A passion for silversmithing

STERLING SILVER : Noun, meaning silver of 92 and a quarter percent purity.....

Sunday, 8 December 2013

Bespoke necklaces

I recently had a request from a customer to make some very special bespoke necklaces. Laura is going travelling and wanted to give her younger sister and her Mum something meaningful to wear while she was away. The matching necklaces have three intertwined rings, small ring representing Laura's sister, medium for Laura, and the larger one for Laura's Mum. On each necklace two of the rings are silver, and one gold, small gold for Laura's sister, medium gold for Laura, and the large gold ring for Laura's Mum!

I love to get bespoke orders, and this one was fun to do. Wishing you happy travels Laura x

Friday, 15 November 2013

Steampunk wedding rings

Nicki Komorowski, a wedding photographer from Rochester in Kent,  invited me to contribute to a steampunk styled wedding shoot taking place at the end of November in Kent (on 24th Nov).

Had a lot of fun making two rustic hammered matching wedding rings, 10mm wide hammered band for the bride and 15mm wide band for the groom. Made from 1mm sterling silver sheet, hand sawn, hammered, oxidised with a satin finish, here they are in the making.....

love how it goes from this, to the finished result!

satin finish....

shiny finish...

Looking forward to seeing photos from the shoot, hope the day goes well for you Nicki x

Thursday, 5 September 2013

Reticulating sterling silver

Reticulation is the process of heating metal so that it reaches melting point, then removing the heat before the metal melts.

I have experimented  with reticulating sterling silver to greater and lesser degrees and I love the textures and finishes that can be achieved. Heating the silver this much causes it to oxidise and turn black. Once you have the finish you are after you can tumble polish it which will brighten up the raised parts of the texture leaving the indented area dark. 

It's a good way of using up your scrap silver. For the earrings above and the pendants below, I have melted some scrap silver and flattened it through my rolling mill, then cut out the shape I want, either with my disc cutters or with my hand saw. I heat it with my blowtorch, moving it over and away, til the surface begins to bubble and melt, repeating the process until it's how I want it. By polishing and tumbling it you can the lovely organic textures shown here.

Saturday, 31 August 2013

Wedding rings

I was so pleased to receive a photo of my first pair of bespoke wedding rings being worn 
on the wedding day.

Sheri kindly sent me this lovely picture of her and her partner on their special day.
I love the vintage feel!


Friday, 24 May 2013

My first bespoke matching wedding rings!

An Etsy customer Sheri asked me to make complementing wedding rings for her and her partner for their wedding in a few weeks time. This blog post is for Sheri and her partner.

She wanted simple hammered sterling silver rings, one 1.5 mm wide and the other 4 mm wide.

I have made a couple of wedding rings for men but not a matching set like this for both partners - very excited to be making these.

For the larger ring I cut a strip from 1 mm sheet silver, and the smaller ring is made from 1.5 mm round wire. I cut them to as near the length I need but final cutting comes after hammering.

I flattened the round wire slightly in my rolling mill to give it a slightly rectangular shape to resemble the other one.

Next step for both rings is to hammer them to add the texture This has to be done before the rings are soldered as hammering stretches the silver, and the rings would be too big. FIRST thing before hammering is to polish my favourite ball pein hammer on my smoothest micromesh sanding paper to make sure it is super smooth. At this stage the silver is still very soft and any dints will transfer to the silver.

The silver is then eased round the ring mandrel then hammered evenly all over. I use the same hammer for both rings to get a matching texture..

The next step is to cut the ends to get the exact length for the size required. I have a plastic ring sizer mandrel  for this. I cut and then file, erring on the small size as I have to hammer the texture again across the join and this will make the ring slightly larger again.

The joining edges have to be sanded flat ready for soldering. Sounds easy but actually takes a lot of care as you need to have a really tight and closed fit to get a neat join that will be almost invisible to the eye. I use a small flat file for this, then push the joint together and hold it up to the light to make sure no light is showing through the join.

You then have to create some tension in the joint and you do this by overlapping the edges, forcing them beyond where you want them to be so that when you pull them back and butt them together the tension holds them tight. Bit fiddly but this sanding and butting together stage is worth spending time on as the joint will be much neater as a result. I used a medium strip solder for both rings, using the smallest chip of solder so that is less filing is needed after soldering to remove excess solder. After applying flux I put the chip under the joint and the solder torch draws it up the joint.

Here is before and after soldering shots of both rings.

I love that after soldering it looks like an old piece of scrap metal, and get great satisfaction seeing it turn from this into something gloriously smooth and shiny and wearable. I pop them into my pickle pot to remove the muck from the soldering process.  When they come out of the pickle they are pale and matt and frankly uninteresting!

The next step is to remove any solder that is showing around the joint with a file and then sand papers working down the grades to super smooth.

Now I need to make them perfectly round and flat and I do this with my ring mandrel and a rawhide hammer. The hammer is soft and doesn't mark the silver.

At this point I check the rings for size (hoping that they are still on the small side) and then hammer over the join with my ball pein hammer to blend the texture in. give an even texture all round the ring, and then all round the ring again until the size is spot on.

Then with the raw hide hammer I work round the ring on the mandrel hitting it firmly and evenly against the mandrel. Take it off put it back upside down and repeat., then  I hammer it on my anvil, working round it to make sure it is flat, turning it over and repeating, then back on the mandrel again to check roundness.

I then make sure the size is spot on, and work with my ball bein hammer round and round until it is.

 The edges on the wider ring need to be softened as the ring is cut from a sheet of silver with very square edges. I do this with micromesh sandpaper wrapped round my finger or a piece of dowelling. It takes time but is quite therapeutic at the same time.

Once I am satisfied with them - and I am a perfectionist so this tidying up/finishing can take some time - I tumble them in my small barrel tumbler for an hour or more which cleans and polishes them, at the same time hardening the silver to make it durable.

When they come out of the tumbler they are bright and clean and shiny, transformed from the dullness they were before. Next I check for any imperfections, then polish with my rotary hand tool, using first tripoli (a course polish) then rouge (a fine finishing polish).

Very pleased with them and hope very much that Sheri and her partner are too!

Thursday, 16 May 2013

A tiny wee peridot

I bought some tiny wee peridot cabochons last year and have only just got round to making a simple bezel set ring with one of them. They are 6mm x 4mm, such a pretty colour, but very fiddly to work with. 

The bezel setting is minute, which makes it difficult to grip when sanding or filing it. I do all this by hand, no tools, just a file and sandpaper, and my fingers were so sore afterwards.

Anyway here is the finished ring....


Saturday, 23 March 2013

Nature inspired jewellery

I love to use nature as inspiration in my jewellery making, and collect seeds and grasses and petals which I keep in little screw top jars in my workshop.

I found some hollow hand blown glass beads (from Clbeads), and some large glass cabochons on Etsy and made these pendants.

The first one has a heart shaped geum petal caught between the two glass cabochons. I made two bezel settings with open backs, then soldered them back to back. I covered the join with some twisted sterling silver wire which I soldered in places and then attached a jump ring to the top.

I polished it with tripoli and rouge before setting one of the cabochons into the bezel cup. I popped the petal onto the cab and then placed the other cab into its cup, catching the petal between the two. Very pretty.....

This one has a dandelion clock inside, captured forever, reminiscent of late summer....

  and this one has pretty dried grass, a reminder of hot dry summer days....

 For the hand blown hollow glass beads, I gently fed the seeds in through one of the holes, then closed the holes with hand forged oxidised bead caps, and hung the bead on an oval rolo chain. Beautiful, a joy to make.

A Volcano Pendant

A customer, Caroline, asked if I could make a pendant resembling a volcano as a gift for a friend. They had visited volcanoes together on travels and the friend was emigrating to Melbourne. The pendant was a special leaving gift. Caroline had bought one herself in the past but couldn't find anything similar. It's not fair I know to copy someone elses work, but on this occasion I did just that. I have only seen volcanoes on the TV and really didn't have any deigns in my head, so I copied as best I could the photo from Caroline.

I used 3 x 2 mm rectangular sterling silver wire, which I cut into pieces with mitred ends to make the triangle shape. The difficulty with a piece like this is there are lots of joints, 5 or 6 including the clasp, and therefore you need to be careful to use appropriate hardnesses of solder in order not to melt undone the other joints. I only have medium, easy and extra easy. I used medium on the three joins in the triangle. I didn't take pictures of the making, but this photo shows the method I used to solder the joints. I found it difficult the get the edges really flat and smooth to butt together, so I used large pieces of solder and put them under the joint so that the solder melted upwards and filled the gaps. Solder will only fill gaps when most of the two bits of silver are touching.

This method was really useful for the top points of the piece, which again were difficult to fit together. Now using extra easy solder, I managed to fill the gaps and soften the shape with the melted solder.

Anyways, the finished piece here.....not too far off the original.

Melbourne is a BIG place but I said to my best friend Stephanie Rampton that if she met a stranger wearing a volcano pendant like this to say hello!!

Saturday, 23 February 2013

Using up scrap sterling silver

As a silversmith I save every tiny scrap of sterling silver that is left over when making jewellery. It is too precious not to. Even the dust when I am sawing is caught in a square of leather on my lap and tipped into my scrap jar. You have to be very careful not to mix fine silver with sterling, or let any other metal into the scrap jar. That way you can be sure that when you reuse the scrap that it is pure sterling silver. 

I love to experiment with scrap silver, trying techniques I have not tried before. In this post I have turned some scrap silver into a beautiful free form pendant. The first batch of photos showing the making is my second attempt - first attempt produced the pendant at the bottom but I didn't take any photos during the making. 

First I melted a small pile of scraps on my pitted old solder block. This gives it a nice texture on one side.

Once it is a molten ball of silver, wobbling in the heat, I gently but quickly flatten it with the smooth side of a charcoal block. I am sure there are better safer ways of doing this but it works for me!

The scrap silver after being flattened - very pleased that this one has a hole in it, it will add interest.

Then I put it through my rolling mill a few times.....

...in between annealing it to make it soft and workable again, as rolling it work hardens it.

 I keep going till it is thin enough and large enough to form into a pendant.

Then I dome it gradually working down from a large wooden doming punch .....

to smaller steel ones...

and work down the doming block using smaller and smaller bowls will it begins to form into a ball. Again I needed to anneal a few times to soften it.

After doming......

After pickling to remove oxidisation, it goes into the tumbler for a couple of hours which smooths off the edges. Some hand filing and sanding was also needed to remove some pointy edges. 

I wasn't sure intially what to make it into. It would make a lovely statement ring but wouldn't be practical. So Pendant it would be!

The photos below are the first one I made. I soldered a half jump ring onto the top to hang it, and soldered a small silver pebble (also made from scrap) to the bottom. It looks like a drop of water.

I hung it from my favourite belcher chain from Cooksons. Initially it wasn't right - not quite balanced as a piece of jewellery so I added the sterling silver bead as well. Oxidised the finished piece in liver of sulfur then polished, mostly the outside, to leave the inside with a dark patina.

I love it, more than anything else I have made. It's not going in the shop, it is most definitely for me. I will be making more to put in the shop, and of course every one will be completely different to the others, completely hand forged, unique and (in my biased eyes) beautiful......