Thanks, I made it! Cast Silver Ring with Black and White Pearls

I’m feeling pretty chuffed with myself at the moment: I made this pearl ring from scratch and I think it turned out pretty well!

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Cast Silver Ring with Black and White Pearls pearlring_finished3 Cast silver ring with black and white pearls Cast silver ring with black & white pearls

I made the ring using the lost wax casting method: carve the shape from wax; create a mold of ‘investment’ around the wax — sort of like immersing the wax in plaster of paris; heat the plaster mold up in a kiln so the wax burns away leaving a blank space in the shape of the wax; then pour molten silver into the mold by using a centrifuge, and hope it works!

The wax carving of the ring

The wax carving of the ring

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Heating up the silver in the crucible, which is attached to the plaster mold

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The silver is now molten and ready to be spun into the mold

Let the centrifuge fly!

Let the centrifuge fly! The centrifugal force causes the molten metal to fill all the empty spaces in the investment mold.

The ring after casting. Ive soldered wires in place which will hold the pearls.

The ring after casting. I’ve soldered wires in place which will hold the pearls.

I had a bit of disaster along the way…when I was soldering the wires that will hold the pearls in place, I accidentally melted a big gouge out of the ring itself. There was much cursing and a whole evening spent feeling sorry for myself. 😦

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Thankfully my casting instructor Ellen at Jewel Envy was able to solder another piece of silver into the hole which could then be filed & polished to match the rest of the ring. The repair is completely invisible from the outside of the ring. Yay!

There’s no doubt I’d change a few things about this ring if I were to do it over again (and I’d spend more time polishing out the scratches from the file & emery papers — sorry, Jillian), but every new piece I make is a lesson from which I take away some new skill or knowledge along with wisdom about what to change if I did it again. Overall I think this ring is pretty damn cool and I’ll definitely be wearing it proudly!

Cast silver ring with black and white pearls

Enameling Class

I can’t keep myself away from my neighbourhood jewelry studio! I’ve taken a few classes at Jewel Envy: Introductory Fabrication, Introductory Casting, Intermediate Fabrication, and recently I completed an 8-week course on enameling. I must admit, the look of enameled jewelry is not really my first choice for pieces I’d like to wear, but I just love being in the studio and learning new techniques so I thought, what the hell, let’s try enameling.

Enameling is really just coating metal in melted glass by applying powdered, pigmented glass in fine layers and firing the piece in a kiln until the powder melts and fuses into a smooth, glossy coating.

This is the chevron necklace I made.

Copper & enamel chevron necklace

copper & enamel chevron necklace

I’ve currently got a thing for turquoise blue and red in combination, apparently, as I used it for two of the pieces I made in this course. For the piece below, we were learning the cloisonné technique, in which fine copper wires are fused perpendicularly onto a copper base to create ‘sections’ into which different colours of enamel can be applied. The word cloisonné actually means “partitioned” in French. As it turns out, bending wires into shape is harder than I thought (which is actually a pervasive theme running throughout my entire experience learning how to make jewelry — *everything* is harder than it seems). Those triangle sections could be more uniform and even, but whatever – I’ll leave uniformity and evenness to machines and factories.

Cloisonne pendant

Enamel pendant using the “cloisonne” technique

Below are a few practice pieces I made in the first couple of weeks of the course. The purple heart key ring is for my young niece, and I made it using a technique called sgraffito (from the Italian word meaning “to scratch”. Bonus to taking this enameling course is that I have added arcane vocabulary to my paltry European language skills.)  I applied several layers of pink enamel and fired each one, then applied a sparse sprinkling of purple enamel and scratched away some of the purple to form the initials, then fired again. The black & yellow cedar leaf outline was done using the stenciling technique: I fired several layers of yellow enamel, then I applied the ‘stencil’ (in this case, a sprig of cedar) and sifted black powdered enamel over top, removed the stencil and fired in the kiln. I seem to have been playing with just adding a fine sprinkling of enamel on the last layer in these pieces; looking at them now, I should’ve gone for the gusto and put a full coating of colour on for the last layer — that might have looked better. But these were all first-time experiments.

Enamel pieces

The blue and yellow piece is kind of interesting, in that I accidentally produced a piece that showcases the three different finishes it’s possible to achieve with enamel, depending how long you fire it for. The smooth, glossy finish you see in the other pieces takes the longest firing time, but before it reaches that stage the enamel goes through two earlier stages: ‘sugar’, where the enamel particles just start to slump and fuse but they still have a powdery, crystalline texture (see the white bits in the close-up below), and then ‘orange peel’, where it starts to melt even more but hasn’t quite smoothed out fully and retains a slightly pitted surface like an orange peel. My instructor said she’s tried to get a sugar finish but has never been able to pull it out of the kiln in time, as the enamel only stays at the sugar stage for a moment. For me, it was just accidental luck, as I was underestimating how much time the piece should be in the kiln for fear of scorching/oxidizing the piece. I used a combination of stenciling and sgraffito on this piece, starting with several layers of blue fired to gloss, then stenciling on some yellow, scraping some lines away and firing to orange peel, then finally sprinkling some white on top and scraping lines away, and firing to a sugar finish.

sgraffito enamel: sugar & orange peel finish

I love the vibrant colours you can achieve with enameling but I can’t help but think that my pieces just look like made-in-China baubles. I don’t mean to be all self-denigrating but truly, I haven’t seen all that many enameled jewelry pieces that look like “fine” jewelry to me. Maybe it’s because we are used to enameled things that are made in factories and available for cheap? Or maybe I just haven’t looked hard enough. I’m not sure. What do you think?

The final piece I made in the enameling course is a double layered pendant: the bottom piece is enameled and the overlay is a silver geometric cutout.

Silver & enamel medallion

It’s a riff on the bracelet cuff I made in another class:

Silver Geometric Cuff

The bottom layer started off purple, and then I decided to add a sort of gradient sprinkling of fine silver powder for the final firing. What I didn’t know was that the purple enamel somehow reacts with the fine silver when fired and turns yellow! Here’s a pic of the underpiece when it was purple (it looks quite red in this pic, but it was actually more plum-coloured), as well as the silver overlay in the early stages of piercing & cutting.

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Here’s what the purple piece looked like after firing with fine silver particles:

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I think the unintended yellow is actually alright — it’s a nice neutral, understated tone. The fine silver powder would’ve really popped against a purple background, but the universe was not going to allow for that, so who am I to argue? The universe wanted a yellow necklace!

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Now that the enameling course is over, I’ve signed up for another lost-wax casting course. (You can read about the jewelry I made in my first casting course if you’re interested.) Stay tuned for the results of my attempt at creating a silver-and-pearls ring in a few weeks (*fingers crossed*). Thanks for reading!

Jewelry Fabrication Class: the hammered band ring

No, that doesn’t mean I was hammered while making it. Drunk knitting? No problem. Drunk metalsmithing with blowtorches and sharp tools? Definitely not. 🙂

You may have seen my posts about the wax casting classes I took at Jewel Envy. I enjoyed them so much I signed up for a jewelry fabrication workshop. Here’s the difference: in casting, we learned how to carve things like rings or charms from wax or cuttlefish bone, which were then cast in metal. In fabrication, we’re learning how to cut/shape/connect jewelry from sheets of metal or metal wire.  So we started off practicing drilling, piercing, and sawing metal, along with the processes used to shape and polish. We also learned how to solder two pieces of metal together, or to connect a ring cut from a flat sheet of silver.

Practicing piercing, sawing and soldering on copper sheet metal

Practicing piercing, sawing and soldering on copper sheet metal

Our first project in this class was a band ring which we worked on over the course of a couple of classes. You start by determining what ring size you need to end up with and how wide you want the band to be and based on that and some math you figure out what size rectangle of silver sheet to cut. Then it’s a million years of filing to get each end of the rectangle to be an exact right angle to the long edge, so that when you bend the rectangle into a ring shape the two ends will align perfectly, which will allow you to make a seamless solder connection. Before you can bend the metal into a ring shape, you have to anneal (soften) the metal by heating it in a blowtorch flame. After it cools you can use pliers to bend it into a D-shape to make soldering the seam easier.

Sawing the silver sheet metal to size

Sawing the silver sheet metal to size

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It feels kind of glamourous to be covered in silver dust!

The D-shaped ring, ready to be soldered.

The D-shaped ring, ready to be soldered.

After soldering the seam, reshaping it into a perfect circle by hammering it into shape on a mandrel (a solid metal cylinder used for sizing rings), and cleaning & polishing, I needed to stretch the band a bit bigger to fit. They say it’s better to make a ring a little too small rather than too big, as it’s much easier to stretch it after the fact than to reduce it in size. Funny, my previously-uninformed instinct would have told me that it’d be the other way around. Anyway, there’s a neat little machine that you can put the ring on to stretch it, only after stretching mine a bit a crack appeared at the solder seam. So I resoldered it, and cleaned and polished again. Here’s what I wound up with:

The silver band ring

The silver band ring, before adding a textured finish.

I’m pleased that you can’t tell at all where the solder seam was.

On a side note, while we were all working away on our rings, the woman who runs the place told us she’d had a group of women in for a workshop as a kind of hen party or stagette or maybe as a thank you event for a bridal party. She said that a large number of the women were initially afraid to try sawing the metal. AFRAID. To touch a saw. And when I say saw, I don’t mean a 7,000 horsepower chain saw like a lumberjack in BC might use — we’re talking a little jeweler’s saw with a blade on it the width of a piece of string (see pics above). I have a bit of a hard time understanding how a person — forget about gender — can grow to adulthood without ever having used a tool. I’m trying not to be too judgmental but — aw, fuck it, I’ll be judgmental. That’s disgraceful. It’s evidence of how far off the charts modern society has brought us that adult humans not only don’t know how to use a simple tool but could even be afraid of using a simple saw. I mean, what will these people do when the Zombie Apocalypse comes? Granted, metal smithing is messy work and maybe these women had just had manicures and didn’t want to mess up their nails. (Which is actually further evidence of the decline of modern society.) These are the kind of people I want to smear dirt on. Um, in the nicest possible way, of course. A-hem.

Back to the ring. Next I put the ring on a mandrel and used a ball-peen hammer to gently create texture on the surface of the band. If you hammer too hard, it will stretch out the metal and mess up the sizing of the ring. Hammering was one option for creating texture but there was also sandblasting, crosshatching or even imprinting a texture onto the metal by rolling it through a metal press (although this last one would have to be done at the start of the process, not at the end. Unless you want to flatten your piece into roadkill.)

Adding a hammered texture to the ring.

Adding a hammered texture to the ring.

The last step was to use Grey Star and then Rouge on the buffing wheel for a shiny polished finish. Et voila! The finished ring.

The finished band ring

The finished band ring

The finished band ring.

The finished band ring. There’s a tiny elf in the foliage just outside the frame admiring it!

The finished band ring

I’ll be making two more projects in this class. One will be a silver pendant and the other maybe a silver cuff bracelet…not sure yet. Will keep you posted with pics as I finish the projects.

Casting class: my giant heart shaped ring

I love it! I had been searching for a ring just like this on Etsy but to no avail…so I made it myself!

Ta-da! My lovely new heart ring.

Ta-da! My lovely new heart ring.

This was my final project for the jewelry casting class I’ve been taking at Jewel Envy here in Toronto. I posted previously about carving the wax model and the casting process. Here’s what happened in the last two classes.

Below are the ring pieces after dissolving the plaster mold in water. It’s nerve-wracking fishing the casting out of the murky water because you are just praying that the casting process worked ok, otherwise it would be back to square one and hours of carving another wax model. You can see that both the ring band and the heart piece were done in the same mold. They’re attached by “sprues”, which are tubes that allow the molten silver to flow into the mold.

The ring pieces right after casting.

The ring pieces right after casting.

Both the ring band and the heart were cast in the same mould

Both the ring band and the heart were cast in the same mold.

Next, the casting gets tossed into warm “pickle” (an acidic bath) to clean it off, and then I sawed off the sprues:

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The casting after pickling

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The sprues are sawed off

Next it’s hours of grinding away the bumps and polishing the surface, starting with a metal file or grinder and then using emery paper, starting with the coarsest grit and repeating with ever-finer grits.

Grinding away the sprue edges.

Grinding away the sprue edges.

Next I soldered the ring band to the heart piece.

Soldering the ring band to the heart piece

Soldering the ring band to the heart piece

Soldering causes some kind of chemical reaction that turns the silver various colours.

Soldering causes some kind of chemical reaction that turns the silver various colours.

So then it’s more hours of sanding the surface to remove all the dirt and discolouration with emery paper, until finally it’s ready for a buffing with grey stone polishing compound and lastly rouge polishing compound.

Polishing with a greystone buff.

Polishing with a greystone buff.

The finished ring.

The finished ring.

I just love my one-of-a-kind ring!

Jewelry Class: casting a ring

I’ve been taking jewelry-making classes at Jewel Envy, a jewelry studio that recently opened up just around the corner from me. They bought an old house in desperate need of renovations, gutted it, and painted the whole house a vibrant shade of blue (at which point they certainly had my attention). Inside are two floors of studio space for independent jewelers/metal smiths, and some gorgeous display cases full of lovely hand-made jewelry.

The lovely blue house of Jewel Envy

The lovely blue house of Jewel Envy

Look at these super-cute display cases.

Look at these super-cute display cases.

I’m just finishing up the 8-week casting workshop, where I learned how to do the lost-wax casting method. This is the first ring I made, out of sterling silver:

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Lost-wax casting involves carving a ring (or a pendant or some other piece of jewelry) out of wax and creating a plaster mould around the wax.
This is my wax carving for the second ring I’m making. I seem to be stuck on a heart theme, for some reason.

Separate wax carvings for the band and the big heart

Separate wax carvings for the band and the big heart

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The back of the heart

The plaster mould is then heated in a kiln which causes the wax to melt away, leaving a cavity in the shape of your carving. Next, you place the plaster mould into a centrifuge, and using a blow torch, silver pieces are melted in a crucible attached to the mould. As soon as the metal is completely molten, you let the centrifuge spin around which sucks the liquid silver into the mould.

The plaster mould and the crucible full of silver are placed in the centrifuge.

The plaster mould and the crucible full of silver are placed in the centrifuge.

Melting the silver with a blowtorch.

Melting the silver with a blowtorch.

Let 'er rip!

Let ‘er rip!

Sometimes this part of the process doesn’t work properly–the silver doesn’t completely fill the mould, for example, and it’s really “heart”breaking (see what I did there???)–because your wax carving that you worked so hard on has been destroyed, so there’s no do-overs.

A few minutes after the centrifuge stops spinning, you dunk the mould in water, allowing the plaster to dissolve away and you’re left with a silver casting, which then needs to be cleaned, sanded, and polished.

Tonight is the last class in the workshop, and I’ll be soldering the heart ring together and sanding and polishing it. Fingers crossed! I’ll be sure to let you know how it turns out.

Have you ever tried lost-wax casting? What did you make?