As a jeweler for over 35 years, my artwork is a detailed process, inspired by daily interactions. My jewelry is personally designed and handcrafted in a variety of metals, consisting of 14kt gold, sterling silver, brass, and copper. The first step to creating a piece of jewelry consists of envisioning and drawing out the design. Sometimes, I will free flow my creation, having an idea and immediately putting it into action. However, I also sketch out my designs, drawing in 2D or 3D to feature the details of my vision.
Once I have a design in mind, I use millimeter width sheet gauge metals to scribe and trace a shape. Depending on the type of jewelry I make, whether it is slender earrings or a thick pendant piece, I will choose the appropriate millimeter metal gauge sheet. Next, I use sharp metal cutters and cut along the faint line that I have inscribed. After my piece is cut out, I take the excess sheet and put it aside for when I am ready to create another shape.
From here, I decide whether the piece of jewelry will have a texturized or smooth finish. I normally prefer texture, as it creates a more unique piece. I create texture by using a hammer and anvil. I hold the shaped piece of metal against the anvil and carefully hammer so that the round edge of the hammer is hitting the metal to create a uniform texture. Once the jewelry has uniform hammer marks on it, I will flip the sheet over and use the flat side of the hammer to lightly hammer the edge to give it a more finished look.
As an example, if I were making a ring using the process just mentioned, the ring would look like a long rectangular piece of metal that has rough texture in the middle, and smooth edges. Next, I would use flat nose or round nose pliers and pull the ends together so that they are touching. If the edges have gaps in where they touch, then I file the edges with a metal file until the edges touch perfectly. At this point, the ring is now round, though not a perfect circle yet.
The next step in this process is to seal the edges with an acetylene torch so that the ends do not come apart. However, before fire heats the metal, the metal must be dipped in boric acid in order to prevent fire scale. Fire scale is a product of too much heat being applied to metal. It is typically a reddish or greenish color depending on the type of gas used to create the flame on the torch. After the piece is dipped in boric acid, flux is applied to the area that I intend to seal. Flux is used to help the ends of the metal seal together; it helps the solder flow between the two ends of the metal which will make the piece unbreakable at that joint if done correctly.
At this point, I am ready to solder the two ends together. Using solder metal (I typically use sterling silver solder or 14kt gold solder), I heat the jewelry up enough until the metal is hot enough to allow the solder to melt and flow on the area I want sealed together. This gives the ring a molded circle shape. After letting the ring cool down, I put the ring on a metal ring mandrel, take a canvas hammer and lightly hit the ring so that it forms into a perfect circle.
Next, I will think about what type of stone to put in the ring. Two types to consider are cabochon or faceted. With a cabochon setting, I make the setting with a thin rectangular sheet that is typically used for making settings. I wrap the metal around the stone so that I use enough metal to hold the stone. Then I will use a similar process as I did above to solder the ends; however I typically do not use the boric acid because the setting is very quick to make and it is unlikely I will create fire scale. On the other hand, a faceted stone setting can be made by doing the same thing, but using metal wire to create the setting. Once I have made the requisite setting the piece demands, I begin the process of applying the setting to the ring. Depending on how the ring was cooled and for how long it was sitting, I may dip the ring in boric acid again to give it another coating to protect against fire scale.
From here, I use stationary pliers to hold the ring in place. I put flux on the part where I want the settings to go, heat the ring and apply solder, then reheat the ring when I am ready to place the setting on the ring.
So at this point, the ring is one metal, round, and has a setting or two on it. If I would like to make this ring two toned, then I will cut a small piece of metal from a separate sheet of metal, put flux on the area I want the small piece of metal to go, and solder that piece on.
After this, I will put the ring in pickle acid, and let it sit for a while in case there is fire scale on the metal. Pickle acid removes most if not all fire scale from the metal depending on how much fire scale is on the ring, if any.
After the ring has sat in the pickle acid, from a few seconds to several hours, I take the ring out with metal tongs. I then rinse the ring off with water, and buff the ring without the stone(s) in the setting(s).
To buff my jewelry I use two wheels, one wheel which gets the major scrapes off of it (scrapes from rough tools) and fire scale, and the second wheel which makes the ring shiny. Two different compounds are used to accomplish my desired result. Once the ring is shiny, I will set the stones. In a cabochon setting, I will typically put sawdust in the setting for the stone to sit on top of a cushion so that it does not break as easily if the ring is knocked against a hard surface. Once the stone is inside, I use a plier to tighten the edges of the setting against the stone. For faceted stones, I measure the stone by putting it in the setting and marking where the girdle (outside edge of the stone) is. I then use a dremel tool, with the appropriate bur, to drill into the edges to create a cliff for the stone to sit. Once I have uniformly done this to all four or all six prongs, I set the stone inside and use flat nose pliers to tighten the prongs around the stone to hold it in.
After this, I finish the top of the prongs using either a dremel tool with bur or files and a do light buffing on the ring. Then I clean the ring to remove compound.
In terms of making pendants, bracelets, and earrings, they are all very similar to make as I have explained in making the ring; but they typically have less steps than a ring does, and often require the use of wire metals that come in coils. In addition, if the piece of jewelry does not have a stone on it or does not have a second metal, then there are even less steps.
Thank you for your time in learning about how I make my pieces of art. In designing, making, or finishing my pieces, I do not use assistants. Moreover, I do not outsource my work. The materials I buy are sheets of metal, bundles of wire, and stones. I also have lapidary experience. You may view pieces of my jewelry on http://www.JewelryByMelisa.com .
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