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.