Saturday, 20 June 2015

Iolite Pin

From the Vikings to My Bench

I am starting work on a custom order for a sterling silver and iolite lapel/scarf pin. For those who are not familiar with this beautiful purple stone, here are a few facts from the International Colored Gemstone Association.

"When Leif Eriksson and the other legendary Viking explorers ventured far out into the Atlantic Ocean, away from any coastline that could help them determine their position, they had a secret gem weapon: iolite. The Viking mariners used thin pieces of it as the world's first polarising filter. Looking through an iolite lens, they were able to determine the exact position of the sun, and navigate their way safely to the New World and back.

The property that made iolite so valuable to the Vikings is its extreme pleochroism." 

How is that for a word? Pleochroism simply means that, depending on how the light hits it, iolite changes from violet blue to almost clear.

Those who believe gem stones have special powers say that iolite can stimulate the imagination and promote psychic vision.

Iolite Powering My Imagination?

When I began looking at this lovely emerald cut specimen, perhaps the stone itself helped me imagine this setting as it was the first and only one I sketched for it. Happily, the customer also felt it was just right. She and I also agree that reticulated sterling silver will display the stone to maximum advantage (see previous post on reticulation).

Just a Bit Like Dressmaking

If you were going to make a dress, you would start with a pattern, pin it to your fabric and cut out the pieces. To make a piece of jewelry is somewhat similar.

Working from the rough sketch above, I took accurate measurements of the stone and drew up a pattern. I photocopied it a couple of times (insurance — if I mess up and need to start over, I will not have to create a new pattern).

You can't pin anything to a piece of metal, of course, so I glued the paper pattern to the reticulated silver. I angled it to take advantage of the texture in the silver and to minimize waste. The excess silver on the end will be put to use later for a pendant and I will probably use the trimming under the pattern as embellishment on another item later.

Cut, Trim and Fit

The next step (which was a bit tricky) was to use my jeweler's saw to cut out the piece. I started with the full outline, then drilled and cut to create the opening in the center that will be behind the stone. Finally, I carefully cut the two slots. My skill with a saw has improved over the years, but it's far from perfect. After cutting, I had to take my files to clean up the corners and even up the edges. In this photo, although there is still filing to do, I am able to place the stone almost exactly over its final position. That lets me be sure I did not make any measuring errors and also, for the first time, lets me see how the stone will look in this setting. Interesting to see how much darker it looks here, isn't it?

At this point, it becomes possible to imagine this pin on someone's lapel. I think it will look quite lovely there.

Sunday, 14 June 2015

Reticulating Sterling

Fire Up That Torch

I have a couple of items to create (a pin and a pendant) with reticulated silver. To be efficient with a somewhat time consuming process, I cut a strip of 18 gauge sterling sheet large enough to make both items.

Heat and Repeat

And Repeat

To prepare the sterling for the actual reticulation, I have to bring it to annealing temperature a minimum of seven times (personally, I feel more sure of a good result with eight firings). Each cycle takes only a few minutes but, as with any repetitive task, it's easy to lose track of how many times you have done it. A scorecard is essential. After each heating, I quench the piece in water, then put it into the pickle pot (mild acid bath) for two to three minutes and let it dry before the next round.

Now, Melt and Move the Surface

The repeated heatings bring a layer of fine (pure) silver to the top of the silver and copper alloy that is sterling. Once that is done, it is possible to bring that fine silver layer to melting temperature and use the torch flame to move and manipulate it. It takes a steady hand as you must get that layer flowing but you must not melt holes in the piece. Well, not unless you are after a really distressed look!

Kinda Ugly, Isn't It?

I took this photo so you can see the way the metal looks after I finish the reticulation process but before the final pickle bath. I just turned the torch off and let the piece cool a bit before quenching it. All that intense heat has left the surface very dark — it kinda looks as if I burned it. The first time I did this, I was a touch horrified when I saw this!

Nothing Beats a Nice, Hot Bath

Amazing: give that ugly mess a rinse and a few minutes in the warm pickle pot and see how pretty it gets.

I absolutely love this look.

 Come back in a few days to see what I'm doing with this. ;-)

Tuesday, 9 June 2015

June 9

Make a Pendant — Long & Slim

I made a couple of long, slim pendants topped by striped bars a few years ago. One is mine; the other my daughter's. Liking the look, I decided to create one for my etsy shop <>

In this blog, I will show you the process.

Measure, Cut and Anneal the Metal

Here is the back plate, cut to size from sterling sheet, on my charcoal block. I torch annealed it and am about to quench and pickle it. Boy, that is a seriously worn pair of cross locking tweezers ;-) They have served me well for many years — and it shows! At this point, I used a file to smooth the edges. I am better at cutting a straight line, but far from perfect!

Time to Add the Wire Bar

Next, I cut a length of 16 gauge square sterling wire, slightly longer than the back plate and soldered it on.

Here is the assembled piece, still looking frosted from its bath in the pickle pot. For those who don't know, there is no dill involved. The "pickle" is a mild acid solution which works best when hot. So, like most jewelers, I keep mine in a mini crock pot just to the side of my soldering blocks. A few minutes in the pickle removes surface oxides produced when the silver is heated. That frosted look is pretty but will not last. To get a permanent frost finish, I will use a wire brush dipped in soap.

Marking the Decorative Pattern

I decorated the top bar with a series of randomly arranged dark lines. In this photo, I have marked the line positions with a fine tipped marker. The lines get cut with a saw and deepened with a scribe. When everything else is done, a patina solution will permanently blacken the lines.

I finished cutting the lines, then polished the entire piece, bringing the back to a mirror shine and giving both sides of the front that brass brush frosted look. I mirror polished the top of the bar to highlight the dark lines.

Done Deal

I have a particular chain planned for this. When it gets here from my supplier, I will be listing this on etsy.