This is going to be a long one.
You have been warned…
I thought I’d show you how I made one of my cuffs. So if you want to make one yourself, and if you’ve the patience to get through this post, here are step by step instructions.
Before we start you should know that a lot of times I tend to make things up as I go along and only afterward realize that, had I a plan in the first place, things could have been done more efficiently. So if some of the steps here seem just plain wrong it’s just the way my brain works.
Not my fault…
Also there’s going to be a lot in here that seasoned jewelry makers already know and so many of you, who I know can recreate a piece just by looking at it, might want to skip this post entirely unless you’ve been having trouble sleeping.
Here’s what I’m working with, you can pick any cabochon that you think is worth the amount of silver in this cuff.
It’s a lot.
As always links are in the photographs and dotted around the text for the suppliers and tools I’ve used.
These are just what I use and are not necessarily what you need to create this bracelet.
First off choose your stone and make the bezel collar.
Here I’m making a collar for the earrings, not the cuff, but the process is the same.
Find the right height bezel wire. You’ll want it to be at least a couple of millimeters, if not more, proud of the stone.
I find I mostly use this one – HERE
For thicker stones this one – HERE
And very thin ones – HERE
Overlap the bezel wire as you fit it snug around the stone and then mark off with a pen or pencil where the join is going to be.
Be careful when you wrap the wire around the stone, especially if the stone has a domed edge, that you don’t push the top of the wire over the stone as this will distort your line.
Cut the bezel wire a millimeter or so away from the line so that the collar will be slightly larger than needed.
It’s better to keep snipping away thin slithers until the size is right than cutting off too much to begin with.
Once you have snipped away enough for the collar to fit perfectly around the cabochon, (ideally so that the stone will slip easily in and out of it without it being too loose), push the two ends into and beyond each other so they overlap slightly then you can pull them gently apart until they meet under a slight tension.
The two ends should be flush together as should the top and bottom of the collar.
Once they are in place I like to squeeze the edges together with a pair of pliers. This takes care of any distortions on the flat sides of the collar.
You can just about see the join here at about 2:10 o’clock.
Or is that 2:11?
This is how I solder my collars.
I like to hold them in a Third Hand – HERE – and solder them with hard solder on the inside of the collar.
You can’t see them clearly here, but the joins are on the bottom waiting to be soldered.
I prefer to use Contenti solder – HERE.
It seems nicer to me.
I also like to use their chips for soldering links and small parts – HERE.
And I use Wolverine Flux which you can find on Amazon.
Because someone recommended it to me and I believed him.
Don’t judge me.
As with everything here, you can use whichever products you prefer.
Now they’ve all got their collars on.
Hopefully, if they behave they will become a pair of earrings, two rings and a cuff.
Next I cut a piece of silver sheet leaving about a centimeter around the stone.
Here I’m using 23 gauge because I didn’t have any 22 left.
You can then saw or cut it out.
If you use snippers, as I do, it can distort the sheet. In this case take a raw hide hammer, I prefer one of those rubber hammers – HERE – and tap the sheet gently as you pull the hammer out away from the center rotating the sheet as you go.
This will flatten the sheet.
Alternatively you can place it in-between two bench blocks and hammer the top.
Whichever way is good for you.
I then take the sheet and hold it in-between a pair of long tweezers – HERE – and begin to run the heat slowly along the edges of the sheet until it begins to melt.
This can be a little frustrating.
I use an acetylene/air torch so I’m not sure how this will work with the smaller hand-held torches, but the key here is to use a torch head that will heat the edges sufficiently to keep the molten silver moving.
I’ve found that on smaller pieces a #0 torch head is sufficient, but on longer or larger pieces you may need to use a #1 torch head.
Ideally I needed a torch head in-between these two numbers for this piece as the #0 wouldn’t touch it and the #1 took itself way too seriously and wanted to control the whole show.
But, if you’re careful you should be able to melt the edges into a nice crinkly blob effect.
Note, however, that if you haven’t done this before and decide to practice with the torch you have that different metals will melt at different temperatures. So using copper, for instance, which would be great to practice on, may give you a different feel for what you’ll experience with silver.
One thing I’ve found is that it seems to work best if you keep the flame moving at a slight angle along the edge of the silver and then once it starts to melt you can ‘push’ the melting silver along.
(That’s not strictly true as you’re not actually ‘pushing’ the melting silver, but rather new bits are melting as you move along the edge.
Just wanted a visual is all.)
Anyway, watch it carefully as one lapse in concentration can result in the whole thing going to pot and you’ll have to swear mightily and roll around in a tantrum across the room.
Which actually might not be a bad thing as could be you’ll find all sorts of goodies that you thought were lost forever on the floor.
Not that I’ve done that.
So, all blabbing aside, this is what you should end up with.
Which I then clean up with one of these special things – HERE – that I bought a while back and didn’t know what to do with.
The melted edges can be very sharp and this bristle brush takes care of it almost immediately.
Love it when I finally figure out what to do with things.
Now solder the bezel collar to the melted sheet.
If you have trouble soldering the collar because of the rippled edges of the back plate and you find you are left with some gaps that you can’t fill, solder what you can and then quench the piece. Put the piece on your bench block and gently tap the collar with your rubber hammer to close any gaps. If you do this gently enough you won’t distort the collar too much as the silver will already be softened due to annealing during the first solder and it won’t take much to close it.
If it does distort you can place the stone back into the setting and re-form those parts affected. I use wax – HERE – which I have blobbed onto the end of a stick to lift my stone in and out of a setting if I haven’t drilled a hole in the bottom from which to poke the stone out.
Doing this isn’t ideal as you should try to get your bezel collar and back plate to sit as flush as possible, but in a pinch this works for me.
Now you can put a little more flux on the piece and heat it up again so that the solder flows nicely around the edges.
Next I put the stone back in the setting and textured the area in-between the wavy line of the melted silver and the bezel collar. I also textured slightly up the collar.
I then used a pair of pliers to turn up the edges.
You can’t use normal metal pliers as I have here if there is no texture on the back plate as they will mar the silver, but you can carefully use the pliers with the nylon tips, or I have also used my burnisher to push the sides up from underneath.
Again this step can distort the bezel collar so you have to take care not to trap the stone.
Once this is done I cut the inside silver away.
As a note, I have turned the sides of the setting up both with the back still in and with it cut out. Although it seems more logical to turn up the edges with the back already cut out so that the stone doesn’t get trapped I found that, for me, it distorted the setting more and it was harder to get the shape back so that the bottom lay flat.
You could try either.
You don’t have to cut out the inside of the setting, but I like my stone to sit further down into the design as it gives it a little more dimension. It also takes away some of the weight from the larger settings.
Use your pliers to reshape any distortions.
Try to saw away the inside as close to the edge as you can otherwise you’re going to have to do a lot of filing.
I rest the collar on the edge of my bench block and either use my file,
or an old, worn down grinding wheel – HERE – that is able to fit inside the setting.
This can be a bit vicious however so use with caution.
You want to end up with your stone being able to slip right through the setting.
Now cut out another piece of silver sheet just a fraction larger than the piece you’ve just finished.
Sand the silver sheet with a piece of rough sandpaper.
I like these foam backed pads from the local hardware store – HERE.
And use that special buffing thing on the bottom of the setting.
Or whatever you normally do to clean things up for soldering.
I like to lift the larger pieces I need to solder up off the block a little as it really helps to move the heat around.
I use one of those titanium strips – HERE – that I don’t know what else to do with.
I never can seem to bend them into the shape I want, but for this it’s perfect.
When I solder larger pieces I not only raise it up off the block a little, but once the flux has begun to gloss over I lift the whole of one side of the piece I’m soldering up with my pick. This really gets the heat moving around and the solder flowing.
For those new to soldering sometimes you will notice that the solder flows up onto the bezel collar. This is because the bezel wire is thinner and therefore heats up faster than the rest of the setting. The heat draws up the solder. Be patient. Keep an eye out not to melt the collar, but the solder will eventually begin to flow and you will have won the game.
It’s all about where you place the tip of the flame and getting it to heat all of the silver to the same temperature at the same time.
You don’t want to concentrate your flame on one spot, but rather move the flame continuously over the whole area you want to solder.
The very tip of the blue part of the flame is the coolest, so that can be a little closer to the top edge of the collar. The hotter part is about a centimeter out from the blue tip. This is the part that will melt things, so if you bring the blue tip down closer to the top edge of the collar the hotter part of the flame will go down beyond that to the area where you want the solder to flow and not melt the collar itself.
You still have to be careful, but it works.
I then saw away the base to mirror the top layer of the setting and sand it smooth.
A little grubby but I’m not complaining.
Now I put it in the pickle and work on the cuff.
Here I have a 6″ x 1″, 20 gauge piece of fine silver.
I tend to use fine silver for all my pieces and only use sterling for some wire.
Anneal the silver.
Charles Lewton-Brain says that you know when the silver is annealed when the flame turns orange.
I always looked at the colour of the silver, but now I look at the flame.
It’s good to mix it up once in a while.
Once annealed I start to hammer it over the edge of my bench block to fold it in half.
Eventually I decided it was easier to wedge the silver in-between the block and my bench, push down on the block and whack the thing upward.
Once it folded over as much as it wanted to, I annealed it again.
I then hammered along the very edge on the fold.
Which opened the ends up slightly.
Enabling me to get one of my jump ring mandrels inside and pry it apart by tapping gently on the mandrel with my rubber hammer.
I put the hammered part of the fold, about 5mm or so, into my bench vise and then hammered one side down to make it a 90 degree angle.
After which I was able to fold it back over itself.
And flatten it down.
It doesn’t look tremendously great at this point.
Going to have to work on my folding skills.
Remember to keep on annealing during this process. As soon as the silver seems harder to work with put it back under the flame.
Now you’re ready to stamp.
I hate stamping, and I hate wire wrapping.
Fortunately I only had to deal with one evil here.
You are going to have to level up the underside of the cuff with a piece of metal so that the stamp will mark evenly on the top.
Here I’m using another piece of silver because I was too impatient to find something else.
Not really one of my better ideas although it didn’t spoil the smaller piece as much as I thought it might.
You can use card or something else to pad it with.
Here is the front of the piece ready to continue stamping.
You can gently hammer on the edges of the strip if you find it has distorted during stamping, but the reason it’s distorted here is because I have stamped more on one side than the other which has, in essence, stretched the silver out unevenly.
You can correct this by stamping more on the other side to compensate for this.
Here I have leveled it up and snipped away part of the ends to help with shaping.
And now it’s ready for the edge melting process.
At this point I shape it on a bracelet mandrel.
And take the setting out of the pickle to cut down the collar to the correct height for the stone.
I run a pencil around the inside, snip as much as I can away with some snippers, and then file the rest down.
For this setting I wasn’t as precise as I usually am as I wanted a more uneven look to go with the setting.
I propped up the cuff and used far too much solder on it to join the two together.
But that setting ain’t going nowhere…
I forgot to mention that at some point I also added some balls and whatnots to the setting.
I pickled it once again then painted it with Black Max – HERE – which is not the least toxic of products out there, but is my favourite patina.
Just be very careful with it and always wear a dust mask when buffing it.
Always wear a dust mask anyway.
I give it an initial buff which I forgot to show you, with both a radial wheel – HERE – I like to use these 1″ yellow ones for the tight places and then with my dinky buffing machine – HERE – with this very fine buffing wheel – HERE.
After I’ve got it almost finished with the first buff I set the stone and place masking tape over the top.
Which I then cut away leaving enough to protect the stone.
And then I buff it again.
Until I’m satisfied with the end result…
So I hope you made it through without my boring you to death.
If you make one, I’d love to see it.