Monday, 28 November 2016

Custom Order

Making a Stamped Pendant

Recently, someone asked if I could make a pendant that required a fairly large bail. It was to be stamped with a name. I submitted three designs and the client selected a square wire bar, topped with a tapered 6 mm diameter bail.

Supplies Received

 My local supplier did not have the heavy (4 gauge) square sterling wire I needed, so I sent to Rio Grande for it. No point in shipping one hunk of wire alone, so I picked up some more sterling sheet as well ;-).

I was waiting eagerly for this shipment.

A Very Special Piece of Wire

The photo on the right gives you an idea of the scale. Lovely bit of wire but just over twice as long as needed. I always hedge my bets — if something goes seriously awry, I want to have enough material on hand to start over.

The Plan — Plus a Super Tool

This photo shows the sketches, the piece of square wire, a marker pen and the amazing tool that helps me cut a piece of wire with a nice, clean square end. Before I bought it, a job like this involved putting the wire in a vise and cutting it freehand (trying VERY hard to keep the cut square). I almost always ended up having to file the end to square it up. This little jig makes it easy. PS - I have used a blue ink smear throughout this blog to conceal the identity of the recipient.

Right: this photo shows the wire in the jig. I have adjusted the jig for the length needed (pretty close to maximum for this jig). Near the left side of the photo, you can see the thin slot that the saw blade rides in to make the cut.

It's a really, really great tool.

The Pieces Take Shape

In this photo, you can see the square wire bar, cut to length, and the bail beginning to take shape. I cut a length of sterling sheet to the right width and length, then filed the ends to give it a taper. Next, I used those shaping pliers to begin rounding the bail. Eventually, I had to hammer it around a steel mandrel of the correct diameter until I had a circle. That was soldered to the bar.

Pattern For Stamping a Name

In this photo, I am using three pieces of painter's tape to anchor the bar to the top of my jeweler's anvil. I have also used a marker pen to help me position the letter stamps to set the name in a vertical column. Also in the photo, a piece of graph paper (I used it to set positions for the marks to align the letters), also one of the letter stamps and the brass headed hammer I use to drive the stamps.  It sounds pretty easy but getting those letters aligned — up and down plus side to side — before stamping is pretty fussy work.

Getting There— But Keeping The Secret

This is the bar for the pendant, with the name stamped into the silver. I have used a blue ink smear on my photos so there is no possibility of giving away who this will belong to some day.

Stamping letters into sterling sounds very simple: steel letter stamps, brass hammer —bingo! In truth, it's nerve wracking. Holding the letter punch straight and aligned is a challenge.  I never do it without fearing I may miss the mark (literally) and have to begin again. SO happy when it works.

The (Obscured) Final Result

Final photo: the pendant with the named stamped in (but blanked out here).

Since this photo was taken, I have done most of the polishing. Five grades of sandpaper, followed by five — even finer — grades of polishing wheels. After this photo was taken I used a chemical to blacken the letters and then re-polished the piece. Tonight, while watching television, I will use my silver polishing cloths and rub, and rub, and rub, until it totally gleams. Then, I will package it safely and send it on its way.

Custom Work Welcome

If you crave something you cannot find in a store, send me a note. Maybe I can design and create the exact thing for you.


Friday, 4 November 2016

Lapis X Two

Making Bright Blue Studs, Step By Step

I went back to lapis lazuli — one of my favorite stones — for this pair of stud earrings.

The stunning blue of lapis lazuli, prized since ancient Egypt, looks fabulous on silver. I made a pair of lapis studs for myself a few years ago and they remain one of my favorite pairs.

For this set, I decide to use my riveting hammered to texture the sterling silver, creating a series of cross hatched lines instead of the dimples a ball peen would produce. This photo shows a piece of sterling sheet after the hammering. The dimpled look can be seen around the circles I previously cut for my sunstone studs. You hammer texture before cutting a piece from the sheet to avoid distorting the edges.

Making the Parts

Bezels are the most common setting for round cabochons. They hold the stones securely and the look of a silver edge around lapis is quite elegant.

This pair of 8mm stones required a thinner strip of fine (pure) silver than I had on hand, so I used a pair of cutters to very carefully cut the wire along its length. Next, I shaped two pieces to fit around the stones and used flush cutters to trim them to the exact lengths I needed. After checking fit, I soldered the ends together to make the silver circles.

Fitting & Assembly Comes Next

Here are the parts. The bezels fit perfectly so I  am ready to move on.

Getting a Great Finish Takes Work

To end up with a mirror polish on the silver, I start with a file, smoothing the outer edges of the discs. In some cases, even the top and bottom surfaces will need filing.

There Are No Shortcuts

In total, the silver for studs like these gets treated with four grades of sandpaper (from 400 to 1000 grit) before the bezels are soldered on. That is just the first polishing/finishing stage for any piece of jewelry.

I make earring of this type quite often, varying the finish I give the silver and the stones I use. One thing I always do is set the stones near one edge and mount the ear post opposite. This is to ensure that the studs — both of them — will always sit properly on your ears, with the stones at the bottom.

Polishing — Stage Two

Once the solder work is completed (including putting ear posts on the back) final polishing begins. Those four grades of sandpaper leave a slightly rough finish. The final stage, to remove sanding marks and bring up a brilliant polish, involves five levels of these polishing discs. (And people wonder why handcrafted jewelry is more expensive than similar looking items at a big box store!)

Protecting the Stones

Final step is to cover the silver with painters' tape while using steel stone setting tools.

For the record, apart from the files, papers and polishers, this simple pair of earrings called for one anvil, two hammers, three different cutters, a soldering torch and charcoal soldering block, a couple of pairs of jewelers' pliers, a rotary tool, and a steel burnisher. Yes, I have lots of tools ;-)

Tuesday, 1 November 2016

Sunstone Studs

Variations on a Theme

Of all the items I make, I find round silver stud earrings, set with cabochon gemstones, are the best sellers. It makes sense because you can wear them any time, anywhere — day to night, office to party. Of all the earrings I own (and that's a lot), a pair like these are my go-to favorites.

I recently sold two pairs of this style from my ArtYah shop <>. With the holiday shopping season upon us, I decided making a few more might be a good idea. Besides, I enjoy doing them. I stocked up on silver and stones and got to work.

Sunstones Are Well Named

For the first set, I chose a pair of glowing, peachy-gold sunstones. These stones shimmer and contain almost magic sparkles.

No matter what stone I am working with, I always have to start by cutting flat sterling silver discs of an appropriate diameter.

This pair of stones are rated as 8mm although my caliper is showing 7.9 — even factory cut stones can be slightly uneven. That is why I always make each of a pair of earrings separately — the adjustments can vary. In the photo, you see my length of bezel wire (pure — as opposed to sterling — silver), the calipers, the prepared discs, a special pair of piers for shaping rounds (i.e. bezels) and the sunstone cabochons.

First Stud, Waiting for The Fire

Next photo, a shot of the back plate and the bezel on a charcoal block, ready for soldering. The two nickels serve to let more heat go under the piece and silver will not stick to them (who would want a pretty earring with a dirty nickel stuck to it???)

 Looks dirty. Okay, it is dirty but without charcoal and fire, few pieces of jewelry would ever be born.

Once the bezel is solidly attached to the disc, I have to pickle the piece (give it a bath in a mild acid to remove oxides) and solder on the ear post. Sounds easy but an ear post is a thin piece of wire and all to easy to melt. I used to destroy about 1 in 4. Nowadays, my average is much  better. I only melt about 1 in 10. It is, remember, a learning process. It worked.

See these at DixSterling on etsy.