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


  1. Your photos are nice! Reading about how much work each piece takes and the thought that goes into its creation is amazing.

  2. Susan, thank you for reading my blog! Your blog has inspired me to start posting again. Thank you so much for your encouragement and support.