Wednesday, 21 October 2009

Adventures in Jewellery Making Week Six

I have made my silver ring all shiny! This pleases me a bit too much and I can tell that I will always covet a high shine finish in my creations instead of a brushed, matt finish!

Most of this week was spent making a stencil design of two figures on a stage out of thick paper. This stencil, when placed on top of a sheet of annealed metal and sent through a rolling mill, will cause a relief design to be imprinted onto the sheet. I tried it using copper, which wasn’t entirely successful because the stencil needs to be tougher so I will use card for the stencil to be used on the silver. There is a fabulous imprint though so I am definitely on the right track and my next lesson should be very productive! This stage will be made into a pendant and there will be a stone set onto it so that I can learn how to create a stone setting using bezel wire.

Adventures in Jewellery Making Week Five

I have had a rather busy lesson although I have not quite finished my silver ring. It is almost finished… almost! Ten more minutes and it would have been all nice and shiny and I would once more have been quoting Gollum on the bus home. As it stands I have a silver ring with four quite detailed little castles in it -not quite evenly spaced- with a satin-brushed finish. I have sanded the hell out of this bloody ring and to be quite honest I’m surprised it hasn’t worn through- but still it had nicks and scratches in it!

So… this week I have learnt that 1000 grade sandpaper cures many evils and that patience is key to beautiful jewellery!

Soldering did not go as smoothly this time because I somehow managed to saw the two ends in some kind of crazy zigzag pattern, which made joining the ring unimaginably difficult. I had to keep sawing the ends to try to get them to join, which explains why the castles are not evenly spaced as I lost a good 2mm in silver through sawing! I don’t think people will make too much of this. Especially if I kick them in the shin if they point it out. After all, it is the first ring I have ever made out of silver. I also ended up soldering twice to ensure that the gap was properly filled but I suppose it was good practice.

Anyway, I don’t think it can hurt to practice and to try making as much jewellery as possible before I start to make to sell silver pieces. If I had a drill I’d probably already be doing just that! I will have to see what my dad has come up with on friday. If it’s anything like the apron he got me, the drill will be pneumatic. The apron was like a cowhide. It was beige suede, trailed on the floor and wrapped round me almost twice over. It also didn’t have any string and made me look like a sausage roll. I bought one from Robert Dyas instead!

Adventures in Jewellery Making Week Four

I am officially the queen of jewellery making! I am currently wearing my handmade ring and although it is far too wide for me to wear comfortably, it fits and is pretty damn shiny. I felt a little bit like Gollum on the bus ride home staring at it and wanting to say ‘my precious’ lovingly every so often. That type of behaviour wouldn’t have made me the weirdest person on that bus though so that’s reassuring at least. Nuala wasn’t at the class this week because she has a stall at the Origin Craft Fair at Somerset House. I am going tomorrow to see the Goldsmiths fair and will try to get to Origin too if I have time. It was definitely worth going to Bellore on Saturday because the shop assistant was really helpful and also I had a chance to start on making my ring out of silver this week whilst I was waiting for the copper ring to polish.

My first task to finish my copper ring was to anneal (heat) the metal so that it could be hammered easily into shape. You need two firebricks for this, one horizontal and the other vertical to create a kind of wall so that the torch flame heats the metal evenly. The metal turns black as it oxidizes and it needs to be very dark red to show that you have reached the right temperature. Using steel tweezers you carefully carry the hot metal and quench it in a tub of cold water. Using copper tweezers (steel tweezers can affect the acid and damage silver pieces that are being pickled) I manage to get the copper into the acid bath to clean. This takes five to ten minutes.

I have decided to make a more wearable castle cut out ring out of silver with a narrower band and more elaborate castle shapes so I get to work filing the piece of silver that I bought from bellore (you don’t get much for your money!!!) to make it flat and start to measure out the design. I’m not being particularly precise because I quite like the fact that each castle looks a little bit different. I will probably make quite a few versions of this ring by the end of the course especially as I now have a saw and so can do some of the work at home.

Anyway, after about ten minutes my ring seems pretty clean. All of the signs of oxidization have disappeared and so I use the tweezers to wash the ring in water and dry it before I can start working on it again. Before I can solder the ring it has to be hammered into a ring shape over a mandrel with a mallet. This has to be done systematically from one end so that the metal doesn’t weaken and is shaped evenly. The joining ends are not flush so I have to use the saw to saw between the two edges to make it straight. This is easier said than done. Once I am relatively happy with the join I can attempt the process of soldering! You have to use a substance called borax to coat the join. This needs to be mixed in a pestle and mortar and painted onto the edges on the inner and outer sides of the ring. I am using hard silver solder cut into a very tiny square (around 2mm.) This is placed over the join at the top of the ring. When the solder is heated, gravity causes it to trickle down the join ensuring that any tiny gaps are filled and flush. It takes several minutes for the solder to melt and as soon as it does the flame has to be removed. I quench the metal and put it in the acid to pickle it again. Now I can go back to my silver ring and complete the design.

After I have left the copper ring to clean for ten minutes I use needle files and wet and dry sand paper to remove any excess solder and to give the metal surface an even finish. It is then time to polish the ring, which is a magical process whereby you place the metal ring in a plastic cylindrical tub that opens on either end. The tub has hundreds of ball bearings inside it and is filled with soapy water. It is placed on rotating pins, which polishes the ring by swishing it about with the ball bearings. I use this opportunity to drill holes in each castle design on my silver ring. After I have done this I remove the copper ring and dry it. It is incredibly shiny and looks like a proper piece of jewellery. Everyone crowds round each other’s pieces and marvels at our creations. It is nice to have something to wear so early on in the course! We are all experimenting with different techniques and I think I made the right choice with the mixed levels course as it is good to see what the more advanced students are making and they are all really helpful and happy to give tips. 

My final act on my ring is to buff it using a buffing machine, which looks like someone has taped roadkill to a rotating cog and left it spinning. The buffer ages the copper by blackening the shapes. This is a nice effect but I prefer the high shine finish and so a little bit of soap and water returns the gleam to an even more polished surface. I feel like I’ve got a lot done this week and am confident that I can finish my silver castle ring next week. Then I can learn how to set stones!

Adventures in Jewellery Making Week Three

This week required some serious patience and concentration! Not sure if I’m that impressed by my sawing efforts but that is entirely my own fault as I was far too eager to get everything cut out and finished quickly. Sawing is ok except when you reach a corner. Then it is awful because it is extremely easy to snap the saw blade if you try to turn too quickly and it’s quite difficult to get the corners perfectly straight. Filing is not really a cure all option once you’ve finished sawing so it is best to take your time and get the sawing perfect. The little castles that I ended up cutting out are really cute though and I have kept them for my sketchbook!

Good news is I am ready to anneal, which basically means heat the metal until it becomes more malleable and can be shaped using a ring mandrel. There is acid involved in this process to remove the oxidised finish on the metal so next week should be interesting… very interesting! Apparently the acid is why people should wear aprons.

I have been given the instruction sheet for my next project and we’ve been advised on what materials to buy so a trip to Bellore on the weekend is in order methinks. I am going to buy some basic tools and silver sheet because I don’t go there very often and I will have been paid. Also I want them and I know what I’m like. If there’s something I want to do and have enthusiasm for it’s best to pursue it…!

Adventures in Jewellery Making Week Two

Today’s class kicked ass! We all got stuck in straight away and I am blatantly going to get jewellery making tools for Christmas!

Everyone was asked to use copper that is 0.9cm think and strips were cut using a guillotine, which looked like it might have been effective during the French Revolution!

The first task was to file the copper on one edge to make it completely flush and straight. You check that it is straight by holding it on a steel block and shining a light behind it. If you can see any light between the edge of the copper and the steel block then you have to file the edges at the part that is flush with the metal to get everything smooth. This took bloody ages and was very frustrating because if you press too hard with the file you can completely mess up the edge and then you have to file the whole thing again. It is best to be extremely patient and file in a light horizontal sweeping movement keeping the file horizontal whilst the copper is clamped in a vice with protectors to stop the metal getting scuffed.

After you get your flat edge you can then draw on your design using dividers (which look like a compass used for drawing a circle but have two sharp edges instead of a space for a pencil) and a set square, which is weighted on one side. The task from last week was to draw out your ring design as accurately as humanly possible onto paper. I used the set square flush with the filed/straight edge of my copper strip to draw a vertical line at 90 deg. Then, using the dividers, you measure how deep the ring band will be and score a line running parallel with the straight edge so you have your ring strip ready and can draw the design inside it. This is time consuming as I have a repeating pattern of five castles and I used the dividers and a scribe, which is like an awl to etch my design onto the metal.

Once you have your design you can then use a saw to cut away the excess metal from the ring along the parallel line that was drawn with the dividers for the depth of the ring band. Sawing is not as bad as I thought but my edge was still quite wobbly! The saw has to be held at 90 deg to the metal and you have to stroke the metal with the blade otherwise you can break the blade. The edge then needs to be filed as straight as possible but it doesn’t have to be as neat as the first edge!

The next step is to use a drill to make a hole in each of the designs that need to be cut out. The saw blade is removable so once you’ve got a hole in the design you can feed the blade through the hole and begin cutting out your pattern. The drill can be dangerous so goggles must be worn. A metal point is used with a hammer to make an indent in each castle. This gives the drill bit a point to start drilling and stops it from slipping and cutting into the part of the ring you want to keep intact! One thing I noticed is that the copper can get very hot when you are drilling so it is probably better to drill in stages bringing the drill bit away from the metal every few seconds to allow the metal to cool. Otherwise you burn your fingers as you have to hold the metal steady as you drill. I managed to get all of my drilling done this week and so next week I will begin sawing into my castle shapes and will then file them to make them smooth using needle files. This will be extremely difficult and I am expecting each castle to look very different from the others!

Two craft fairs have been recommended for everyone to visit. The first is Goldmiths’ 2009 Fair, which runs from 28th September for two weeks. This fair exhibits new jewellery designers and sounds absolutely brilliant.

The other is Origins Craft Fair at Somerset House. I think this is all types of craft so I can’t wait. If you buy tickets before 5th Oct you get a discount. I have bought myself a pass so I can go as many times as I like in the two weeks. Nuala is exhibiting in the first week.

Adventures in Jewellery Making Week One

The Course: Jewellery Making Mixed Levels

The Duration: 10 weeks (6-9 p.m.)

The Aim: To learn the basic skills of jewellery making including piercing, filing, soldering and polishing.


I arrive ridiculously early because rather unexpectedly, the college has a large sign denoting its existence and I do not spend an hour wandering around in circles trying to find the place! Luckily, there is a cafĂ©! At 5.45 p.m. I make my way to the room (I find it easily, which is another surprise!) The room has a large cupboard filled with painful looking tools and there are two long workbenches that seat ten people on each. I meet my teacher, Nuala Jamison ( who is an experienced jewellery maker working predominantly in acrylic and sterling silver and am asked to sit in the beginner’s section. 

I meekly make my way to the bench and wait quite nervously until other people arrive and are also asked to sit in the beginner’s section. Everyone is about the same age but they have varied work backgrounds and are eager to learn jewellery making techniques. Ten minutes after the start of the class the experienced people turn up and sit on the other table making their own projects. One day I hope to be on that table…!

Our first project is to make a ring out of copper with cut out shapes. We can design anything we like. Nuala takes us to the library where we sit for an hour browsing through art books and craft magazines. It is quite intimidating because everyone is obviously wondering what the hell they are going to draw! I am making a ring with little castles in it. I have always loved visiting historic buildings and have visited several very striking castles recently having just joined the National Trust including Corffe Castle in Dorset, which is incredibly atmospheric.

We use ring sizers and callipers to find the diameter of our finger in millimetres and then multiply that measurement by pi (3.14) to get the circumference. You then have to double the thickness in mm of the metal you are using and add this to your circumference so if the metal is 1mm thick you add 2mm to your total. The rest of the class is spent drawing out a rectangle of the correct length and planning our design onto it. We are advised to have a sketchbook to keep magazine cuttings, sketches and jewellery designs in. I am clearly going to spend a lot of time sketching in this book!

Next week I will start making my ring!!!

Monday, 19 October 2009

One of my current beaded jewellery designs...

My first ever blog!!!

I have decided to set up a blog to chart my introduction to silver jewellery making. I have wanted to learn how to create more elaborate jewellery for about three years now and I began a course a few weeks ago and have been absolutely loving it! I thought I would write up my exploits week by week and what better way to do this than in the style of a blog?!

If anyone is interested in the type of jewellery that I currently make then please visit to see my online shop.

Keep checking my blog to see how I get on with learning intricate jewellery making techniques week by week and I will post pictures of what I make for all to see!