Monday, February 25, 2013

The Modern Locket

Modern Locket in Aluminum
Aluminum is an amazing metal. It's uses are endless...from cookware to industrial applications...this metal at one time in history rivaled platinum. Its discovery in the early 1800's has transformed our daily lives. Today, aluminum jewelry is gaining in popularity due to its carefree quality and likeness in color to silver.

I love lockets. The idea of a secret message for the wearer or photos that only the wearer treasures is fascinating. My next several projects will focus on creating different locket designs. I'll share the basics of how I make these modern lockets.

For my first locket project, I decided to cut my own discs. The process involves using a disc cutter with different sized holes and a big hammer. The sheet metal is inserted into the disc cutter and the cutting cylinder is inserted in the hole. I use a big hammer to "whack" the cutting cylinder. It takes some muscle, but isn't too difficult. The edges of the disc are deburred with sandpaper or a file and the disc is sanded to a satin finish.

This locket is for my mother-in-law, Yei. I recently planted flowers in her garden and decided on flowers as a design element.  The secret message on the inside will be "My Boys."

Aluminum is so easy to hammer and the front disc is given a hammered finish. I love how the light glitters in different directions with this finish. The metal is very soft and requires very little effort to hammer the piece.

The basic steps are:
1) lay out the design directly on the metal with a permanent marker
2) practice on a scrap piece of metal or sometimes a thick cardstock. Check spacing.
3) stamp piece
4) align and punch holes
5) clean off marker with acetone
6) final polish
7) assemble

I like the look of this piece and will create variations of this design for future lockets. Every piece I make is created with an attention to detail using traditional metalsmithing techniques I've acquired over the past 25 years.

My work is available for sale on and Like me on Facebook at Lisa Miwa Jewels and Stampologie to receive special offers.

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Inspired by Metal Stamping

Anodized Aluminum Pendant
"Keep Calm . Carry On"

My latest endeavor is creating jewelry with handstamped sentiments. This hot trend in jewelry parallels our desire to embrace our individuality and memories. I've seen thousands of beautiful pieces on Etsy, where I have my new shop, Stampologie by Lisa Miwa and Susan Morishita.

I researched metal stamping before embarking on this new endeavor, reviewing many videos on technique, looking at various artists and their styles. This information was very helpful, but no amount of studying can replace the act of doing. Now I know this looks pretty easy, right? Well, there is a technique to stamping. 

Some of the things I had to learn include:

1) How hard do I stamp the metal? Well, it depends on the hardness and thickness of the metal. Practicing on aluminum is different that stamping on nickel silver which is very hard.

2) How do I space the letters? Each font style is different so adjustments in spacing need to be considered. And, what can I say except that practice makes perfect? For each blank I stamp, I practice first before stamping on the final product. And, sometimes that isn't enough.

3) Lastly, working with aluminum is an adjustment for me. I use separate tools for aluminum so my sterling silver work is not contaminated. And, because I am very finicky about the final finish of my pieces, it took me a while to understand the properties of aluminum. Now, I have to confess, I really like it. It's bright like silver and very easy to care for because it doesn't tarnish. Aluminum is also very lightweight, so you won't feel the weight of a large pendant.

This piece "Keep Calm . Carry On" reminds me to stay focused on my creative journey by putting one foot in front of the other.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Spring 2012 Project Work at ECC - Part 2 of 2

I hope you enjoyed part 1 of this post. I learn a lot not only from workshops, but from blogs. It is so interesting to read what others are creating/sharing and I learn through their experiences. This blog is my way of contributing to the cycle of learning.

The remaining projects for my semester at El Camino College included a pendant with a stone, a wearable that incorporates wax and non-wax elements, and a wax relief design that will be pulled from a photoetched plate.

Project #4 - Pendant with a stone
I've been slowly advancing my stone setting skills by teaching myself. Stone setting requires patience and tenacity. Professional stone setters use microscopes to properly set stones in fine jewelry and do it repeatedly to get it right.

For this project, I wanted to set small and large stones (1.5mm to 2mm). This was a complex project requiring many steps. My design features a pendant with a moonstone focal (the moonstone has an eye) and small tanzanite and cubic zirconia gemstones on the top section. The lower section has a custom cut crazy lace agate set with prongs and is connected to the top with a jump ring. Here is a photo mashup of my design with top section already cast. The design represents the sun, planets, stars and solar flare.

Creating the wax:  Measure each stone. Layout and mark the wax for the design and the stones. Carve design. The wax is weighed to estimate the finished weight of the piece. I used stone setting burs in the wax to create seats for each stone. I draw a picture to indicate which stone goes where (it makes a difference because each stone's measurements are slightly different. Small wax prongs are added to the wax carving for each stone. I was very excited that I accomplished this in the wax and curious to see how it would turn out in metal.

Create the under gallery: I made an outline of the cast pendant and cut a duplicate shape in sheet metal. I created a pierced design for the back. Before solder assembly, I pre-polished the pieces as it would be impossible to polish the interior once assembled.

Assembly: The next step is to solder the top to the back. I used square wire posts to separate the top and back leaving a 1/8" space between. I soldered 4 posts (north, south, east, west). A jump ring was also soldered at the bottom to connect the bottom section of the pendant. Throughout all of my soldering operations, I liberally used Cupronil to protect the metal from firescale. There are many products on the market such as Firescoff, Stop Ox, Prip's Flux, etc.

The lower section of the pendant was entirely created in wax, however, some of the prongs did not completely cast. I cut off all of the prongs, soldered double half round wire to the setting, added a jump ring at the top and then connected the sections before soldering the jump ring closed. Yellow ochre was used in areas as needed to prevent solder flow in unwanted areas.

Pre-polish: The piece was pre-polished before stone setting. Tape was applied to protect polished areas as needed.

Stone setting:  Each setting was checked with its corresponding stone for fit. I used my makeshift ball graver in this step. It's made from a half dome of recycled delrin from my brother-in-law. He attached a 4" vise from Harbor Freight to the delrin. This sits on my pitch bowl rubber pad. I clamp my universal work holder with handle removed in the vise to hold my work. The delrin moves easily on the rubber pad allowing me to position the work properly. I've seen photos of a ball vise made from an old bowling ball. Use your imagination, you don't need to spend a fortune on every tool. Anyone that makes jewelry knows tools are really expensive, so anytime you can get creative is a blessing.

I found there was a little shrinkage in the settings and made some adjustments with stone setting burs. Some settings required more attention than others. I had to use a graver on some of the 1.5mm settings. Overall, I found it highly challenging to prong set the 1.5mm to 2mm stones. For one, my eyesight is not what it used to be; secondly, I am working intuitively without formal instruction. The prongs are quite rigid and required a firm hand to push them over the stones (even after using the hart bur to grind an angle for the girdle of the stone). One huge problem I encountered was that the under gallery collapsed under the pressure of stone setting. I jammed in toothpicks to keep the sections separated. So, the back of the pendant is now wavy instead of flat. The metal is too thin to sand flat (I started with 22 gauge). I now know I need more support posts for the under gallery and a slightly thicker gauge for the size of pendant I created.

The bottom section of the pendant was much easier to set. I cleaned up the double half round wire prongs and estimated where the prongs would bend over the stone. I thinned the metal at the bend. This made it easier to push the prongs over the stone.

Finishing: Rouge polish is the last. I polished everything to a high shine, but didn't like the back high polished. There were a lot of smudges after trying it on, and I didn't like the look. So, instead the back has a matte finish.

I learned so much from this project as it was the most challenging. I think my first effort at prong setting turned out pretty good. Anyway, I'm happy with it and I'll wear my pendant proudly. With the knowledge I gained, my next project will turn out so much better.

"Solar Flare"
Project #5 - Wax/non-wax
This project incorporates a wax element and a non-wax element. I found a beautiful plastic button to cast in ancient bronze. You never know about some plastics, some cast well and others don't. This casting came off without a hitch. The wax ring shank was fashioned from 6 gauge half-round wax wire. The shank needed to be thick to accommodate the size of the cast button. Each piece was polished before soldering the parts together. The ring was coppery looking so I pickled it in a 50/50 solution of vinegar and hydrogen peroxide for about 15 minutes. Don't leave it in too long or your solder joints will get eaten away! I'm not kidding. I left a piece overnight and found pits in the solder seams. Yikes!

Here's the finished ring. I will plate it in 18kt gold to maintain its gold color. Bronze, like copper and silver, tarnishes easily. Also, many individuals have a skin reaction to these metals (skin color turns black or green). I don't want that to happen!

Project #6 - Cast design from photoetched plate
Black and white designs are photoetched or engraved onto a zinc plate. What appears in black in the drawing will be raised in the metal. The size of the plate for each student is 3" x 3", enough space for several designs. Here are images of my black and white designs and the engraved plate.
Black areas from design are recessed in the plate

For my project, I chose a rectangular repeating pattern of leaves with a cut out in the middle. 18 gauge sheet wax is centered over the design and sandwiched between a metal plate and rubber and pressed in a hydraulic press (another really expensive tool, but I wish I had one). The wax fills the grooves in the engraved plate, meaning the raised areas in the wax now correspond to the black areas in the design. The wax is cast in sterling silver. 

I forgot to say I am making a pendant. I file and sand the piece and decide to embellish it with a cast lantana flower bud. The bail is fabricated to accommodate two strands of pearls. After soldering the elements together, I realized the pendant tilted forward too much and distracted from the design, so I fabricated a small raised loop to level the piece when worn. The brilliant color on the pendant is created with liver of sulfur, ammonia, salt and water. I really love the colors of the patina.

This was a satisfying semester at El Camino College. I really enjoy the energy and creativity of my fellow students. I will be focusing on micro forming synclastic and anticlastic shapes this summer. I took a class in San Diego from NC Black to learn the basics. Here are some preview photos of my experiments in progress. Enjoy!

Double Helix foundation shape

Anticlastic Cuff
Ruffle Cuff

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Project Work, Spring Semester ECC 2012, Part 1 of 2

It's been a long while since my last post. You're probably wondering what the heck happened to me! Well, I am alive and still kicking, just a little remiss in sending out updates.

I've been honing my skills and pushing myself to learn new techniques during the Spring Jewelry Metalsmithing class at El  Camino College in Torrance, California with Irene Mori. I was able to cast a variety of materials such as carved waxes, organic materials like pods and twigs, wax reliefs from photoetched plates, and plastic buttons.

The most wonderful thing that has happened in my work is the ipad2. This device has opened a new thought process for ideation. I can sketch in color on the ipad or mashup photos with a sketch. I can see my ideas from a different vantage point. Wow, how great is that? I never thought the ipad would be my new best friend.

What did I create and what did I learn this past semester?

Project #1
Cuttlebone casting

You are probably asking yourself, what the *#!? Cuttlebone is the internal shell of a squid like cephalopod. The most popular use is for birds as a calcium supplement and is available at any pet store. This material can withstand high temperatures and is easily carved, so it's very useful and easy to create jewelry with this method. 

Two pieces of cuttlebone are prepared with a carved design and cavity for the molten metal. The preparation is dusty, messy and smelly, so it's best to do this outside with a dust mask. The two halves are aligned and taped together. Secure the cuttlebone, melt the metal in a crucible and pour the molten metal in the cavity. Here's a mockup snapshot of the cast cuttlebone in sterling silver with a tektite (molten glass from a meteor).

The finished piece is called "It came from outer space." It's an alien flower pendant fashioned with a tube bail, and hinged cap for the tektite. I wanted to elevate my soldering skills so I added multiple soldering operations.

Project #2 and #3
Make two rings using additive and subtractive methods.
My inspiration for the first ring is an Asian gate. For the first time, I used purple carving wax for this subtractive method. It is somewhat firmer than the blue wax but still flexible. The finished piece weighs about one-half ounce. It is highly polished and works great as a statement ring for the middle finger. The inward curves of the ring shank make for a comfortable fit when worn on the middle finger. The base of the ring is weighted and feels good on the hand. I can vary the design with embellishments, perhaps a pearl or gemstone, texture design, fused gold, etc.
Ring #2 
This ring, carved from blue wax (slightly more flexible than the purple wax), has a wax bezel that I added for the chrysoprase stone. I love the vivid green color of chrysoprase. I used by lapidary skills to custom cut this stone especially for this design. Folklore says chrysoprase will protect one from evil dreams, bring success in business, and make the wearer more cheerful.

Here's a picture of the sketch on my ipad. Alternative design options could incorporate a gold bezel, micro pave´ gemstones surrounding the chrysoprase, granulation, or diamond cut design surrounding the bezel.
Finished ring, "The Eye"
My next post will cover my pendant project, wax/non-wax combination, and photoetch projects.
Stay tuned. I'm writing as fast as I can and trying to remember to take pictures of the work in progress is a challenge! Hope these projects inspire you to create something special too.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Exploring Enameling

What is enameling? The most basic answer is the fusing of glass to metal. This is a specialized field requiring patience, attention to detail and lots of planning and preparation. I was surprised by the variety of enameling techniques practiced. Through my research, I found an article on Ganoksin (a jewelers online resource) about the early roots of enameling (by Dr. Panicos Michaelides - © Glass On Metal - Vol. 8, No. 2, June 1989). The earliest cloissonne enamels (enamel applied to cells of metal) were from the 13th century B.C. in Cyprus. I found this article fascinating and am intrigued by the detail and quality of work created thousands of years ago.

I am learning this ancient technique in my jewelry and metalsmithing class at El Camino College. I purchased Linda Darty's book, The Art of Enameling, to bone up on some basic information. I really like the book, it is informative for the novice and intermediate enamelist. The book features several projects and lots of photographs. Enameling is an art form that takes time and patience to master, but there are many easy enameling projects that don't require a high degree of technical skill.

My assignment is to create a cloissonne pendant with an abstract landscape design. It only took me a second to decide on my subject. I had just witnessed the most extraordinary migration of whales along the peninsula. There were hundreds of blue whales feeding on the abundant krill as they make their way north. This sight was a miracle like no other. I decided to create a landscape of a whale spouting water in honor of this beautiful creature's migratory trek to the arctic.

For my project, I sketched out a design and colored it to show what it would look like enameled. The colored sketch will help me in my selection of enamels from a variety of test tiles. These are the steps I performed:
1) Clean copper plate. Apply scalex to one side, let dry. On the opposite side, fire with a clear flux. Clean edges between each firing.
2) Apply silver foil to plate, fire
3) Outline the sketch with cloissonne wire
4) Apply wires to plate with glue, fire
5) Clean transparent enamels by washing thoroughly
6) Mix enamels with a little 50/50 klyr fire/distilled water.
7) Apply enamels, fire; repeat twice
8) Abrade the surface of the piece with an alundum stone under running water. Even out surface.
9) One last firing to create a vitreous finish
Clear flux and cloissonne wires fired

Fired piece before stoning

My next step is to fabricate a setting for my piece. I designed a frame with a scalloped edge to give the effect of clouds around the upper half and line stamped around the lower half to create the idea of rays of light penetrating the water. To tie in the idea of the whale's migratory trek, I cut out small discs and stamped 'N' for north and 'S' for south on them. I formed two half-round circles of wire and soldered them to the discs. This entire piece was soldered around the outer rim of the bezel. The back of the piece has a tulle roller printed design that looks like a fishing net. After soldering the bail, I sanded, polished, oxidized then set the enameled piece. Here's my finished piece.

Northern Migration
My sketch turned out well in the enamels with the exception of the yellow I was trying to achieve to represent sunlight along side the sky blue. Instead, the yellow turned out a muddy green. I realized later that I should not have mixed the colors together while wet and should have packed the yellow along side the blue instead of mixing them together.
Learning is about doing and making mistakes. Each step needs to be thought out to ensure success in execution. I am happy that my finished piece conveys my idea and design. Now that I have some basic skills under my belt, my next piece should be even better. I guess we'll have to wait and see!

Monday, November 8, 2010

Contemporary Crafts Market - Inspired Creations

Every November, I look forward to seeing fabulous art at the Contemporary Crafts Market in Santa Monica. It is an opportunity to replenish my creative well and be inspired by fine artistans. I just love the selection of artists at this show, the wide variety of crafts and the unique point-of-view of each artist. The show was already buzzing when I arrived on Friday at 10:15 in the morning. By noon, the isles were crowded with potential customers. Many of my favorite jewelry artists were showcasing their newest creations.

One of my favorite jewelers is Adam Neeley. He was featuring his latest creations fabricated from several colors of gold graduating in color from yellow to white. Adam alloys his own metal to create these one of a kind pieces. The color change is subtle, the effect luxurious. He is featured in the August 2010 Lapidary Journal magazine.

Cezua, another jewelry artist, creates bold fanciful pieces. His designs are for the fashion forward and worthy of a rock star. The Bachelorette, Ali Fedotowsky, wore one of his rings. His designs showcase the unexpected. One ring featured a transparent diamond slice that had a prong set diamond viewable through its window. Another piece featured a bangle studded with diamonds and large dangling baroque south sea pearls. Definitely not a piece for the shy and conservative!

There were several enamelists, each with a unique style. There were three that shined for me. Marianne Hunter creates stories using colorful gems such as boulder opals and combines them with vitreous enamels. Her work is mystical, mysterious and beautiful.

Another enamelist, Anna Tai, creates cloissonne art jewelry. She had several striking pieces that combined colorful vitreous enamels and matte black enamel. The matte black finish provides a great contrast to the colored enamels. Anna explained how she packs the enamel colors to create the vivid colorful effects.

My favorite enamelist is Karin Pohl. She works in the enamel technique limoges. Her work is absolutely gorgeous, like a painting from an old world master. Each piece is created in 18kt gold, enameled on both sides and studded with fine gemstones. I am drawn to look closely and marvel at the amazing detail.

This was a great show! Lots of inspiration. My creative juices are over flowing and I can't wait to spend time in the studio. I'm inspired to tackle another enameling project to turn in for my class project.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Plating Creates Options

With the price of metal these days, I am always looking for more ways to create reasonably priced art jewelry. I looked into plating my designs as an affordable alternative to create a high-end look without the high cost. I decided to do a test exercise on several pieces trying out gold, fine silver, and rhodium plating.

The photos below show hammered cuffs in red brass before plating and after plating in 22kt gold. I requested a heavy plating for the cuffs.

Red brass cuffs before plating

Cuffs plated in 22kt gold, oxidized finish
I had several sterling silver pieces plated in fine silver to minimize tarnishing. Fine silver is .999 pure and has a lovely white finish.
Fine silver plating over sterling silver
The sterling silver rings below were plated in rhodium. Rhodium is in the platinum family and is often used over platinum, white gold or sterling silver. It is white, highly reflective, hard, and does not tarnish. Its hardness makes it great for finishing rings. Sterling silver scratches easily, but with a rhodium finish the surface is protected with a hard shell. I personally like the color of sterling silver and don't mind the scratches or light tarnish. I think this adds character to the jewelry. I'm not sure if I'll use rhodium for future rings, but I do have another option.

Plating can also be used as a design element to create a bi-metal look. An area can be masked to protect the metal prior to plating. The hammered cuffs above could have been plated in gold and silver, or for a more dramatic look, white and black rhodium.

The pendant on the left shows how a bi-metal look can be achieved using a plated bronze pod that is hinged to a sterling silver bezel set agate.

While plating may not be the solution for every project, it gives me options. I can create a signature look with rose or green gold or even black rhodium, add sophistication to copper or brass, or just prevent silver from tarnishing. I am blown away with the new options available to me with this process.

I love sharing what I've learned and hope you find this information helpful. Check out the yellow pages to find a plating company in your area.

To see my handcrafted artisan jewelry visit my etsy shop,