Thursday, September 20, 2012

a number of hours later...

I recently took some photos of the steps involved in making a piece of jewelry. I suppose I wanted to show the unglamorous side of the craft, and provide a good reason as to why my nails always look like s**t...

 This is the lovely result, with the graphic images of how I got there, below...

So I've decided that I quite liked the look of this pair of Cherry Creek jasper together with these faceted carnelian drops. Yum! 

I use my jeweler's saw to cut strips of sterling and form bezels around the stones. My pliers come in handy for that, and I make sure the bezel fits perfectly, not too loose, not too tight. After I've soldered the joint I spend a bit more time with my pliers and sometimes a few gentle taps with a hammer to get the fit just right. 
Next, I need to solder the bezel onto a flat sheet of silver. For these earrings, I've decided to put a cool texture on the back, and to do that I choose a piece of handmade paper and run it and the silver sheet together through a rolling mill so that the metal becomes embossed with a nice pattern. This paper makes a pattern that reminds me of reptile skin...

The next important thing to do is to make sure the bottom edge of the bezel is filed perfectly flat and that it and the silver sheet are clean, so I just sand that sheet a little to remove any dirt or oil. Sometimes I just collect it under my fingernails...

The bezels solder perfectly, due to all that careful prep work... and while they are taking a nice soak in the pickle to remove that nasty flux, having done a heroic job of allowing the solder to flow where it needs to flow, now it needs to go. While that's happening, instead of twiddling my fingers, looking around, and whistling, I start in on the gold components. Using 14kt gold wire, I make jump rings for the carnelian drops, I draw little balls on the ends of the wire, for I've decided to make the little connectors rather jaunty.

And I get to use my pliers. Once formed, I fit the connectors to the bezels and solder away, again. 

So now that the soldering is all done, I'm thinking about the earwires, and I figure I might as well get going on those. I end up wrapping a little bit of 14kt gold wire around them just to tie them in nicely with the earrings, because I just really like mixing metals, don't you? 

I'm also using a coarse file to hand texture the sides of the bezels. That usually takes a bit of time, but I am in a serious hand textured phase, and don't mind doing it. I don't yet know what my next phase will be... 
I also spend time at this point on the finish. I don't want a real shiny surface and I don't want a dull surface either. So through a process of gently heating and quenching the pieces in the same pickle that got rid of our flux, I bring up the fine silver to the surface of the metal for, as Goldilocks would say,  a "just right" finish.

And finally, the setting of the stones. The little carnelian drops have holes drilled in their tops, so they get epoxy, but the jasper, well they get the full spa treatment. Wearing my 10x optivisors, it seems like only yesterday I was a 5x. sigh... I hammer that bezel edge so that it is tight up against the stone. I am being very careful not to sneeze during this process. 
I clean up the top edge of the bezel with a file and give the edge a polish, attach the carnelian and the earwires, and voila! 

the hand textured sides

lizard skin, right?

If you've made it to this point, I just have to say thanks for hanging in there!


  1. That was so interesting. I think its great to hear about the long process involved in making things as it makes things seem even more special. Actually there is a 'Slow Design Movement' starting here in Scotland which plans to raise awareness of these processes in design in the way that the Slow Food Movement did for food and restaurants.
    The end result is really beautiful, nice one Betsy and well worth having '----' nails for!

  2. Ooooh, just been looking in your shop and fallen in love with your Labrodite ring. I can totally see why legends thought the Northern Lights were in that stone, beautiful......

  3. Niki, I love that idea of a Slow Design Movement! You Scots certainly have got your priorities straight!

  4. I love process photos, Betsy. These earrings are gorgeous!

  5. Love reading your process : people don't always realize the amount of time and work that goes into each piece and when you are making earrings, double that. I cut and polish my own stones so triple that!

    I'm so in love with your beautiful work :: lynn

  6. thanks, Lynn! Yes, patience with the process was the biggest lesson I learned on my path as a metalsmith! I love that you cut your own stones, that's a goal of mine as well!

  7. Wow! What a beautiful journey Betsy, thanks for letting us tag along - wish you could have heard us gasp and gasp and gasp some more.