A peek at the process

I’ve been thinking some of you might be interested in a peek at the process of going from a coil of wire to a finished piece of jewelry.


This is a custom order I finished recently, taking some pictures along the way. It’s a lovely large oval pillow-cut citrine (domed and faceted face) that they brought me. It was originally in a cast pendant setting, but she wanted to be able to wear it as a ring. The wire ring I made is a mix of 14k gold-filled and sterling silver, .032/20awg, half-hard temper.

Design considerations:

  • faceted pointy back = needs prong setting
  • large = out of the ordinary measurements, may require making copper prototype first
  • Stone shape = stone is oval, domed, and thick, so need compensation when planning prong placement/length, plus alter prong shape more than usual
  • General scale = since large thick stone, and customer also wanted a ring with presence, dictates heavier wire for bold look and also better protection and stronger stability since the stone will be sitting high enough to be exposed and more likely to get accidentally knocked about
  • This style of ring is particularly fussy, where symmetry and balance are everything, and where a 32nd of an inch can make a dramatic difference to the end result.

    I am in the habit for the last couple of decades or so of keeping all my measurements in a little notebook, so the first step is to measure the stone dimensions and scan my measurements for something close. If nothing remotely close, I would extrapolate my best guess and do a prototype in copper first, sort of a rough draft. Fortunately, there’s notes from a slightly larger stone I set last year. Yay! Pretty close, just small modifications, but to be on the safe side, made a copper prototype to test guesses and finalize measurements.

    Adjustments due to slightly smaller stone are prong length now 1/32nd inch shorter, another measurement adjusted by 3/32nds. And the design, extra long wires mid-bundle because I want to wrap 3/4 around stone. The rest normal length (minimizes scrap wire). Really want the measurements close to minimize scrap wire, but no good if too short somewhere and have to scrap entire ring. This is .032 wire (20awg) and lots of it, so really don’t want to scrap it with a mistake because I was in a hurry. That’s why it’s worth a copper prototype sometimes on designs that might have a “questionable” outcome. Better to waste time than waste wire.


    This is the beginning wire bundle with the initial half-wraps, and start of prong bending. They’ll be bent down, trimmed, then finish side wraps to secure. Note the longer center wires. Had to think ahead in the design for which wires will lay down versus go around the stone. Usually I just do all same length, but it would have wasted a lot of wire in this case. I did leave the outer wires slightly longer than strictly necessary since I haven’t quite decided at this point what I’m doing with them, but not too long. This is all part of the planning, along with the number of wires, pattern of metal, and overall length.


    Next step, once bundle is wrapped, is to bend the U-shape. Pretty straight-forward, just being mindful to check for symmetry.


    This is where the full circle of the shank is created, by flipping up one or two of the outer wires on each side. One versus two flips partly depends on stone depth, but I particularly do it on really heavy wire so I can do most of the tying down on the upper wire. It’s a little trickier to do it that way, but it makes it much less rough inside the ring when using heavy wire. Also on large stones, it gives additional bracing on the ends for securing it.


    Now it’s time to start bending the prongs. There’s three bends for each prong. It’s critical that each bend is the same length and angle or it’ll be crazy-making to set the stone centered and level later. A tiny difference now has a huge ripple-effect later. So on each bend, I visually line them up (see pic).

    It’s not critical that they be shaped exactly to perfectly fit the stone yet, but just that they are all the same. That way, as I make adjustments for the stone, I can generally make the same adjustments to all prongs. It helps keep from overworking the metal because of repeatedly making one little change on one prong that messes up what was once okay on a different one.

    The other thing at this stage is setting the lean of the wraps and pulling tie-wires out of the way. Most prong rings, I angle the wraps in more so the final silhouette of the ring isn’t too boxy, but with the size of this stone, the wraps are nearly vertical. In the pic, these still need adjusting so that they are symmetrical.

    I also round out the ring some and adjust the size. Most rings don’t start on the size they’ll end up on since there needs to be compensation for construction elements like band wrapping (shrinks it 1/2 size), tying wires down (usually 1/2 size on this ring, but since tying down under top arc wire, not one forming shank, no need to compensate). Every ring style has different compensations…some shrink and some grow. On this one, since the final ring needs to be a size 10, this needs to start at a size 10 1/2.


    Now it’s time to make the prongs fit the stone well, also not be able to get caught, snag, or bend. See the picture? Where the prong has a lot of space open where it’s not fitting the stone completely well? That’s what we’re fixing now.

    This step involves a lot of put it in, see what needs changing, take it out, guesstimate on changes and bend, put it back in, test again. Many subtle, teensy adjustments. Usually repeat this sequence many times. Along the way, also check from all angles that the stone is sitting level and centered. This stage can be extremely fussy, where fixing one issue (ie. one corner too low) can cause problems in another place (ie. fixed low corner but now the stone is crooked). Argh.

    And then sometimes the measurement combination just doesn’t work, like prongs are too long or short–thus the reason for trying out really iffy combos in copper first. Occasionally my guess is just off and won’t work for that particular stone. Start over. If the ring is fine, just not for that stone, hopefully later on another stone will fit instead.


    After major tweaking, this is closer to how these prongs wound up. This stage of things is what takes the longest. It’s also the stage to resist over-tweaking and know when to stop. Metal only bends so many times before it work-hardens, becomes brittle, then breaks. Busted prong equals scrapped ring, wasted time and money. Start over.


    See? Now look how the prongs hug the shape of the stone in above pic. And in the side and top views, the stone is fairly centered and level. Final check, the placement and angle of the prongs on top of the stone. I sort of mentally draw a visual X between the prongs. In the picture, there’s still a bit of tweaking to be done with one of the prongs.


    After prongs shaped, one last critical step, final size check. Yay! It’s still the correct size. A small change is still possible, but massive changes are something to avoid…like if I had forgotten to do the rough size and round ring out way back, and now have to round out and move up 5-6 sizes, it’d mess up the prongs and would have to go back and fuss with them again. Have done that before. Not fun.


    Now it’s time to twist wires with my pin-vise in whatever pattern. Also, the direction of twisting can make a difference on how the light plays off the wire. And sometimes I don’t twist any wires at all. This is definitely last-call for any size-tweaks, because once twisted, can’t slide the wraps to make the size any larger.


    I secure and stabilize the prongs in a couple of stages. First, the side wires in whatever pattern on the lower half of the prongs. This ring happens to be symmetrical, but they’re not always. Note that they’re being secured under the top arc wire so the inside of the ring is less rough. Smaller gauge wire, it’s less of an issue, but with .032, it can be really rough. It’s a little awkward to manipulate, but doable. The wires are a little longer than usual (more scrap) but I left them longer since I hadn’t completely decided what I was going to do until I got here at this stage.

    The other thing to be really careful of here is not over-pulling or tightening the wires so that the pressure is unequal. I’m also careful while tying things down to brace the opposite side to keep things level, and I typically tie down prongs that are diagonal from each other, rather than on the same side (helps keep pressure more equal). It’s possible (very!) to have it sitting perfectly, then be over-zealous tying down and completely trash the way the stone is sitting. It’s hard to fix at that point, especially if the wire has already been completely bent and trimmed. If it’s off bad enough, then will ruin the ring and require starting over.


    Now for second stage of tying things down. Sometimes it’s a single wire providing additional stabilization of prongs or encircling the stone. Sometimes there are more decorative than functional elements at this stage. In this particular ring, I made the center wires extra long to be able to wrap 3/4 around the stone. Partly, it looks neat, and functionally, it really adds a lot of strength and stability to protect the integrity of the setting with that large, high, exposed stone.

    If you look close, the wires are secured under the upper arc wire, rather than the lower one. It’s more awkward to do it that way, but it’ll make the ring less rough inside. I do this more on .032 or .028 (20 or 21awg). It’s not as much of an issue on smaller gauges (.025/22awg).


    Ah, the moment of truth! Did it come out the size it needed to, or do I have to start over?

    Yay! It’s perfectly on size. The finished ring needs to be a 10, and this is a 10 1/2 (needed 1/2 size larger to allow for shrinkage when wrapping the shank in the next step).

    There’s no re-sizing possible on these rings. Because of the construction, the prongs are connected to the shank, so stretching on that will displace the prongs. If the size were wrong and I have another stone, I’d use this one for stock and just make another ring. But if it were the only stone or, in this case, a customer’s stone, I have to cut the stone out of the ring (trashing it) and try again. Obviously, this is good incentive for all the earlier double-checking to try to get it right the first time.


    A final step is to wrap the band. This one used around three feet of 1/2 round wire. I start in the bottom center and alternate wrapping about 1/4 of the shank at the time (helps evenly distribute any unevenness in the band), and clamp down each side of each round for clean and even look. Once trimmed and filed, then hammer it with a rawhide mallet and finalize rounding out the ring. I also add a secondary wire to stabilize the top and bottom arcs to each other. It’s not completely necessary, but more insurance and it adds a decorative element.

    The finishing touch is to polish with a polishing cloth, check for snags, and a final check for symmetry.


    Here’s the finished ring (above), along with some additional views (below).


    YOJ13wk1: Renewal

    It’s time to welcome in a new year!  I was very happy to see that the Year of Jewelry Project had found new digs in a Facebook group.  It’s a creative challenge to make a piece of jewelry every week for a year, using a weekly theme (optional) as a jumping off point.  It’s very inspirational to see what folks come up with. 

    The theme for the first week of the new year is Renewal. Very appropriate. I often spend those last few days of the year between Christmas and New Years thinking about the direction I’d like to go for the coming year, a time of of introspection.  I don’t really set official goals as much as do a lot of thinking and course correction. This past year is one that has had some major ups and downs and I’m happy to see it gone.  I’ve had a really really hard time keeping my head in the game business-wise.  The last several years actually, looking back…but things are finally settling out and I’m getting back in the good mental groove I’ve been struggling to recapture.  Finally. 

    This first theme, Renewal, is deeply personal to me since I’m going through a major mental and emotional renewal, so I thought it only appropriate to make a personal piece of jewelry.  I got to thinking and realized that in 25 years of making wire jewelry, I have NEVER made ME a piece of jewelry, where that was the intention from the outset.  Oh, sure, I have a few pieces I made to sell and wound up keeping, rocks in the stash that are earmarked but never done, or experiments where I kept the prototype, but nothing at all that I purposely made for myself from the outset.  So here we are, this one is mine.

    The stone is a piece of Ocean Jasper that I saw last December and showed my husband, then he got it for me for Christmas.  It really caught my eye.  The image to me looks a bit like a field of flowers with the sun rising behind it.  A new bright future.

    Here’s the finished piece (click on it for larger image):

    pendant bezel prong gf ss ocean jasper yoj 2013 week 1Even though it’s a fairly basic wrap, there always design decisions to be made, and since I was making it for ME, I stuck to my personal style.

    pendant ocean jasper which metal gf ss
    (click for larger image)
     The first question is which color metal, gold-filled or sterling silver? After debating, I decided both since I love mixed metals and thought they would complement the warm and cool colors in the stone, providing a nice balance.
    pendant ocean jasper prong shape
    (click for larger image)

    The next question is what style, bezel variant or swirly frame?  Swirls would pick up the round patterns in the stone, but obscure the shape I love.  Plus, while swirly has its place, my personal style leans towards cleaner, simpler.

    So a bezel setting it is.  Something that will really draw the eye and follow the shape of the stone.  I decided to do prongs to keep a bunch of wire off of the stone, but made a little curve in them to echo the circular pattern in the stone, and asymetrical shape and placement as well.

    pendant ocean jasper side
    (click to enlarge image)

    The other reason for doing prongs is so I could do this wrap-spiral thing up the sides, which really shows off the mixed metals and has a visual texture I like.  Can’t do that with the bezel style where the outer front and back wire kick out over the stone to hold it in, or swirl over it, or whatever variation.


    pendant ocean jasper end
    (click image to enlarge)


    I did skip the pattern down on the tip so that I could preserve that nice sharp point.  A bunch of wraps going around it would have just rounded it off.



    pendant ocean jasper last prong
    (click for larger image)

    The challenge with this type of side and the prongs is having to shape as you go as opposed to working the entire thing flat (like on a symmetrical oval or round piece) and shape it to the stone afterwards.  With assymetrical pieces, to get the placement of everything right (prongs, curves, point) and really fit the stone closely, it works better to shape as you go.  The downside is that as things start closing up, the long wire I’m wrapping with is harder to get through the narrowing area without distortion.  Plus just dodging that long wire whipping around in my face in the first place (look in the foreground of the picture).  Above, I’m bending the last prong before tying it back down.

    pendant ocean jasper fish
    (click on image to enlarge)


    So when I eventually finish, I realize there might have been another design to have explored.  Add a couple of fins…

    Nah, I like it as is, but a fishie woulda been kind of fun though.


    Almost there

    Making progress on my new jewelry displays. This…


    …became these:


    This is an experiment with making beads and cabochons out of raku-fired pottery for use in my wire jewelry. I’m pleased with results, so I’ll definitely be doing more.

    …and these:


    Some of these are bases for my earring stands and some for pendants. The volcano shapes will be getting swirly copper inserts (see prototype in recent post). The rocks with slits are pendant and necklace stands and will have sheets of intentionally aged copper (not too shiny!). More on the copper-aging experiments in a coming post. Fun experimenting with patination techniques and copper-abuse.

    By the way, the solid copper were done in smaller containers proportional to the size of the piece (soup can sized). The colorful ones were in larger containers (coffee cans and small cookie tins). Same glaze on all, just differences in the amount of oxygen available to burn. Cool, huh?

    I like both the colorful and the solid copper. Since they’re for my jewelry counter, some colored ones will be eye-catching, but too many would be distracting. But they all go together. Btw, my counters are green, so all copper and color shimmers should look awesome on them.

    This last raku firing was a good learning experience. Learned the control thing mentioned above. Learned that the small jewelry cabochons we had on a clay shovel and just dropped the whole thing in a container worked great. The little volcanoes on the shovel though…bad. It acted as a heat-sink and the glazes didn’t mature. Small amount of those will have to be refired. No big deal.

    Also learned how to deal with lots of small pieces. Just dumping several smaller pieces in one container won’t work. Tried that the week before. Not good. Too hard to control. If they touch, the glaze sticks to each other and damages both. Have to refire.

    Prepping and pulling lots of individual pieces is tricky with logistics of numbers of containers, opening the kiln a lot (losing heat) and dealing with minimizing smoke.

    Normally the process is pull a piece, drop/cover, rush it away from area so we can breathe (tons of smoke boiling out). Come back. Rinse and repeat. No biggie with a few larger vases and bowls, but a lot of little things (30+) it’s much more complicated.

    So combining a couple of ideas, we tried this below:


    Soup cans nested in wet sand. To the left, tray of slightly larger and taller cans to act as lids. Instead of wet newspaper to seal the lid (tricky up in a can), just plopped the larger can over, made sure edge was buried and the water in the wet sand acted as the seal. Worked great.

    Helper (my teacher) pulls the glowing hot piece from the kiln with long tongs, drops it in the can, the combustibles explode into flames, then I quickly slide the slightly larger can over the flaming smaller can (heavy leather gloves up past my elbows!) and push it all down into the wet sand. The sand starts boiling and steaming like crazy. Some smoke, but not so bad it has to be moved outside the kiln area. Great! Open the kiln again, repeat. Once the cans in the tray are filled, then move it all away to cool. Wait a few minutes for the kiln to heat again, and start pulling the next set of stuff.

    I’m just tickled about my new displays I’m working on. I’ve been wanting to upgrade my jewelry displays for awhile now, but had some very specific needs for the replacements. (See a couple of blog posts ago.) I’ve been taking pottery classes for awhile and it hit me recently that clay would perfectly solve the problem. I’ve been playing with raku firing, love the coppery look…well, you can see where this is going.

    The coppery tones will look beautiful with my exisiting displays, have an earthiness that goes with my current aesthetic, and meet the specific requirements I needed. Best of all, made them myself. Love blending several skills in one project (clay, wire, metalwork). I have the last couple of steps to finish them off this weekend, then I’ll do a blog post at some point with the final products.

    Also have been making some other displays:

    Other pics

    These are some rose leaves I got from the bridal section at the craft store, pair them together and wrap with floral tape, bend, then hang them from a manzanita tree on my counter. Earrings go in them and it looks like leaves and jeweled flowers/fruit hanging from the tree. Very pretty.

    Other pics

    Also for earrings, I need hang cards. I don’t like the commercial shiny black plastic ones for display out at the renfair, so I found these neat little stick-on backs that I can use to convert anything to a hang card. I have some nice paper cardstock with a slight shimmer that I use elsewhere. Looks nice and ties everything together.

    I’ve got a wooden display with bars and one of those normal spinner-type displays. I like the tree better, but it takes more space or if I’m low on earrings, I use these instead. Plus if someone buys earrings for a gift, it’s a way to present them and I can write the name of the stone on the back.

    A lot of big changes around here. I’m completely reworking the website to a cleaner look, reorganized, with more content and PICTURES. I had a lot of “coming soon” on the old website and not very many images. The old software I was using had a big learning curve, proving an impediment to regular updates. I discovered WordPress, which is much easier, and very customizable. Once I get the basics built (in progress right now), I’m switching out my old one for this site and moving my blog over here as well. I think it’s going to be awesome!


    Other changes, I just totally revamped my business cards. Love the way the new ones look and much more representative of me. I put a graphic of a close-in view of one of my personal favorite custom pieces, added background color (mine have been white for 20 years), and found a nice clean but artistic looking font that’s actually very similar to my handwriting. Very cool.

    The renfair is coming up rapidly. This is my last free weekend for the next couple of months. Not like there’s much free-time involved this time of year, mind you. In full swing trying to wrap up a to-do list a mile long and finish up my stock goals before the fair starts. I never get everything done, but I think I’ll be able to get the critical stuff done.

    It’s a little stressful getting ready, but I really enjoy it once it’s here. Seeing friends I haven’t seen in a year, both fellow merchants and patrons…it’s weird. Once I see them, it feels like I just saw them last week and the year hasn’t existed. Very nice. Great to see everyone and it’s like slipping on a really comfortable pair of old shoes. Like going home. Nice. This season will be my 21st year out there. Hard to believe. Time has flown.

    A little dilemma

    My week ended like this:

    Display 2

    It started with a little dilemma.

    The problem with selling jewelry is how to display it. There’s a fine line between being boring and ho-hum, but the jewelry stands out…and being interesting and eye-catching, but not so much it distracts away from the jewelry.

    My displays at the renfair have seen 20+ years of use with me, and they were used velvet commercial displays to begin with. Plus, being outside, we have additional issues with weather and dirt. Looking a little tatty, to be kind. I’ve been working on replacing them the last couple of years.

    Ideally, I’d like to make them instead of buying, because of the expense (commercial display costs are outrageous). Also be somewhat easily replaceable (my current ones aren’t made anymore and my display will look like a hodge-podge flea-market with too much of a mix. Replacements have to be able to be complete or blend in very well. I don’t want to have this mismatch issue again). And critically, they need to work well outdoors at the renfair atmosphere and weather.

    My wishlist for new displays:
    -weather resistant (moisture, dirt)
    -inexpensive to make
    -heavy (cheap necklace displays sail like kites)
    -won’t shop-wear easily
    -easy packing/unpacking (daily for us)
    -easily replaced/reproduced (my dilemma now)
    -not overtly modern-appearing (renfair, remember?)
    -not an enormous time-investment to make
    -unique if possible, particularly appropriate to me
    -distinctive if possible (eye-catching but not distracting)

    Not a lot to ask, right? Ok, just weather-resistant and cheap, but not cheap-looking, would be lovely.

    I’m expanding a little on some ideas I started last year, and finally have come up with what I think will be a solution for nicer individual earring displays, and pendant/necklace displays that a gust of wind won’t send sailing off the counter to get bent hitting the floor. I’m sick of taping and nailing stuff down.

    This last couple of weeks, along with stock and other renfair prep (it starts in a month–ack!), I’ve been making more of my normal displays and also some prototypes for the new display ideas.

    Speaking of prototypes…

    …this followed me home from the hardware store the other day. The clerk by the giant rolls of wiring in the electrical department looked at me a little strange when I asked for a couple feet each of solid-core copper in heavier gauges (10-16awg). He especially looked at me a little strange when I was test-swirling the ends in pretty little loops.

    I’ve had an idea for a free-standing earring display. In the past, I hadn’t worked out the balance problem (base either needs weight or size so it isn’t tippy, plus it needs to be in my skills and tool availability to make). Plus, whatever goes in the base needs to be sturdy, easy to make, and fit with the look I want.

    Now that I’m taking clay this past year, bingo! Clay: has weight, any shape, reproduceable, low cost, weather-resistant, reasonably sturdy, doesn’t take too much time investment to make, and unique.

    Yippee! And using clay as a medium opens doors on several other solutions to display design challenges. Now, to figure out the top, since that affects the design of the base. And the bases have to be done this weekend so they’ll have time to be fired and finished in time.

    I get the test-wire home, get my tools out, and ooooh boy, this isn’t the kind of wire that’s meant to strip easy. Had to do 1-2″ at a time. Took 30 minutes to do enough to bend for the test-run idea. And has a gouge at every cut spot. Will need to source bare wire if this works, since I estimate needing 30-50 feet. For the time involved, I’d rather make jewelry than strip wire.

    It works! The 12-gauge turned out to be the right combination of strength, so it won’t get bent easily, and bendability, so that I can shape it like I had in mind. I like the shape a lot. Functional, but pretty. Free-handed, so each one will be a little unique. Basically, the design is a magnified version of the swirly-viney jewelry I do, and made out of wire, too, so it’s particularly appropriate. For extra strength (well, and it’s pretty) I hammered it a bit on my bench block with one of my chasing hammers.

    With a successful design and clarity on the amount and gauge of wire, I located an Internet supplier that had what I needed for the tops, plus some copper sheet to experiment on for the other display I’m wanting to make. A few clicks and a couple of days later, we have the picture at the top of the post. Thanks, Internet!

    Display 2

    At clay class, now to design the prototypes for the freestanding earring bases, and also for bases to hold the backs for pendant and neckpieces (think glorified recipe card holder, but heavier).

    For the earring bases, the urgency on making the wire prototype earlier was because it affected the clay design: how big of a hole for the wire size, how deep to be secure, how much clay for the base and the shape it needs so it won’t be tippy or too fragile.

    For the look, I wanted something organic, like a little mini-mountain, versus clean and structured. The swirly top echoes my wire jewelry, and a bottom shaped like rough-hewn rock echoes that earthy part of my jewelry. My counters have vines on them and my current display colors are earthy and natural (browns, blacks and greens). With each base uniquely shaped but easy to match, later additions are easier. I’m planning on raku-firing these with a matte copper glaze that will show off the underlying texture and shape. I think the unique results and serendipity of the raku technique will also be very fitting with the overall theme.

    In the picture above, the copper swirl is standing in the test-base. The bright yellow rib is in the other base (the final insert will be about the width of the yellow rib, but taller and made of copper too…a coming post, that one.)

    Display 2

    With successful prototypes, I made a bunch of earring bases. I only made a few of the other style for pendants since I’m still working out the insert prototype, but it’s close. Need something to test. More if it works. If not, back to the drawing board. It’s only mud after all.


    Here’s an interesting set of wire jewelry I recently finished.

    This was a custom order, part her stones and part mine. We started off with an alternating brown and blue goldstone beaded necklace of hers. She wanted something more substantial and eye-catching in the front, like a pendant that looked like it was part of (beaded into) the necklace strand. Also a ring and earrings to match. Everything gold and silver, mixed.

    I pulled out my stash of goldstone cabachons and she picked out the stones for the necklace and ring. I thought it’d be neat to create this as an enhancer that would be removable so that it could be worn separately or added to different beads or chips.

    I did a rough sketch of the design, a similar construction to a piece I did about 12-15 years ago that turned out kinda cool. I hadn’t tried to do the enhancer part as opposed to closing it permanently, but no reason it shouldn’t work. Kind of figure it out when I get there.

    The thing I like about this kind of work is I’ll start with a general idea, then things sort of develop as I go along.

    The first step, always, with wire is guesstimating the length of wire to cut. I had to cut longer than normal because I intended to wrap the large stone, then split at the top and wrap two more.

    Goldstone pics

    Then, because I split the number of wires (V-shape over stone in pic above), I’m short by half the wires I need for the next bezel. Now to add an inner course of wires (arc above V-shape and inner long wires) to complete the interior bezels of both upper stones. The trick is keeping all the wire bundles together and not allowing things to bunch up. I use loose bindings from scraps to temporarily hold things together (little bumps along those long wires).

    It wound up a cool serendipity that instead of three or four wraps a couple of places, I did a longer course of permanent wraps for the interior course. The resulting gentle arc between the split-V wound up visually echoing the lower multiple wraps on the bottom cabachon. Neat.

    Goldstone pics

    Notice all the extra wire, Just In Case. I can always chop off the extra and use scraps elsewhere, but can’t grow wire longer. Get stingy initially with the length and run out later, now have trashed ALL the wire and time.

    Once the tops of the second bezels were together, now how to do the enhancer part so that it’s secure while on, but removable. And will accomodate a heavy chain or such. I wound up wrapping them with multiple wraps to echo the other components, then curled them over in enough of an arc to stay put, large enough circle for a chain, and just open enough to slip on and off the cord the beads are strung on.

    Goldstone pics

    It came out very striking looking with very clean lines. Bold but feminine. And functions the way I wanted. Also pictured are the earrings.

    Goldstone pics

    Forgot to get a pic with it actually on the beads, so use your imagination. Kind of a nice change of pace. I don’t do this construction often, and I enjoy creating something that meets that balance of aesthetic and functionality, and working through a technical question.

    With this one, I put it on the mental back-burner for a couple of days. I figured something similar, but which particular wires so that it still had strength and then transitioning the orientation of them, I had to work that out. I like how it turned out.

    FSOJ’06,wk3: Synergy

    Hairpiece_coppersilver_mal I debated on what I wanted to post for week 3’s theme, synergy.  I finally decided that the perfect thing was a piece of jewelry I’ve been working on for a good part of the summer in fabrication class (my first project) and actually just finished this week.  Good timing.

    Originally the first project was supposed to be a cuff bracelet, but I figured I’d wear a piece in my hair a lot more (long hair) and I made it more complicated than it would have been by adding  the stones, texturing and shaping.

    The synergy is the combining of the copper, fine and sterling silver and stones to create something altogether different than the individual components.  It was a good learning project, especially getting the bezels shaped top and bottom to fit the curve of the piece and the curve of the stones.  Very subtle shaping, and I think some of my wire experience was an unexpected help there since I was already very used to making very tiny tiny subtle adjustments.  I was going for a fairly organic  look and love the mix of the silver and copper peeking out here and there, and all the texture on top.   Some of the silver I sprinkled was some of my wire scraps from wire wrap.  I thought it’d be a nice personal touch for my first fabricated piece.

    I still need to finish several picks to go through the holes on either side to keep it in my hair.  One I’m going to do is from wire (ss and malachite, maybe pearls too).  Another, I’m going to beat up some heavier gauge copper wire to make it look like a stick of driftwood.  I also made earrings to go with this piece.  I’ll eventually put the rest of the pics and details for anyone who wants to see the rest of the set when it’s done. 

    out the door

    I’ve had a few interesting projects head out the door to their new homes recently and thought I’d post them.  I’m going to go ahead and elaborate (warning: long post) with some design notes on here for some of my students and anyone else that is interested in the design behind some of the pieces.  A lot of what I make is pretty straight-forward, but even some of the simpler appearing ones often have lots of little decisions along the way.

    RutilatedquartzdoublepenThis first piece was a fun little pendant I just finished yesterday and they picked up tonight.  The stones are rutilated quartz.  The top ones with the rutile growing in those central star shapes as opposed to normal shards only comes from one place in Brazil, no where else.  It was interesting to wrap.  The customer already had the idea of hanging them like this, which I completely concurred with.  I really like the contrast of the shapes.  I wrapped it in 24 gauge gold-filled wire.  I wanted to complement the sheen of the rutile shards, so I didn’t twist any wire this time.  We also debated when they dropped off the stones if she wanted it to be a solid fixed piece or let the bottom piece swing freely.  We decided that swinging freely would be nice.  Personally, while I would have done whatever, I strongly felt it’d be nicer swinging freely as well and am glad they decided to go that way.  I think it will add more physical movement to the piece and really add a lot of light movement across the rutiles in the quartz.  I knew from the beginning that I would do a clean simple wrap with clean lines so it didn’t detract from the stones and emphasized the geometry of them.

    I wrapped the angular piece on the bottom first.  I debated doing the bezel similar to a couple of recent projects (half-round wraps mostly, with prongs where needed) but thought it would look heavy on that stone–wanted to keep it lighter looking and really frame it in to draw attention to the neat shape it’s cut in.  I tried something a little different.  Normally, I wrap all one style (prongs, or kicked in, or swirly, etc.) but if you look closely, you’ll see that I used prongs at the bottom (angeled to complement the direction of the nearby rutiles), kicked in on the right side to emphasize the vertical lines and then a wire laid across the front of the stone in the upper left.  I rarely run wire across the face of the stone like that, but I thought it rather looked like more rutile and sort of neat.  Structurally, could have done either prongs or kicked in all the way around, but with the asymmetry of the stone, I like the asymmetry of the mechanics as well.  Also shaped the wires at the top of the bottom pendant where they’re gathered to close it so that the angles complemented the angles of the top of that stone. 

    It wound up being a little trickier to wrap as I worked my way to the top because I had to bend the angles as I went to make sure things were hitting right, which meant they were in my way and I was having to dodge wire once I got near the top, especially avoiding bending the ones that I’d temporarily dropped in that upper left corner, then getting everything on there tight enough to bind them back in and yet still be able to get the stone in and out until I was ready to bind it in permanently.  The other tricky bit was that I had to be exceptionally careful throughout the piece to make sure my bails were centered so that the bottom piece hung centered from the top piece and all that centered above the point on the bottom piece.  Visually, if something is a little off on a normal pendant, I can usually compensate to make it look right.  With this piece, there were several points that if it wasn’t all perfectly aligned, it would have just looked and hung "off" and not looked right.  I did compensate the tiniest bit for the added mass on the left side (extra weight) so that it would hang straight and not want to tilt from the weight.

    I left the very top loop of the bottom pendant unfinished until I got the top stone wrapped for two reasons.  One, the orientation of the loop (side to side, or front to back) would be determined by which design I used for binding the top stone.  Sure, I could turn it later, but no reason to weaken the wire even a little if I can avoid it.  Two, having the loop finished would mean that I’d have to incorporate the bottom pendant in the top pendant as I made it, almost from the beginning.  Having that hanging off while working on the top piece, while doable, would have been unnecessarily crazy-making between the weight of it and it being in the way.  Far better to add it way at the last.  As it turned out, good thing I waited because I wound up changing my design I thought I was going to use for the top stone.

    The top stone, what’s on there is actually the second attempt.  I scrapped the first one.  I was originally going to do what I do on high dome stones like this one, and often amber and thick domed dichroic glass.  It’s a simple wrap in heavy wire that lets a lot of light in, but as it turned out, while the stone has a nice dome, it’s just shallow enough that I didn’t think it was secure, and it also let the stone turn a little too freely.  I was concerned that one, the stone turning…well, it’s prettier from certain orientations, so I wanted to be able to fix it in place.  More importantly, if it turns freely over time, I wondered if it would either eventually wear a groove or scratch in the stone, or wear the underside of the wire and weaken it.  Anyway, it just wasn’t working for me so I took it out and redid it in a simple bezel/cage wrap and kicked in the wires on the sides.  I think it echoes the wrap of the bottom piece and the wire kicked in on the sides emphasizes the shape.  Started the wrapping at the bottom center, which is what I normally do on ovals and rounds.  It’s easier to get the sides symmetrical that way.  Plus, I needed to remember to put that bottom loop in there for the other piece to hook into.  Once everything was bound on the top one, then the last little step was adding the bottom piece to the top.  Overall, I was really pleased with how this piece came out.  I think it framed and complemented the stones nicely.

    Trinity_cross_ssgf This is a piece that I sent off fairly recently.  It’s a Trinity cross that was custom ordered by a gentleman, a design he asked if I could do.  I thought, sure, it’s a variation of any other number of shapes I do occasionally.  Overall height is 1.5" or so.  The base wires are 22 gauge gold-filled and sterling silver, mixed, and it’s wrapped in gold-filled 22 gauge half-round.  I twisted the outer course (sterling silver) of the internal wires.  It was a prototype design and I’ll probably do variations of it later, a neat project.

    This is another one of those pieces that wound up being more involved than first appearance.  The general mechanics of binding a bundle of wires and shaping to whatever shape is something I’ve been doing periodically and isn’t all that complicated.  That being said, there were several design decisions to be made with this one:

    • drawing out a clean "cartoon" to go by (more on this later)
    • to interweave or not to interweave, and if so, how
    • what to do with the ends
    • how to do a bail for a chain

    On the cartoon, this is basically something I do for anything where I want to make my design to a certain shape.  For example, if I’m shaping a heart, I always sketch one to compare against.  I can’t freehand a heart out of wire to save my life, for some reason.   Angles/curves just don’t look right when I’m holding it.  So whatever the shape, heart, snakes, etc. I sketch a shape.  Then as I’m working, I wrap a little, shape a little, compare against cartoon, adjust.  Wrap/shape, compare, tweak.  Wrap/shape, compare, tweak.  And so on, a little at a time.  For this type of wrapping, I usually use wrap wires about two feet long or so.  Longer, the weight causes the wraps to want to twist around easier and it’s a pain to support the ends, so I just piece it on the back periodically.

    For this type of design, the symmetry is critical, so I didn’t want to freehand the design.  I played around with my compass and drew out a new cleaner design to use as my cartoon.  As I worked, I just wrapped/checked against the design constantly to make sure I was maintaining the correct curve.  I worried about what would happen at the corners, but the wraps worked out just perfect.  I spread the wires slightly at the corners to give a similar appearance to the bail.  More on that below.  I also rounded corners ever so slightly–sharp bends would make the piece weak, especially with wear over time.  I think this piece was meant to be something that is worn pretty much constantly, and by a guy (and military if I recall) so sturdiness was an extra important consideration.

    To interweave or not.  Originally, I don’t think I was going to, but once I got going, I decided it wouldn’t be any harder to interweave it versus just layering it as I went.  In the end, what made the interweaving more complicated was at each point where a layer passed another layer, I had to do some funky manipulations and be very careful to not distort the lay of the wrap wire.  I think in the end, the interweaving also gave it a little more strength.  Plus, as the layers crossed, I had to do subtle adjustments to put a little bump up or down and made it overall with an ever so slight convex shape.  I think the undualations mixed with the wrap/spiral makes it really catch the light and will give it a lot of visual and light movement.

    The ends.  That’s always the quandry with wire.  What to do with the ends.  Half the time, something decorative can be done with them, but with this kind of design, that would detract.  I wound up doing a hidden thing (that’s the point) I do occasionally.  A little bit of planning is needed since it has to be done right from the outset, not something you can decide on later.  Just need to make the outside course of wire doubled so that it goes across the end of the bundle and provides a place to hook onto when I came back around.  The only fiddly part was with all the movement and shaping initially, I was constantly having to check my opening because it kept closing up.  It was basically just a wire’s width–too much and it’s weak–too narrow and it won’t admit the wires I want to hook into it later.  I wound up adding some temporary spacers hooked in there that I cut out later so it didn’t close up on me.  When I got to the end, took out the spacers and hooked the opposite end in.  The join is on the underside course of one of the center intersections.  Barely even shows on the back because I added a little halfround to finish the pattern.  I like the backs of my pieces to be nearly indistinguishable from the front when practical.  Sometimes I put special little things on the back that only the wearer ever knows about.

    The bail.  I initially thought I was going to put a loop at one of the points.  When I got there, I decided it would look strange and disturb the symmetry of the piece.  What I wound up doing was slightly spreading the wires at the tip to maintain the visual sharpness of the points (otherwise, it would have looked more rounded) without adding an actual sharp bend.  The top point in the picture was the first point I did and I spread it a little more than I would the others to be able to admit a heavier gauge secondary bail that I made later.  Avoided the loop and it’s barely noticeable in the overall design.  I did wind up putting a spacer in that as well since making the curved side as I left the point, it kept wanting to suck it down closer.  My tolerance was just barely to admit the large wire so any shrinkage would be a real problem…so again, the spacer wire I removed later.  I also added spacers on the other points as I did them so they kept their points (and also used spacer wire to keep the right distance as I bent each wire individually as I rounded the points).

    Pearlamth_set_2This next set of pictures are part of a set I did this summer with these two really large blister pearls a customer brought to me.  One she wanted in a pendant and one she wanted as a pin.  Wanted one silver, the other gold.  Didn’t matter which.  Didn’t particularly care what color beads since we’d determined in our initial conversation that we tend to like similar palettes–if I liked the colors, she probably would.  In other words, total artistic license.  A lot of freedom in a way, but more pressure too.

    For this pearl (yes, the big flatish stone…big, as in probably 2" tall, both of them), I thought would be prettiest to hang as a pendant and it had a little more of a grey cast to it, so I put silver on that one, and put gold on the pink-cast one (below, later).  The other interesting aspect of this stone was that it actually had a strong convex curve across the bottom third of it.  (Side picture is lower down.)

    I decided to use amethyst, purple pearls and austrian crystal on it.  Especially with the convex bottom standing out, I thought a waterfall pouring off the bottom and swinging freely would give it a lot of movement.  For the asymmetry of the stone, I didn’t want the waterfall to go all the way across, but gave it visual balance and weight by adding the little sweep of beads on the left side.

    Pearlamth_pendant_side_4 The cage/bezel wrap was pretty straight-forward, but I ran into an unexpected issue with the bezel not wanting to stay in place due to the convex shape of the stone.  The thin edges of the piece didn’t let me build something thicker/stronger to keep its shape independently, plus it would have looked too heavy to use a thicker bezel or one of heavier wire.  I think I used 22 gauge as it was.  I really wanted the bezel to almost fade into the piece so that you mostly saw the pearl and the beads, not the wire.  I wanted the wire to be more subtle.  That’s also why I didn’t do a lot of swirly sweeping curly things with the wire on this one.  It had such a pretty shape, I really wanted to keep the clean lines.

    Pearlamth_pendant_back_2  What I wound up doing (right–>) to stabilize it was a crisscross across the back.  It was actually pretty strong going around the stone, just the convex shape made it want to jump out of place and the crisscross served to stabilize it.  I’ve never needed to do this to any other pieces, so it was kind of a new thing, but a good thing to remember should this come up again.  Plus, I thought it actually turned out looking pretty neat.

    The earrings are a waterfall style I do, topped off with a focal bead of faceted amethyst bead that I’m pretty stingy with and pull out when I really have a good use for it.  I used similar beads to those on the necklace so they go together.

    Blisterpearl_pin_set_1 This is the other blister pearl, this time set in gold-filled wire with faceted garnet and citrine.  The pearl had rich pink cast to it that definitely needed garnets for the gemstone.  I added the citrine because I think it’s an especially rich combination, the garnet red and gold.

    If you’ll notice, the pearl is cut in an pretty unusual shape that I wanted to take advantage of.  I figured I’d do the swirly wire work on the pin, partly as a contrast to the clean lines of the previous style above.  Where the last style was cool and clean, I wanted this one sumptuous, bold and rich. 

    I wrapped the pin first, using a heavier gauge round wire (20 gauge maybe) and something lighter and twisted (probably 21 or 22 gauge).  I made the pin a separate piece on the back out of the round wire and made sure to catch it as I swirled around the stone.  I was originally going to put a lot more beads on it, like nested down in some of the lower swirls, but everytime I laid something down there, I wound up cutting it off.  It wound up being way more eyecatching to make those pretty faceted garnet beads the focal point.  Too many other beads kept being distracting.  That one little sweep is just resting nested there at the swell of the pearl and wound up being far more effective.  The swirls and a lot of beads were just too busy.  The earrings are another style I do that I use a lot when I make sets with lots of swirls that complements them nicely.  Again, same beads as on pin.

    wrapping faceted teardrops

    This post is for someone over at the wire jewelry forum that had a question on ideas for wrapping faceted teardrops.  As I mentioned, smaller teardrops, I tend to use a bezel/cage wrap with prongs instead of kicking in the wires so less of the stone is covered.  The problem with doing this on a larger stone is that usually they’re deep and will tend to roll around, so they need more to stabilize them.  The issue with making a deep bezel is that it can cut off light to the stone, so a compromise of a deep but open setting is the trick.

    Amethystpearprongpendant This amethyst here was around 10×15 mm.  If you look at the bezel going around, you just make a few wraps leading up to the prong, then a little wire doubled in to form a prong and wrap on the other side side to stabilize it.  Often I will make the prongs on the back longer than those on the front.  The wire is square 24 gauge gf and 22 gauge half-round.

         Alexandriteteardrop_ss_wove_2 This other prong setting was a pretty large stone that I did for commission for a customer.  It was about 1 1/4" tall, narrow for it’s height, and pretty deep for its proportionate width.  Being a dark stone, a deep bezel on it would have cut off a lot of light, so I did this open prong bezel.  If you look closely, it’s out of pretty heavy wire (20 gauge) and the wires on the sides weave back and forth creating a more open side, plus it was easy to taper the height of the bezel as it appoached the thinner top, making it lay nice when worn.  The original inspiration for this setting came from the November ’02 Wire Artist Jeweler magazine (out of print, can get back issues though), although I significantly modified the design.  The overall concept of switching the inner wires back and forth from top to bottom was a good one.  The execution was a little fiddly and might be tricky for a beginner, but the results pretty nice.  This design has a lot of potential for variations.

    FSOJ’06,wk2: Mother Earth, Father Sky

    Soj6wk2_motherearthfatherskyThis is my project for the Season of Jewelry project, Week 2, using the theme of Mother Earth, Father Sky for inspiration.  For my personal goals, I used a recently acquired kyanite teardrop bead for the center drop instead of letting it languish in my stash for years.  Another personal goal, keeping some of my nicer pieces, I’m toying with keeping this one instead of selling it…or at the least making another similar so I’ll wind up with one.  I was especially pleased with how pretty this combination of stones was.

    This piece is made from sterling silver.  The blue center teardrop of kyanite, the iolite beads in the swirly part and the pearls represent Mother Earth’s oceans, and the moonstone and clear austrian crystal represent Father Sky’s moon and stars.

    Earth: Night and Day

    This first post is a copy of the one I posted here under the Week 01 category.  For awhile now on various forums and blogs, I’d been seeing mentions of this Season of Jewelry thing.  The idea is a creative challenge of doing a new piece of jewelry a week, and for inspiration there’s a theme for the week that you can use or not.  The idea originated out of a wire jewelry forum on delphi so a lot of the pieces tend to be wire related, but it’s not limited to that.

    Anyway, I found the idea tremendously interesting and think it’s a neat artistic challenge for where I am with things now.  I’ve been doing wire for awhile and while I have pretty wide range of designs, techniques and looks that I use, there’s been some things out there that I haven’t gotten around to that I’ve been wanting to try, or stretch a little with what I’m already doing.

    When it came to sign up for the next season, which just started, I jumped in.  We’re beginning of the third year of the project, now a season at a time.  This is the Season of Earth, as an overall theme, then each week has its own theme.

    My personal goals are first, just to actually make something every week.  Second, ideally to try something new or get around to something I just haven’t quite gotten around to.  This can be using stones I was once inspired to buy long ago and then never did anything with, trying new techniques, or doing an interesting variation on a current technique.  And sometimes it can just be making some one-of-a-kind something that I ordinarily only get around to making for a cool commissioned piece but rarely make to sell.  Along that same line is making a few nice pieces to keep.  I actually have kept very little of what I make and the nicest, most interesting pieces are someone else’s.  A third goal is to work on improving my digital photography.

    This piece incorporates a couple of those goals:  using a stone I bought a long time ago and never Soj6wk1_earth_1 got around to, and trying out a different approach. 

    The stone is a piece of petrified wood, one of several I bought some years back and never used.  I like this batch of stones because of the unusal markings and shapes.  Petrified wood seemed appropriate to the earth theme, as well as the clear/smokey quartz and pearls. 

    There were several design challenges on this one.  One, was that it’s a pretty thick stone (like a domino thickness) with straight vertical sides, which means the bezel wrap is extra wide.   Using 24 gauge wire, that made it 14 wires wide.  I had to be careful with bunching when wrapping.  If I had a do-over, there were 4 twisted wires in the middle of the pattern on the side that I would have mixed some square in with since that was the worst culprit for wanting to bunch.

    The next thing that was a bit fiddly was that, inspired by the vertical division of light/dark in the stone color, I thought it would be cool to wrap it with silver on the light half and gold on the dark half, then follow that theme with light/dark quartz hanging off of it.  I debated just mixing gold/silver in the overal bezel and somehow switching the dominant color to the front on the appropriate side.  Then I decided to just do the whole entire side for each in one solid color.  That meant I had to start at the hookup (bottom center) instead of at one end and going around.  Just doing the hookup of the two metals was no biggie with a little planning, but the loops really complicated it because I had to start with the gold completely to one edge and juggling 14 wires initially without being able to stabilize them with a temporary binder because I needed to free up one of the center wires to create the loops.  In retrospect, I would have preformed at least the first loop so I could have temp wrapped the bundle while I was stabilizing the end with the hook.  Things kept shifting where the loop I had to leave for the silver to hook in later needed to go, and I eventually put in a temporary spacer so I didn’t lose it as I worked.  The silver side was easier since I could start wrapping at the lower corner and work toward the bottom center, hooked it together, then went back and finished going up the sides.

    Anyway, that was the unexpectedly fiddly bits.  Other general design stuff, I did some random diagonals and wraps on the side, which looks pretty cool since it’s such a deep bezel.  Mixed gold and silver together in the bail, the only place.  Debated on prongs versus kicking in wires, and decided I wanted less wire on the face of the stone.  I did curve the prongs to follow the grain of the wood a little, something a little different for me.  It doesn’t show, but the white side is more shallow.  I brought it all flush to the front, but that leaves the white sunk in a little on the back.  On the back, laid in some tiny pearls in that sunk area, partly for appearance and partly for stability. 

    The only other thing, I’m going to look at it for awhile, but I may rework the smokey quartz dangles and take out some of the larger white pearls.  I’ll keep in a few of the flat pearls to tie the sides together, but I’m thinking the larger ones take away from the dark/light, silver/gold contrast a little.  I’ve been toying with redoing the stones with pale gold tiger eye beads on the light side and gradating to dark tiger eye on the dark side.  Going with just a tiny touch of pearl and maybe/maybe not on the quartz.  Opinions?