The First 8 weeks

by margaretskinner on December 1, 2010

Honestly?  Unless, like me, you want to be a bench jeweler, you won’t find any of this interesting or impressive.  As I mentioned before, I came to this job with some training, but was severely out of practice.  At least I knew my way around the shop.

The very first week, I polished and watched.  Polishing is actually more complicated than it sounds–there are different rouges for different metals, different wheels for different tasks within each metal group, and different kinds of polishing.  There is pre-polishing, which takes a cast piece of jewelry (it comes dull from the caster) and puts a very basic finish on it.  There is lapping, which smooths the surfaces of the jewelry piece and removes the small scratches and lines from the piece.  And then there is buffing, which is the final polish and puts a high shine on the piece.  Of course, you can do it in more steps, and if you are putting a textured finish–like a satin finish–on a piece, that is its own step, but pre-polish, lapping, and buffing are the three my job focuses on.

Different metals require different pressure.  I find yellow gold the easiest, requiring the least time and pressure to finsh.  Different karats, though, do have an effect.  White gold is next, and I find it gets hot faster than yellow.  Silver after, which gets hot very fast and takes a fair amount of pressure, followed by platinum, which gets hot fast, takes a lot of pressure, and takes a lot of time.  The shoulders of rings can be tricky, as can the shank just beneath the setting.  If there is a small dent on the edge of the shank, I find polishing on a diagonal the best way to smooth it out.

Lapping is my least favorite, because that is when the polishing wheels spits back the most crap into my face and hair (I do wear earplugs, a face mask, and safety goggles, by the way).  Also, when you are lapping the sides of a ring shank, if you don’t put enough pressure the lapping wheel leaves lines, and if you don’t use even pressure, the surface will be wavy.

Try to keep your fingernails away from the wheels, or you will basically wear them down to nothing, which isn’t safe.  Wear a face mask; you really don’t need to be breathing in all that stuff.  Don’t forget to buff the prongs.  I use a bent paperclip to hold rings against the side of my index or middle finger when I’m polishing the sides of the shanks, both to spare my fingertips from the heat and my nails from the wheel and to keep a better grip so I don’t accidentally send the ring flying down the dust collector.  I also find that if I rub a bit of oil (almond-type, or emu, or whatever the drugstore sells for dry skin) into my hands and wrists first thing in the morning, my hands wash cleaner.  I reapply after each time I wash my hands.





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