back of the shop so I would not have to deal with bright light coming through the window on nice afternoons. The shop was wired for two overhead fixtures and, to my delight, the one over my bench was equipped with a hanging chain to turn it on and off. Perfect setup for a jeweler, right? That's what I thought until I had to repair and re-attach that darned chain several times. Finally, shortly before Christmas, the miserable thing broke right off at source. With several pieces of work on deadline, I resorted to unscrewing the bulb (to make the soldering corner dark) and keeping a flashlight at the soldering station for making those vital last-minute adjustments. Bothersome. Last week, I went looking for a solution and found the perfect thing. Yesterday, my darling helped my replace the old fixture with this handsome, bronze-finished, industrial-style hanging lamp. It fits perfectly over my bench and has an on-off switch at the top of its protective cage so I can control the light, literally, at the flick of a switch. Happy jeweler;-)

Thursday, 12 February 2015

February 12

View to Make You Feel Warm!

Photo was taken from our spot on the 5th floor at the Kihei Surfside.  Sun had just come over Haleakala.

I am still missing that Maui warmth – sigh – but our unusually mild weather makes it easier to keep the shop warm, so bench work is possible. That's a good thing!

One Ring, Two Rings; Finger Ring, Earrings

I started work on a larger size of the hammered band a few days ago.

The first step is to cut a strip of sterling from 18 gauge sheet. Over the years, I have gotten better at sawing a straight line but I am far from perfect. Here, one edge of the strip is in my vise where I can use a file to true the edge. If you look very closely, you will see most of the edge is shiny from the file but a few wobbles are still rough from the saw blade. You file until the vanish. Patience!

To the right, the strip has now been cut, hammered and soldered but — obviously — needs to be rounded on a ring mandrel.

Below, the same ring after rounding and lots of polishing.

I plan to make several of these in different sizes. It is the kind of project you can work on while more complex items are pickling, cooling or drying.

It also provides lots of practice in sawing long, straight lines ;-)

And The Earrings

I bought a pair of very pretty square cut Swiss blue topazes several years ago for use in earrings but — somehow — I never got around to setting them.  They caught my eye the other day and I remembered a setting I made for some square peridots. It seemed likely to be a showcase for the Swiss blues.

What a Great Color!

These stones start as white topaz and are irradiated to produce that brilliant blue. Hey, the color is a bit like the sea at Kailua Gulch on Maui's north shore!

After I set them, I decided the stones would show their sparkle even better if I frosted the silver.

Below, my wonderful flex shaft holds a brass wire brush. If you dip the brush in liquid soap and use it gently on the surface of the silver, you get a softly frosted finish.

Now I have to wait for a nice bright day so I can take some photos for my etsy shop <>

Saturday, 7 February 2015

I'm Baaaack!

Finally at My Bench Again

Boy, that was a long break. We headed for Maui on January 15, my head cold morphed into an mean, ugly and stubborn sinus infection and I finally got back to my beloved bench on February 6.

I so missed this place.

Why Does Handcrafted Jewelry Cost SO Much?

It's a question any artisan jeweler hears often, along with the comment, "I can buy that for $30 at Walmart". Well, no, you can't. You can buy something similar, but not the same.

Anyway, I just started making a pin or pendant (final use TBD) showcasing that earth-striped Polish Flint cabochon and I decided to really pay attention to the steps required and the time taken.

Design Time

I didn't keep track of the time I spent sketching various ideas for ways to use the stone — I doodle randomly and usually with ideas for several items at a session.  I'm guessing somewhere between 30 and 60 minutes. Once I settled on a design, I did a more accurate sketch which I glued to a piece of silver so I could cut out the shape.

Creating the Parts

For this setting, I cut the outer shape and also removed an oval from inside (under the stone). I carefully cut four prongs in the sheet silver shape to hold the stone. I also cut two lengths of 16 gauge sterling wire to add a third dimension to the setting.

All that sawing probably took about 45 minutes to an hour. This photo shows the stone with the silver components. Before I cut the shape out, I had to anneal the silver with my torch and pickle it. I also did a preliminary sanding (grits: 400, 600, 800, 1000) to remove scratches from both front and back. It is much easier to sand a piece when it is flat than after you start shaping it.

Shaping the Setting  

This is where the process starts demanding patience — lots of it.

The gauge of silver sheet that works as the backing for the piece is too heavy to allow those prongs to bend nicely over the cabochon. A lesson learned, as usual, the hard way. If you start bending the prongs down on the stone before you adjust the thickness, you create a lot of extra work because you rough up — and have to re-polish — the visible faces of them.

So, having learned that lesson, I now do the thinning early. In the photo, you see a couple of the files I use for this. These ones are small enough to remove material by working inside the slots and on the back of those prongs. This works, but the tiny files remove a very small amount of silver per pass. It takes two to three hours to do it right — and there is no point in doing it wrong!

A Word About Tools

There is no denying that the flex-shaft, torch and hammers are the glamorous tools on a jeweler's bench. These are the things every beginner wants to get his or her hands on now. In truth, the tools I use most often, and for the greatest number of hours, are my files and sanding sticks. Files come in an astounding array of shapes and sizes. A quick search of jewelers' supplier Rio Grande < > brings up 58 listings for files, many of which come in a variety of sizes or cut grades. Simply put, a jeweler can never have too many files.

So, in the photo above, I am in the process of carefully filing the back face of each of the four prongs. I also use the files to round off the corners of each prong so they will not be rough on fingers and clothing later.

Preparing the Embellishments

Remember that I plan to add a couple of wire bar accents to the face of this piece. Those also had to be cut, annealed, and sanded smooth. Then I had to sweat some solder onto one side of each piece of wire so they can be soldered to the face of the setting.

Here are those wire parts with a couple of the small sanding sticks I use. I also have larger sanding sticks, made by wrapping sandpaper tightly around paint stir sticks — better for working on bigger surfaces.

Like filing, sanding takes much longer than shaping a piece or hammering a texture onto a surface (which I also did).

Dinner time rolled around before I got past this stage. I will get on with this job as time permits and will post the rest of the story here.

Wednesday, 4 February 2015


Making Marmalade

I spent the past few days making marmalade and it crossed my mind that it is a bit like creating a piece of jewelry. Think not? Let's see about that.

1. Preparation

In either case, you have to start by selecting your raw materials and preparing them.

You can make orange marmalade from any kind of oranges, but we think only Sevilles produce the real deal. I can purchase silver and stones any time I want but these oranges are only around for a short time at the end of January and beginning of February. The time table is not negotiable. I was just lucky that my nasty sinus infection cleared off before I had to start on this project. I have read that one can buy the oranges and freeze them to make jam later but we don't have that much freezer space.

Here, I was juicing the oranges. All the flesh and pits are tied in a cheesecloth pouch and, of course, the peel gets slivered.

2. Apply heat

Making jewelry involves a lot of work with a torch. Silver has to be annealed to make it workable and it takes a bunch of carefully applied heat to make a solder joint ;-)

Making marmalade involves two heat steps. First, you simmer the juice, bag of pith and pits with the peel. Once the peel is soft enough, you squeeze all the juices you can from the cheesecloth bag then add sugar to the juice and peel mixture. Time to apply more heat (but, luckily, you can do the first step and hold the mixture overnight to finish the next day).

This photo shows the juice, peel and sugar mix coming to a boil. The thermometer tells me when the mixture has reached setting point (although I always do the traditional wrinkle test too!).

I am very happy with my new candy thermometer.  The old one wasn't long enough for the kettle so I had to keep dipping it in, holding it with tongs, to check temperature. Tricky task with all the steam coming at you!

3. Package the Product

Here is the second batch made for 2015. All ready to go into the pantry

Now I can get back to my bench ;-) Happy dance!