Finally at My Bench AgainBoy, 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 TimeI 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 PartsFor 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
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 ToolsThere 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 <http://www.riogrande.com/ > 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
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.