Thursday, July 5, 2012

Anatomy of Fabrication

Ever wonder what goes into a piece of handmade jewelry? I thought I'd document a piece in action and show you. Of course the steps / processes will vary depending on what's being made...but here's what goes into a fairly " basic" cabochon design for me.

First, the stone needs a bezel. Stones, like anything natural, vary widely Some are quite tall (high), others can be very low. Bezel wire comes in various heights to accommodate the different stone heights.

This is a Peruvian opal getting its bezel made:

The bezel wire gets wrapped around the stone and measured to fit. Then the wire is shaped to the stone and the ends are soldered together:

I didn't take a picture of the bezel right after soldering, but the above shot is after it's soldered (if you look closely you can see the solder seam just in the front, toward the "bottom" of the photo). The next step is sanding the bezel to fit the back plate. The two pieces must join evenly for the solder to flow and hold them both together.

But hang on, I'm getting ahead of myself.  :)

Before the bezel can be soldered to the back plate, there must BE a back plate. So:

The back of the settting is made from  sheet metal, meaning literally that - it comes in the form of a sheet. This is a rimless design, meaning that the back plate and the bezel will meet each other with no extra back plate to be seen around the stone. I trace on the metal with a Sharpie, tracing around the bezel and stone, then use a saw to cut out the shape.

Here's the cut out piece from the sheet. I've marked the top and the next step will be to texture the back and add my maker's mark and the metal content:


I have textured the backs but not yet added the blue piranha and .925 (sterling silver) stamps.

Now that the sheet is ready (cut out, textured, stamped) and the bezel is ready (shaped, soldered, sanded), it's time to put them together:

This is the back plate and bezel ready for soldering. The small pieces inside the bezel are the solder bits. I will heat this up and flow the solder all around the bezel and sheet to join them.

But before I do that, I will have checked and double-checked and triple-checked my bezel to be sure it still fits my stone! All the sanding can get the bezel out of shape, so it's crucial to check and re-check that the stone still fits in it before it's soldered down to the sheet. I did *not* remember to do this on one of my very first pieces. and let me tell you...I won't forget it ever again. Nothing like doing all the work and then getting to the last step - the stone setting - and realizing you can't put your stone into your bezel...some choice words MAY have been used in the studio that day.  :)

Checking the fit:

Looks good so far. So I went ahead and soldered.  :)


The next step is cutting away the excess back plate (there's always a bit of overlap since I Sharpie-traced around both the stone and bezel. Better too much than too little! Too little means that you have to start over. I didn't take a photo of cutting away the excess sheet because it's just filing until the edges of sheet and bezel are smoothed out.

Once the excess sheet is gone, this earring needs to hang somehow, so I soldered on a jump ring:

And now it's ready for clean up and then the final step, setting the stone.

No photos of the stone setting process because my hands were busy setting (stone setting is a very phyisical process - you have to use a LOT of pressure to close that bezel around the stone) but these are the tools I use:

This is the pusher. It's used to push the bezel wall in toward the stone.

This is the rocker. The little T-shaped part on the front gets rocked around the bezel once the pushing work is done. While the pusher is used in small incremental steps around the bezel, the rocker is used in a continuous motion.

And finally, the burnisher. I love burnishing but it is SO hard on my hands! It requires a LOT of pressure when you use it. This tool is in a smoothing motion around the bezel too. It gives a shine to the bezel metal and also a nice "lip" around the stone. It has a curved tip so you can really get an angle on the bezel:

And the final result:

See how the bezel curves over the top of the stone? That's the "lip" I'm talking about.

So that's the basics of fabricating a bezel setting. It's fairly time consuming to set stones (not including the design time involved before any metal gets touched) so now you know what keeps me working those long studio hours. I don't mind though. The results are worth it.  :)


  1. Thanks for sharing! This is how, on the internet I taught myself how to bezel set, and books, from people like you willing to share. I noticed the blue painters tape and arrow, that is a little useful tidbit, thanks again.

  2. Happy to help! I think the internet is great for some things but I learn best by doing, so I've taken classes to help me. Though YouTube is a great help in this too. :) Best of luck as you continue on!