Rock in a Hard Place
Previous to this, what I call my “My America” series, all my jewelry work was heavily influenced by textile patterns and structures. One walk, on a fabulous stone beach in my birth state of Rhode Island, changed all that. It was there I discovered stones that could be a wonderful starting point for pendants. They provide color, shape and texture, and I add a fabricated sterling “house” in which they can live, and is reminiscent of the place from which they’ve come.
The areas selected for these walks are either rock ledges with piles of small stones piled in crevices, or beaches where stones can be found in abundance. In either case, after checking the tide tables, I go as close to low tide as possible in order to maximize the number of stones readily available. As I walk, I look for stones that I consider “perfect.” Selection is based on size — not too large, heavy, or thick; shape — preferably flat on one side with an interesting outside perimeter; color — I tend to avoid light to medium grey and to prefer multi-colored or patterned stones; and texture — tending to prefer either highly textured or totally smooth. Upon returning from the beach, the stones are rinsed and air-dried. When the stones are totally dry, at least half of them get returned to the beach because their colors are so much less exciting than they were when wet on the beach. From the remains, I choose my favorite, the one that “speaks” to me the most at that particular point in time.
Photo of finished piece by Frank DeSantis; all other photos courtesy of the author.
|Step by Step||
Go for a walk wherever you choose, though your chances of finding a great stone are higher along a riverbed or an ocean. Pick up several items, bring them home, wash them, and, after letting them dry, pick your favorite.
Place your selected stone on a piece of heavy-weight paper and draw the basic shape for the main body of the piece.
Cut out this pattern, place it on a 20-gauge sheet of sterling, and trace it onto the sterling. Using a jeweler’s saw and 2/0 saw blade, saw out the traced pattern, file and sand the edges until they are smooth.
In order to create a lighter weight pendant and to allow the stone to sit better in the sterling, prepare to remove some of the sterling that will lie beneath the stone. This is done by positioning the stone where desired on the sterling base and tracing it.
Sketch an opening that is somewhat smaller than the stone and that considers the highs and lows of the stone. Determine where to drill an opening for the saw blade. Use a center punch where the drill hole will be and then drill a hole.
Fit a saw blade through the drill hole and remove the inner opening. File out the opening. Sit the stone on the opening and determine if additional filing is necessary for a better seat. File until the stone sits well, while making sure enough metal is left to support the bezel for the stone, and then sand the edges until smooth.
Using either 3mm or 4mm x 1mm rectangular sterling wire and your fingers or half-round pliers, form “walls” for the piece. These walls will perform several functions: support the base plate to a “floor” or back, provide two openings through which a chain can be placed, and add to the design of the pendant through the addition of some interesting negative space. Three components should be formed from this wire: a small top that will support a chain, and two curvilinear bottoms, one that fits inside the other. The top wire should exactly fit within the top of the base plate. The larger of the bottom two should fit within the far sides of the pendant. Be careful that the space between the top wire and the bottom two provides enough space for the desired chain or neck collar to pass through. File and sand the edges of all the wires.
Using fine silver wire that is slightly taller than the highest part of the stone and 26- or 28-gauge thick fine silver wire, form a bezel around the stone. Using hand shears, trim the bezel so that it is ever so slightly larger than the perimeter of the stone and both ends match up perfectly.
Flux and solder the two ends together with hard solder. Pickle the bezel and test to make sure the stone just fits.
Prepare another piece of 20- or 22-gauge sterling, enough to match up size-wise with the base plate. This will be the bottom of your pendant. If you desire this back to be patterned, do so. There are many options that can be used. My preference is to use brass plates through a rolling mill. Anneal the sterling that is to be used, pickle it, dry it, and run it through the rolling mill with the desired pattern sheet. In either case, take this patterned sheet with the pattern facing up and put the base plate down on top of it with the BOTTOM of the base plate facing down.
Trace the base plate onto the sterling. It is important that you do not put the base plate facing up because the patterned back must be the mirror image of the top of the base plate. File and sand the edges of this bottom.
At this point you should have 6 finished components, the base plate or top of the piece, the top wall, the bottom two walls, the patterned bottom and a bezel for the stone.
Take the base plate and place it bottom side up on a very flat soldering surface. Flux the side that is up. Flux the rectangular wires. Place the top wire at the very edge of the top of the piece. Now place the bottom two wires so that they fit within the edges of the far sides of the piece. To make sure they lie flat against the base plate, use broken old saw blades or T-pins under them but make sure the props don’t touch the base plate itself.
Place snippets of medium solder along the inside edges of all the wire that is touching the base plate. Heat this configuration until the solder flows and completely fills all the surfaces that make contact. Be careful to finish the soldering by heating the outside edges so that the solder flows through to the outside of the piece. This is one of those times where excess solder is less of a problem than too little solder. Pickle this configuration, rinse and dry.
Place this in-process piece top side up on 220-grit emery cloth. Sand this bottom of the three wires until they are all at the same level. When they are, final sand with 400-grit emery cloth.
Take the piece you’ve formed for the back side of the pendant and place it with the pattern down, i.e. inside surface facing up, on your flat soldering surface. Take the top component that you’ve formed in Steps 11 and 12 and place it nearby on the soldering surface with the wire side facing up. Flux all the surfaces that are facing up. Put medium solder snippets on the back side of the pendant where it will match up with the wires. Heat the piece until the solder flows. If necessary, help spread the solder where it needs to flow with a soldering pick. This is another place where too much solder is better than two little.
Using a tweezers with heat resistant handles, turn this back piece over, with the patterned side showing, and place it exactly where it matches up appropriately with the rectangular wires that are facing up from the top component. Heat carefully, mostly from the sides, until the solder flows and completely fills in the gaps between the two sides. Pickle, rinse and dry.
As in Step 12, take this in-process configuration and sand the top of the pendant until even and smooth. Start with 220-grit emery cloth and finish with 400. Take your bezel and sand the bottom of it until it too is totally flat. Check to make sure it still fits the stone perfectly. When both the top side of the pendant and the bottom of the bezel are flat and smooth, flux both surfaces. Place the bezel in the appropriate place on the top side of the pendant. Place medium solder snippets on the bottom inside edges of the bezel. In contrast to earlier soldering steps, using excess solder is not recommended. Heat the piece until the solder flows evenly and fills in the seams between the two surfaces perfectly. Pickle, rinse and dry.
File and sand all edges of the pendant until they are totally smooth and have a look of continuous metal. Temporarily place the stone inside the finished pendant and mark where the height of the bezel needs to be adjusted. Using sanding sticks adjust the bezel height. If you wish to emphasize the back pattern and/or the negative space of the pendant, patina this completely soldered piece. Using 0000 steel wool, remove the patina from all the desired top surfaces and finish off the piece with a somewhat matte surface.
Place the stone in the bezel. Using a bezel pusher, tack the stone in place starting with the sharpest angles first. Once the bezel is fully pushed in all the way around, use a burnisher to smooth out any irregularities. Touch up the pendant’s finish using more 0000 steel wool. Place a chain, cable or neck collar through the two side openings and you have a finished pendant ready to wear.
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