Wednesday, February 1, 2017

The Art of Handmade Jewelry: Stone Setting Tips From the Bench

Bezel Setting a Hexagonal Faceted Stone in a Custom Made 14k White Gold Ring

Bezel setting stones with sharp corners always makes my heart race, partly from nervousness, partly from the thrill of the challenge. One measure that allows me to move forward with confidence is preparing the bezel for maximum protection of those delicate corners. This is especially useful for brittle materials, thin girdles, and unusual cuts in softer stones such as this faceted hexagonal lapis lazuli being set into 14k white gold.

Using a 1mm ball bur, I created a hollow where the sharp corners will reside, only removing metal from the very tip and what will eventually be the upper portion, while making sure that the bottom support remains unaltered. This allows for the metal to be pushed over to the crown without direct pressure being placed on the corners. The metal then can be worked flush and inline with the adjacent sides of the bezel.

It's essential to go slowly, only removing enough metal to make a slight hollow. Going too far means running the risk of over-thinning the metal, possibly exposing a hole during the finishing process. I use the slow speed Foredom motor for this step.

When closing the bezel around an angular stone, the most important thing is to make sure that I have properly annealed the metal. When in doubt, I give it flick with my fingernail and listen for that unmistakable “dead” sound. This is of primary importance when working with low karat, springy alloys such as 14k white gold.

Using the hammer handpiece, again, with the slow speed Foredom motor, I work on opposing corners first, stopping short of completely flush. Then, I close the center of each straight side, alternating between opposite sides. Going back to the corners, I work each side of the point, moving toward the center of the straight sides, but still not closing completely.

Finally, I close the bezel completely flush to the stone by working from the center of a side out toward the corners. For a stone with longer and fewer sides than this hexagonal cut, it's often beneficial to split the difference between the center of the side and the corner, and work these areas independently as an additional step. 

Once the stone is nice and secure, I go back to the corners and work them to match the height and angle of the bezel's sides.

Every custom designed piece of jewelry seems to call for a slight variation in technique, but this general process consistently produces clean, even, and secure handmade bezel settings for challenging faceted cuts. 

Friday, January 20, 2017

Handmade RAINN: Art That Educates, Helps, and Heals

I've been wanting to set something like this up for quite a while and today seemed like a great day to start! Beginning today, I'll be running monthly Handmade RAINN Donation campaigns with offerings of fine handcrafted jewelry and art. Visit my Handmade RAINN Donation page for more information on this organization and the wonderful services they offer.

Monday, January 16, 2017

The Art of Imperfection; A Kintsugi Style Repair

Fossils, Gold, and a Lesson in Being Beautifully Broken

Don't you love it when the right thing unexpectedly shows up at exactly the time that you need it? This antique plate crafted from Cephalopod fossil-bearing rock, in all its broken glory, arrived in my studio on the heels of a year that left me feeling a bit fractured myself. The request was to restore it using the Kintsugi technique, and though I opted for modern materials rather than the traditional urushi lacquer, due to the heaviness of the rock, the essence of the process was the same.

Kintsugi Fossil Plate Broken

I wish I could say that this was an easy project and I'll admit that I actually thought it would be. Experimenting with a variety of epoxies, varnish mediums, and metallic powders was fun and a bit mad-sciency. Piecing it back together several chunks at a time was also satisfying, even when the weather turned rainy and longer set times had my bench looking like a mini Stonehenge for nearly two weeks.

Kintsugi Fossil Plate Back

It was during the last stage of applying the gold powder when I, myself, started to crack. I'm no stranger to the patience this technique requires or the exacting nature of detailed work in general, but I found letting go of expectations and allowing the material to define its own standard of beauty surprisingly difficult. As often happens, though, frustration preceded change, and in this case, that change was perspective. The image in my head of what I wanted to see the material become obscured the delightful nature of what it already was. All I had to do was trust the process, let go and let perfect imperfection happen.

Kintsugi Fossil Plate Front

In the end, I'm very pleased with how this project turned out and would recommend anyone try their hand at the Kintsugi technique. It is more than an exercise in patience and dexterity, it is a process through which a person can learn a great deal about their personal relationship with perceived faults, flaws, and defects. Sometimes it is only a matter of perspective, and as with my experience in working on this piece, focusing on what something isn't can blind us to the beautiful truth of what something is.

Monday, January 9, 2017

Handmade for January, Rhodolite Garnet in Argentium Sterling Silver Jewelry

Handmade Argentium sterling silver and rhodolite garnet earrings and rings.

Silver and rhodolite garnet, such a beautiful high-contrast combination. I don't make a lot of birthstone jewelry, but January's birthstone, garnet, is such an inspiring stone. Garnet is found in a rainbow of colors, but the deep reds are the most mesmerizing to me, especially when that warmth is paired with the crisp brightness of Argentium sterling silver. 

Sunday, January 1, 2017

The Art of Handmade Jewelry: Custom Designed Bracelet

A few basic tools and a passion for making things can accomplish a lot at the bench. Throw in an original design and a generous amount of patience, and you're well on your way to creating a unique piece of art. The art of handmade jewelry is the journey taken from concept to completion. Here are a few steps from the path of a custom designed bracelet, in Argentium sterling silver, gold, chrysoprase, and spinel, and a glimpse inside the handmade creative process.

Design Layout and Transfer

For pierced work, the design must somehow be transferred onto the metal sheet. Since this piece also required carving and engraving reference lines, I applied a thin wash of acrylic gesso (look for upcoming blog entries on using what you've got). The graphite transfers beautifully onto the matte surface, where the lines aren't easily rubbed off but still can be erased and modified if necessary.

Smoothing and Shaping

For inside finishing and removal of tool-marks on pierced work, I take a "use whatever works" approach, which most often comes down to strips of sandpaper. I use strips cut in varying widths, from as coarse as 220 grit for shaping and truing up edges, sequentially up to 1500 grit for a smooth, pre-polished surface. This is one of my favorite steps in pierced work; the hands-on refinement is creatively satisfying and the process somewhat meditative.

Chrysoprase and Gold

Choosing the most complementary settings and metals for stones is always a priority. If a bezel is your setting preference, then metal color and finish becomes a critical factor for transparent and semi-transparent stones. Whenever possible, I set semi-transparent chrysoprase in mirror polished 18k gold bezels to enhance their color saturation and bring out an almost otherworldly inner glow.

Flush Setting Melee

Flush setting small stones is a meticulous technique, but lots of fun as well. With an adequate variety of setting bur sizes, proper seats are cut which makes the process go smoothly. The thickness of sheet used for this bracelet combined with multiple spinel sizes of varying depth created very close tolerances, and going too far would mean a pointy culet poking through to the inside. Using a slow speed stone-setting Foredom motor, the seats were cut in multiple stages while checking and rechecking the fit of the stones. Time-consuming, yes. Worth the effort to get each one right the first time? Absolutely.

No Wiggling Allowed

Sometimes a stone will want to wiggle, even in the best cut seat. Trying to burnish the metal over the crown of a less than ideally cut gem can be a frustrating challenge. Sometimes a dab of adhesive or wax is required to keep them positioned properly while finishing the setting, however, the edge of the Foredom hammer tip can also be used to initially secure that wiggler at four opposing points. I prefer this technique to the use of wax or adhesive since I want to be absolutely sure that it's the metal doing the work and not the temporary substance. I did have extra metal to work with on this piece, though, since the silver surrounding these stones would later be deeply textured. When deciding which techniques are right for the job, thinking a few steps ahead is always a good idea.

The Next Leg of the Journey

Handmade jewelry, like any creative project, begins with an idea and a plan, even if that plan never makes it onto paper. Every new creation challenges, surprises, delights, and opens up new pathways to inspiration. When a customer or client invests in handmade jewelry, they're receiving more than a product, they're receiving the expression of a unique creative journey. For many artists, including myself, the opportunity to share this joyful creative experience with others is the best part of the job.

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Coppery/Peach Tourmaline Deliciousness

Coppery/Peach Tourmaline Pendant

One last piece before I get to work on the next batch of custom orders...
Another pendulum style pendant, this time featuring a coppery/peach 7.5mm tourmaline from ACS Stones and a 2.6mm diamond accent. I set out to create a more linear setting for this stone but have such a hard time getting away from those curves. So, I decided to combine the two and think this design found a nice balance and came together beautifully. I really like this style of pendant, and though 18" is the standard length of chain for most of my pieces, I think these look most stunning when on a 16" chain resting just below the collarbone.

Sunday, June 14, 2015

Love those blues and greens.

Chrysoprase earrings in 18k gold with diamonds.

Chrysoprase is one of my favorite materials to work with, and I have been looking forward to setting these beautifully matched 9 x 14mm pear cabs for quite some time.  I love how the orientation of the pear cabs gives this design a unique shape somewhat reminiscent of ancient amphorae. They are handcrafted in 18k yellow gold, accented with brilliant cut diamonds, and vibrantly alive without being overstated.

Chrysoprase cushion pendant

Another fine Chrysoprase, this 9mm cushion cut cabochon is set into an Argentium sterling silver and 18k yellow gold pendulum style pendant. A wee bit of sparkle is brought to this piece with the addition of a 1.5mm diamond in the center shot accent.

Blue Tourmaline and Sapphire ring.

Also completed this week, is this Blue/Green Tourmaline cabochon ring. I am very fond of blue/green tourmaline, especially cabs that tend more toward blue like this one. I chose to highlight this tourmaline with a very simple 18k bezel, and dressed up the Argentium silver band a bit with some faceted natural yellow sapphires. Streamlined, clean, and lovely.