Monday, March 9, 2015

A Little Jewelry Education

When I'm exhibiing my jewelry at festivals, I tend to get a lot of questions about how the jewelry is made. So though I usually don't share Works In Progress, I snapped some quick iPhone photos while I was working on one of  my most recent designs.

Essentially, what I do is take raw metal materials - sheet, wire, and tubing - and "fabricate" them into jewelry:



It comes in square shape already, but I hammer in every line of that texture.


The tubing, as you can see, comes in various diameters. I buy 12" tubes and then hand-cut the smaller tube sizes I need from that. 

So that's the raw materials. But how do they become a finished piece of jewelry? 

For me, since I design primarly with gems, the sort of "prequel" to beginning to make a piece of jewelry is pulling stones from my stash, comparing colors and shapes until I'm happy with what's in my hands.

After choosing gems, what happens first is a sketch. Well...sometimes. My sketches are mostly rough ideas to build upon, not detailed jewelry renderings. I've found that I'm more comfortable working in the metal itself, rather than making a sketch and transferring that idea to metal. But for more complex designs, like the one I'm using to illustrate today's post, sketching does help to gauge "what's going to go where", and "Do I really want a 3 inch doodad which might not be structurally sound, or would it work better at 1.5 inches?". It's helpful to answer these questions sooner, rather than later. :)

Once (if) the sketching is done, it's time to make bezels and back plates for the gems. I can't solder anything together until the gems have their metal homes first. I detailed the process of bezeling and back plate-ing here if you want to read more about that. Once that part is done, I start shaping and refining the embellisments.*

*Anything that's additional to the basic metal fabrication is commonly called embellishments. I could simply set the gems in a bezel and add a bail, and that would be an un-embellished pendant. Most metalsmiths, however, like to play. So we add all manner of layers and doodads and geegaws and granules...those are the embellishments.  :)

In the above photo, there are no backs to the bezels around the gems, and the embellishments have not been soldered in place. This is the beginning of desiging. I cut and shape the wire embellishements and start laying them out on the tape until they look right. 

I shape freehand, working along a somewhat meandering path to what appeals to my eye. I like what I call balanced asymmetry. For this design, that means that the two triangular bezels in the upper corners of the necklace are close, but not quite the same distance from the center bezel, and that the triangles are not both facing the same direction (one is point up; the other, point down). 

Now the wires are soldered, and two of the hinges are done. The necklace is taped to a neckform for me to check how it will lay on the body. 

Above (in this terribly blurry phone shot) are the small tubes I have cut from the 12" length to make the hinge joins. And the jump rings (which I also make by hand): 

that join the hinges together, as seen below:

In the above photo, you can see one of the "arms" of the handmade chain on this design. 

These are some of the arms. They're soldered together, and the tiny tubing is attached, but they're not added to the body of the design yet. But they're going to go up the neck, on the sides of the centerpiece, and lead to some additional handmade chain in the back. 

And *that* extra chain is all hand fabbed too. I take a slightly thinner wire and make ovals out of it, by first coiling it on a mandrel. With round wire you can just coil to your heart's content, but square wire can very easily get "off the square" and twist where you don't want it to. So it's a little slower process to carefully coil square wire:

Then the rings get sawn off, one by one, I've sawn a bunch loose already:

Loose rings sawn from the coil:

Next the open ends will be soldered, and then they'll be textured:

The one on the left has been textured; the ones on the right are soldered but not yet textured.

They then get soldered together, with another jump ring, to form this:

at the back of the necklace. 

Here's a process shot of those loose arms, all soldered together and getting their tiny ball embellishments:

Painter's tape, as you can see, is an invaluable tool in the jewelry studio. I use it constantly to temporarly keep things in place before they're physically joined. 

And now the whole neckpiece is done. Well... done with the fabrication and soldering, that is. Which doesn't mean that it's *finished*. There's a whole lot of clean up to do, which will remove any excess solder that went where I didn't want it to go, and then several steps of polishing the metal to get that soul-satisfying, deep shine. And then the gems need to be set. Probably at least a day's work (if not more) no full-on shots yet...but I promise to show you once it's ready for viewing. :) 


  1. Great post, loved seeing your process!

    1. Thanks Pennee! I'm so used to it that sometimes I forget that it's not something the rest of the world (non-makers) know. :)