Saturday, 12 February 2011

Making jewellery? That's just melting metal and pouring it into moulds, right?

Wrong! There are many jewellery making techniques, but as any trained jeweller will tell you, a piece usually begins life as sheet or wire, in whichever metal you are working with. Sheet metal comes in a variety of thicknesses, which can then be sawn, filed, hammered, pressed, soldered and transformed into something original and beautiful.This brooch began as a square, flat piece of silver, the design was marked out and the pattern pierced out with a very fine saw.

Geometric Flower Brooch, saw pierced sterling silver and garnet

Wire can also be used to form jewellery, and again is sold in different thicknesses and cross-sections, for example round wire, square wire and D shape wire.

Different pieces of sheet and/or wire can be attached together by soldering. This isn't soldering with your everyday soldering iron. This is soldering with fire! A flame is used to heat up the entire piece, to bring the metal up to the melting point of the silver or gold solder being used.

Of course, all this takes a lot of time, especially the filing, sanding and polishing required to produce a professional finish. Mass or batch produced jewellery is sometimes cast, which involves making a mould (often from a handmade original) and using this to produce multiple wax copies, which are then cast in metal. This cuts down on manufacturing time and provides multiple, identical units. These still need to be worked on by hand to give a good finish, as the casting process leaves a rough surface. It is not suitable for every piece but is a useful process and a very cost-effective way of making jewellery pieces which would otherwise be exceedingly expensive!

Cadillac Neckpiece, cast sterling silver and garnets
This Cadillac Neckpiece is made from repeated cast units, with handmade fittings and hinges between each piece - a marriage of skills as I handmade each piece before casting them to produce a piece with repeated, fully flexible links. A marriage of hand skills and production techniques!

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